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A Call for Free Press in Nigeria

The relevance of press freedom to the sustenance of democracy came to the fore on Thursday, May 3, 2018. It was the day that the…

The relevance of press freedom to the sustenance of democracy came to the fore on Thursday, May 3, 2018. It was the day that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) marked the 25th World Press Freedom Day. As a justification for the special event, the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, stated that “the ideal of a State under the rule of law calls for well-informed citizens, transparent political decisions, public debates on topics of common interest and a plurality of viewpoints that shapes opinions and undermines official truths and dogmatism. This shaping and informative power mainly falls to the press and the media in general, under all their guises and through various mediums.”

The freedom of the press is actually derived from the fundamental right of human beings to voice out their opinions on issues in their communities. Primarily, this is captured in the  United Nations 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers."  Many member- nations of the global body have domesticated this right, and Nigeria is not an exception. It provides in Section 22 of the 1999 constitution that “the press, radio, television, and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in the relevant chapter of the constitution and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.” This is in recognition of the fact that without a free press, which has the capacity to hold government accountable, the essence of democracy will be lost.

In marking the World Press Freedom Day, UNESCO says the anniversary was an occasion “to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.”  Also, the occasion provided an opportunity to remind the world that in some countries “publications are censored, fined, suspended, and closed down while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.”  

According to UNESCO, in 2017 alone 79 journalists were assassinated worldwide while they carried out their legitimate assignments of gathering information for the public. Nigeria has had its own share of this unfortunate development. In 2017, two journalists were murdered under mysterious circumstances while 12 others were assaulted, according to data compiled by Nigeria’s International Press Centre (IPC). An assault of journalists has the tendency of curtailing the enthusiasm of journalists to carry out their jobs in accordance with the expectations of Nigerians and the country’s constitution. Therefore, we totally condemn those who use both state and non-state actors to attack and even kill journalists. In Nigeria, there are legal instruments which could be used to seek redress when journalists abuse the powers granted them under the constitution. We insist that those who are hurt by journalists should seek redress by resorting to the judiciary instead of taking the law into their hands by physically assaulting or even taking the lives of journalists.

Journalists, on their part, should ensure that they carry out their jobs in accordance with the principles and ethics of the journalism profession. It is a known fact that every freedom comes with its measure of responsibilities. Journalists should, therefore, ensure that they have evidence for whatever stories they write and publish, they should be fair to all the parties involved and should ensure balance. Journalists should ensure they carry out their tasks in the interest of the public, not selfish or other parochial interests. Above all, we call on all arms of government – the legislature, executive and judiciary – to provide the right atmosphere for free press to thrive in Nigeria.

 

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