Governments do pose a threat to a free press, investigative Journalism, and media freedom which seek to hold them accountable, PREMIUM TIMES publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi, has said.
Mr. Olorunyomi, participating in the#MondayTango, a Twitter session instituted by HEDA Resource Centre, on Monday, said the media should, however, struggle to earn the right to freedom of the press and practice investigative journalism “through unfaltering ethical and strict professionalism.”
#MondayTango comes up on Twitter, bringing interviewees to respond to questions on key national issues.
The journalist said investigative journalism, and particularly tough and incisive reporting, which sought to hold public officials accountable was a constitutional obligation on the press which Section 22 of Nigerian Constitution gave meaning to.
“Then countless treaties to which Nigeria is a party to demands of a tough media to hold our leaders accountable
“The role of the media, spelt out in treaties, the constitution, and in case law define the totality of what it means to be patriotic,” Mr. Olorunyomi said, reacting to assertions, in official circles, that a critical press was a synonym for unpatriotic practice.
He also dismissed the claim that investigative reporting was designed to heat up the polity; but stressed that no democracy could thrive without a media mechanism for holding leaders accountable, that must be “tough, incisive and investigative.”
“Investigative reporting is a constitutional duty for the media but painfully we all don’t get to carry through this duty” he remarked insisting though that, “above all, we must always be accurate and factual in our claims and reporting [because] accuracy is the first element of good journalism.”
The veteran journalist also spoke on the claim by the army that PREMIUM TIMES violates national security in its reporting of the military.
“When people say national security, [quite often] they haven’t read the Johannesburg Principle of 1989 and the Tshwane Principle of 2013 [because] these two instruments help define the interface of media and national security. It is not for anyone to invoke it at will,” he said.
Mr. Olorunyomi also spoke on how he and his colleague, Evelyn Okakwu, were recently arrested by the police based on a complaint by the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai.
He said the arrests, for alleged defamation, was “a patently illegal law, then we were accused also of supporting Boko Haram.”
The second accusation, he said, was a fiction in the minds of the army spokesperson designed to set up a “frivolous treason charge.“
Mr. Olorunyomi was at the vanguard of the guerrilla journalism that helped Nigeria combat the juntas of Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, before going on exile, after spending time in jail.
Mr. Olorunyomi who founded the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, is one of the founders of The News magazine, an influential weekly, alongside other veterans of ‘guerrilla journalism’, including Bayo Onanuga, now head of the News Agency of Nigeria, and Babafemi Ojudu, now presidential adviser on politics.