In commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, which is held November 2, Nigerian journalists and media experts have condemned attacks against journalists and advocated for press freedom.
The journalists and media workers converged at an event in Abuja to discuss “Countering Threats of Violence Against Journalists, The Role of CSOs and Other Non-state Actors.”
The programme, organised by the International Press Centre (IPC) in partnership with Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), held on Tuesday in Abuja.
A free media is the bedrock of democracy, the host of the event said, adding that access to reliable and independent information is paramount, as exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his opening remark, the Executive Director of the IPC, Lanre Arogundade, said the key objective of the programme is to examine the important role that CSOs and other non-state actors could play in defending press freedom in general; and particularly, in curbing the menace of violence or threats against journalists and other media professionals.
He said CSOs and non-state actors including the various professional groups, trade unions, academics, etc., are critical voices that should be heard on the issue of safety of journalists.
“It is often a matter of irony that individuals and groups that regularly harp on the role that the media should play in democracy and development, usually keep mute when the same media comes under attack as it has often been the case,” he said
Speaking on this year’s campaign theme, Mr Arogundade said it highlights the psychological trauma experienced by journalists who are victims of threats, and raises awareness on the importance of investigating and prosecuting those allegedly responsible in order to end impunity for such crimes.
Against this background, he noted that an urgent collaborative intervention is necessary between the media, the CSOs and other non-state actors to develop an Action Plan on defending press freedom and engaging state institutions including security agencies.
Also speaking at the event, the EU-ACT National Programme Manager, Damilare Babalola, said the European Union supported the implementation of the programme to provide a platform for civil society groups and other stakeholders to reflect, ponder and resolve on how to ensure that the journalism profession is considered as part of the broader concept of civil society and as a worthy practice so that practitioners remain free from all forms of threats and violence.
Earlier in her presentation, a representative of the EU delegation in Nigeria, Winifred Achu, said the EU is keen to support increased protection of journalists during demonstrations, online safety and support to female journalists.
“With free journalism under increasing pressure, the European Union is determined to support press and media freedom worldwide and assist journalists politically and financially,” Ms Achu said.
She said the EU assessment is that journalism in Nigeria remains one of the most vibrant in the continent.
“We have trust in the Nigerian journalists. We admire your courage as you continue reporting even in hostile conditions and to promote peace and democracy,” she said.
In his submission, the Chairman of the event, Umaru Pate, said journalists’ safety must remain paramount to the state, lamenting that he had lost six journalists whom he helped train at the University of Maiduguri and Bayero University Kano to insurgents.
The professor said the insecurity in the country has negatively impacted the atmosphere journalists operate in, saying that “ by the nature of what we do, we are unnecessarily exposed to potential enemies, those who see our activities as endangering their own way of life.”
So, naturally we are targets, he said. “But we have the constitution protecting us and other international regulations protecting us even though that has not stopped journalists from being harassed.”
The academic harped on the need to improve the welfare of journalists.
“You cannot talk about ending impunity, when journalists live a life of poverty and penury with no retirement plan,” Mr Pate, the vice chancellor Federal University Kashere, said.
Chris Isiguzo, the president of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, also conceded the frightening condition journalists work. Quoting figures of journalists that were killed globally, he said “clearly, it portrays the real situation journalists find themselves in worldwide. This is an opportunity to bring to the fore the situation with media practice.”
Granted we have a democracy, Mr Isiguzo said, but there are unique ingredients of a working democracy including a free press and respect for rule of law; and these are missing.
“I want to appeal to our political actors, media practitioners and journalists, we are all stakeholders and if this system must work for us, we must operate without unnecessary encumbrance,” he said. “If we want democracy to continue to thrive, media practice must be given free hand to thrive.”
Meanwhile, Victor Ayedun, a professor of mass communication at the University of Jos, queried the definition of journalism before dissecting issues journalism faces today. He argued that what journalists do is often not in sync with what journalists say they do.
Mr Ayedun said journalists, who have an indispensable role to play, are under pressure around the world, with governments at times attempting to silence journalists who scrutinize their actions too closely.
Ending impunity for crimes against journalists is one of the most pressing issues to guarantee freedom of expression and access to information for all citizens, he said.
On his part, the publisher of PREMIUM TIMES, Dapo Olorunyomi, who was the discussant of the lead paper, highlighted journalism’s contribution to Nigeria and stated that journalists cannot afford to relent in the advocacy for complete freedom of the press as the press continues to be important for ensuring transparency and accountability in governance.
Unlike Mr Ayedun, Mr Olorunyomi said journalism may differ in specific age and time, but in a democracy the expectation is fairly a resolved issue. “Journalism in a democracy at best will be an accountability mechanism,” he said.
Mr Olorunyomi added that journalism will continue to change depending on the circumstances society finds itself in “but several principles and values cannot change.” He said despite the numerous challenges journalism faces today, there are opportunities that journalists can do better.
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