“When you safeguard independent media, you are protecting the country’s democracy,” says Ronald Kayanja, Director, United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in Nigeria.
Mr Kayanja spoke at a virtual event held to commemorate the 2020 International Day to End Impunity For Crimes Against Journalists.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the event was organised by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in collaboration with UNIC, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Penpushing Media, a private media house.
Mr Kayanja said that journalists, journalism and media houses must be protected by all means.
He said that attacks on journalists and media houses were a cause for concern and called on authorities to investigate such cases while allowing the relevant arms of the law to bring justice in those situations.
“One way to fight fake news and hate speech which are pervasive through digital media is to strengthen the independent media.
“Just like support is being provided for other sectors of the economy, to build back a better media, the industry should also be supported.
“During this pandemic, journalists are also frontline workers, bringing us news updates and briefings.
“We commend the authorities who, even during the lockdown, recognised the importance of journalism and allowed journalists to move around freely,” he said.
Mr Kayanja said that when journalists did not feel safe, citizens would either not get news reports or get distorted and false news.
He suggested that a way to ensure the safety of journalists was to cause the wheels of justice to move speedily whenever a journalist, or media house was attacked.
“We all need to work together to protect journalism and the media.
“Let us renew our commitment to this freedom of expression and of the press through increased advocacy for the safety of journalists,” he said.
Sow Lamine , the officer-in-charge, UNESCO Regional Office in Abuja, said that peace, justice and sustainable development in societies could be advanced only by speaking truth to power.
He said this required concerted efforts by the executive, law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to push for appropriate legislation and develop a strong accountability framework that would eliminate impunity against journalists.
“If you protect journalists, you are protecting the truth,” he said.
Audrey Azoulay, Director General, UNESCO, in her message delivered by Lamine, said that one of the most important roles of journalists was to bring truth to light.
“For many journalists, telling the truth comes with a price.
“Many have lost their lives while covering conflicts, but more are being killed outside of conflict situations for investigating issues including corruption, trafficking, political wrongdoings and others.
“States, therefore, have an obligation to protect journalists and ensure that the perpetrators of crimes against them are held accountable.
“Judges and prosecutors in particular have an important role to play in promoting swift and effective criminal proceedings,” she said.
Also, Funke Fadugba, Chairman, Editorial Board of Penpushing Media, said that owners of media houses have a role to play in terms of job security and welfare packages for journalists.
“If journalists are not well remunerated, there is a tendency for some of them to be compromised.
“We need to uphold professionalism because it is when we are unbiased that we can collectively fight impunity for crimes against journalists,” she said.
Jide Jimoh, the Head of Department of Journalism at Lagos State University, said that the role of the media had been long recognised by governments and stakeholders must guide the press against authoritarian governments worldwide.
He urged the media to self-regulate and keep to the best standards of ethics and professionalism.
“Governments must realise the sacrosanct role of the media in society and recognise that where the press is free, society is safe.
“It is futile to gag the press, especially in the age of digital media,” he said.