Participants at a seminar in Lagos to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day worry over the safety of journalists in the practice of their profession
| By Maureen Chigbo | May 13, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
MEMBERS of the civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations and media practitioners marked this years’ World Press Freedom Day worrying on how best the safety of journalists can be guaranteed to enable them practice their profession without molestation. This worry became very loudly expressed at a seminar jointly organised by the United Nations Information Centre, UNIC, in Lagos, and Media Rights Agenda, MRA, to discuss the safety of journalists as part of this year’s World Press Freedom Day WPFD, celebration in Nigeria.
The theme of the seminar – “Securing the Safety of Journalists” – aligned with the global theme for this year’s edition of the World Press Freedom Day, which is “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”. The theme places particular focus on three elements – the global issues of safety of journalists; combating impunity for crimes against freedom of expression and securing a free and open internet as a pre-condition for safety online.
In line with the global theme, the 2013 WPFD highlighted the issue of safety of journalists, particularly in Nigeria, where journalists are becoming increasingly endangered and its implications on the right to freedom of expression, not only for the journalists, but also for their audiences. The seminar aimed at creating awareness among relevant stakeholders about the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity; and formulating a Strategy for Ensuring the Implementation of the UN Plan of Action in the Nigerian context.
Frank Mba, Police Force Public Relations Officer, Force headquarters, spoke on “The Role of the Nigeria Police in Ensuring the Safety of Journalists”; while Femi Adesina, president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, spoke on “Building Partnerships between the Media and Law Enforcement Agencies to Ensure the Safety of Journalists. Gbenga Sesan, a renowned ICT and social media expert and the executive director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, PIN, talked on “Strategies for Securing the Safety of Journalists Online”.
The seminar, held in Lagos, was attended by more than 80 journalists from the print, broadcast and online media as well as members of human rights and civil society organisations, the Nigerian Police Force and the public. It also discussed strategies for addressing incessant attacks on journalists and the media by the security agents and individuals.
In a statement to mark the World Freedom day on Friday, May 3, Adesina said the day afforded another opportunity to reflect on the state of the media in our country. According to him, the media should be partners in development, worthy allies in the nurturing of our democracy and the quest to be a great country, but rather curiously, successive administrations in Nigeria have always treated the media with suspicion, if not, as some sort of adversary. This is a regrettable mindset, which a day like today can help correct.
“Nigeria’s robust and vibrant media has a worthy history of commitment to noble causes, and played key roles in the struggle for independence, democratic rule, social justice, freedom of speech, human rights, and the like. Today, the media is still in the vanguard of upholding all that is noble, just, fair, and, indeed, all that would redound to the progress and development of our country.
“Recent developments in the country have, however, reinforced the uneasy relationship that often exists between government and the media. But we urge the government to stoutly resist anything that might bear the slightest semblance to a curtailment of the freedom of the press, either overtly or covertly. The media parades professionals who are passionate and committed to the growth and development of the country on all fronts, and they do not deserve to be hounded, repressed or harassed in any form,” Adesina said.
If there are inadvertent infractions of the rules, Adesina said: “we expect nothing but the strictest conformity to due process and the rule of law in addressing such. There are certain approaches that are incompatible with democratic norms. We do not expect that our governments at various levels will still resort to such, 14 years into unbroken democratic rule.
“The media industry today groans under high cost of production inputs. Let the government use the occasion of World Press Freedom Day today to appraise how it can make life easier for the press. An industry that operates under near-economic strangulation, due to unfriendly policies from government, cannot be said to be really free,” adding that Nigerian editors will always give their best to engender cohesion and harmony in the polity. “It is our sacred duty and calling. We will always uphold socially responsible acts and practices, and play to the hilt our roles as partners in progress, towards building a country where no man is oppressed, intimidated or harassed,” the NGE president warned.
“Free press means free expression, and our country needs such to develop, and to hold its own in the comity of nations. Freedom is a bulwark against tyranny. But freedom is also fragile, and World Press Freedom Day is an opportunity to reflect on this. The line between press freedom and repression is quite thin, and eternal vigilance is needed at all times, lest we find ourselves at the wrong side of the divide. Nigerian editors will continue to stand for ethical practices in an atmosphere free of any foreboding or apprehension. That is the essence of World Press Freedom Day,” Adesina said.