COMMUNIQUE OF A STAKEHOLDERS’ FORUM ON JOURNALISTS’ SAFETY & PRESS FREEDOM LIMITATIONS IN NIGERIA HELD ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 5, 2021 AT REIZ CONTINENTAL HOTEL, CENTRAL ZONE, ABUJA.

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Preamble

The International Press Centre, (IPC) Lagos-Nigeria, in commemoration of the year 2020 World Press Freedom Day (May 3rd) whose theme is ‘Information For Public Good’ convened a Stakeholders’ Forum on Journalists’ Safety and Press Freedom Limitations in Nigeria on Wednesday May 5, 2021 in Abuja.

The year 2020 WPFD marks the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek, Namibia global media conference on ‘Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Media’ from April 29 to May 3rd, 1991, the declaration of which led to the proposal for the adoption of May 3rd as WPFD by the United Nations following a proposal by UNESCO.

Purpose

The Abuja forum was convened in continuation of IPC’s commitment to deepening engagement with media and relevant stakeholders on solution-driven approaches to the safety of Nigerian Journalists.

The forum was therefore attended by the President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Chris Isiguzo; President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Mr. Mustapha Isah; President of the Radio Television Theatre and Arts Workers’ Union (RATTAWU), Mr. Kabir Garba Tsanni; President of the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Mrs. Ladi Bala and Programme Manager of Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) Ms. Tosin Alagbe representing the Executive Director, Mr Dapo Olorunyomi. They were joined as discussants by Mrs. Vivian Emerenini representing the National President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Mrs. Rhoda Tyoden.

The keynote address was presented by a prominent social critic and Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, Rev. Fr. George Ehusani with journalists from the print, broadcast and Online media in attendance.

Welcome remarks

The Executive Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, in his welcome remarks, announced the institution of a Foundation for the Safety of Journalists by IPC to, among others:

  • Improve the documentation of attacks on journalists and the media;
  • Engage in continuous capacity building for journalists on safety in investigative reporting and coverage of dangerous assignments;
  • Offer psycho-social support for attacked or assaulted journalists;
  • Campaign and advocate for enabling environment that promotes safety of journalists and press freedom; and
  • Offer coordination mechanisms on the safety of journalists.

Report on attack on Journalists in 2020

The IPC report on the State of Attacks on Journalists in Nigeria in the year 2020 was also released at the event. The report, presented by IPC’s Safety Alert Desk Officer. Mrs. Melody Lawal, revealed that forty-eight (48) journalists and eight (8) media outlets were attacked in 2020 with the perpetrators including security agents, paramilitary forces, political agents and unknown gun men. The report also cited the location and the nature of the attacks observing that many of them occurred during the COVID-19 lockdown and the ENDSARS protest.

The keynote  

Speaking on the theme: ‘Information as a Public Good and the Quest for Press Freedom’, Rev. Fr. Ehusani urged journalists, other media professionals and media organisations in Nigeria to wrestle and seize from the authorities and guard jealously press freedom. His words: “Freedom of any type is not cheap. It does not come on a platter of gold, as those who hold power often seek to intimidate, coerce unto submission and silence dissenting voices in the society. Thus, press freedom, as indeed the freedom of expression from which it ensues, will hardly every be simply given in our society or anywhere else”.

Fr. Ehusani also submitted that the “media is a cornerstone of a free society” adding that “the freedom to source information, to process such information, and to disseminate it, is critical for the nurturing and sustenance of a free, democratic and prosperous society”. In this regard, he said that the biggest challenge to the people’s right to know has been the refusal of authority systems at various levels of the state to allow international covenants on press freedom and freedom of expression to flourish citing as example the existence of laws like The Official Secrets Act 1962 in Nigeria.

Observations

Both the report the report on attacks on journalists and the media in Nigeria in 2020 and the keynote address elicited responses and contributions from the discussants and participants.

The participants observed that:

  • The worsening security and economic situation of the country is a threat to media survival and hinders its ability to serve as societal watchdog;
  • Some journalists tend to pander to their own primordial sentiments and therefore fail to report conflicts ethically and professionally;
  • Media professionals and stakeholders are not sufficiently united in resisting efforts by state agents to undermine the right to press freedom and freedom of expression;
  • Media professionals and stakeholders are not sufficiently united in resisting the use of some existing laws and regulatory  frameworks  such as the Cyber Crime Act 2015, the Anti-Terrorism Act, the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, etc, to intimidate and assault the media and prevent it from fulfilling its obligation to monitor governance and hold government accountable to the people;
  • Media professionals and stakeholders are not sufficiently united in highlighting attacks on journalists, demanding justice for victims up to and including adequate compensation, and ensuring the investigation and prosecution of alleged perpetrators;
  • The poor attention to the welfare of journalists in Nigeria, which has degenerated over the decades and has worsened in recent years without concrete efforts at remedying the situation, constitutes fundamental threat to media professionalism and press freedom;
  • The propensity of the government to violate the digital and Internet rights of journalists and citizens could pose major threat to the media as the country intensifies transition from analogue to digital broadcasting.

 Recommendations       

 Following the observations, the participants recommended that:

  • Journalists should remain courageous and report factually and truthfully despite the worsening security and economic situation;
  • Media professionals and stakeholders must close ranks and put forward a formidable, united front, partnership and solidarity to resist efforts by state agents to undermine the right to press freedom and freedom of expression;
  • Media professionals and stakeholders must resist the use of existing laws and regulatory  frameworks legislations including the Cyber Crime Act 2015, the Anti-Terrorism Act, the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, etc, to intimidate and assault the media and prevent it from fulfilling its obligation to monitor governance and hold government accountable to the people;
  • The media should collectively highlight attacks on journalists, demand justice for victims up to and including adequate compensation, and ensure the investigation and prosecution of alleged perpetrators;
  • Journalists and their professional bodies should prioritise the campaign for insurance policies for media practitioners to guarantee welfare at the workplace.
  • Media stakeholders should regularly draft joint statements when attacks on journalists occur. This will inform the public of the vulnerability of the profession. There should be a lot of noise around issues pertaining to the safety of journalists in the media space.
  • The Nigeria Broadcasting Code needs to be amended so as to align its provisions with the dictates of a democratic order that frown at arbitrariness and require strict conformity with the principles of fairness and rule of law as against intimidation, threat and economic annihilation;
  • Media professionals and stakeholders should have further engagements with regulatory bodies such as Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Nigeria Press Council (NPC) on acceptable standards of regulation;
  • Media professionals and stakeholders should seek a review of existing regulatory provisions to make commitment to welfare of journalists by employers enforceable;
  • Media professionals and stakeholders should urgently engage with the leadership of the security agencies and duty bearers in order to agree on mechanisms for the guarantee of the safety of journalists;
  • There should be special attention to institution of protective measures for women journalists particularly as it relates to peculiarity of assignments;
  • Media support groups like International Press Centre should continue to prioritise the safety of journalists and capacity building on good journalism safety in the coverage of dangerous assignments;
  • Journalists, Media professional bodies/associations, media support groups and other stakeholders advocate for the development of policies and frameworks that take advantage of the diversity that digital migration allows and avoid the dangers it can present including threat to freedom of expression and media freedom during the transition;
  • Media professional bodies/associations, media support groups and other stakeholders should urgently convene a National Media Summit to assess the state of the media and the state of the safety and welfare of journalists with a view to proffering fundamental solutions.

Signed

Ms. Olutoyin Ayoade

Communications Officer

International Press Centre (IPC)

Email: tayoade@ipcng.org

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