The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) Saturday in Abuja gave kudos to over two dozen of its members who, in the course of their job as reporters, had suffered abuse and threats ranging from imprisonment, illegal detention, warrantless arrests, and dangerous assault from state agents and non-state actors.
The union also recognised half a dozen champions of the profession who have defended and promoted the cause of press freedom in what president of the union, Waheed Odusile, characterised as “an increasing and disturbing attack on the media, and by implication, on democracy.” The event, a celebration of the World Press Freedom day, was at the Ladi Kwali Hall of Sheraton Hotel.
Lanre Arogundade, director of the International Press Centre in Lagos; Richard Akinnola, a famous judiciary reporter, editor, and civil rights advocate; Femi Falana, human rights defence lawyer; Edetan Ojo, chief executive officer of the Media Rights Agenda, and the man who guided the coalition that helped secure the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill into law in 2011 were the star actors who earned recognition as press defenders.
PREMIUM TIMES’ Publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi, and Judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu, joined other victims of state harassment to be presented with the Torchbearer of Press Freedom Award at the event. Mr. Olorunyomi and Ms. Okakwu were, on January 19, 2017, arrested by the police days after refusing to retract a story about the Nigerian Army.
Speaking on Press Freedom at the event, Shehu Sani, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign debt, said though the media has come a long way, it is not free from its’ own challenges.
Some challenges, he addressed, were that many media houses do not pay their staff, instead they leave them to fend for themselves and as a result the staff tend to lose their objectivity when reporting.
He also discussed how the media are used, then dumped by politicians who need them to get into power.
“There are people in power today that see the media as the enemy, after using you and dumping you. Now we are coming back to you.
“Before 2015, the very media that we called progressive, fair and just is now the one we will refer to as being sensational and partial and being in-objective. So most times, you the media are well used by politicians when they are in search of power and when the power is at hand you become the enemy.
“I think there is a need for you, this time around, not to be taken for a fool again. We should be impartial in holding people to account and you should give fair hearing to everyone.
“What you need to do is to remain firm on the codes and ethics of your profession,” Mr. Sani advised.
A France based American journalist, Linda Hervieux, also speaking at the event, said the media sometimes is the only watchdog in a community checking the powers in that community.
When speaking on this years’ World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, Mrs Hervieux said though African countries did better than last year, the index still indicates that press freedom is bad in Africa.
“African nations came out slightly better than the year before but still the map is mostly bright red which means bad. Nigeria was in the red.
“The report says journalists here are often harassed by authorities. I heard this week about self-censorship in the press. I’ve heard about journalists not being paid and being put in compromising positions.
“These are the stories that you’ve all been telling me this week. Overall, Nigeria has one of the most vibrant press teams in Africa. That is good news,” she said.
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