John Bray, United States of America Consular General urges Nigerian journalists to be objective in their reporting as the world marks Press Freedom Day
| By Anayo Ezugwu | May 16, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT |
NIGERIAN journalists have been urged to ensure press freedom and internet neutrality in the country by being objective in their reportage. John Bray, United States of America Consular General in Nigeria, said more than ever before, the media in the country is empowered to give the people a voice and should effectively perform its function.
Bray, who made the call on Tuesday, May 3, in his remarks during the activities marking the 2016 World Press Freedom Day held at the multi-purpose room of the US Consulate in Lagos in collaboration with the Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, challenged Nigerian journalists to persist in the use of the Freedom of Information, FoI, Act passed in 2011 and also press hard for an amendment to strengthen the law.
“I want to offer a bit of advice. Protect a free press and a neutral internet in your country. The Nigerian people will rely on you to offer them objective information on major issues that impact the country. Today, your profession is by far better positioned to make significant contributions on behalf of the voiceless compared to the early years of democracy in your country.
“Freedom of information is also closely linked to free and neutral internet policy, which the US advocates strongly. The advent of the internet has changed the way we live, study, and work. The ever changing technology has also produced unimaginable global opportunities. We have seen unprecedented innovation and growth driven by online activities. Education, entrepreneurship, healthcare, and good governance are accelerated by access to the internet. Your profession has been profoundly impacted by social media. Today, we see every major broadcast and print media amplifying mainstream platforms via social media. Bloggers have carved a niche and have gained respect in contributing significantly to global discourse on major issues.
“Overall technological innovation which drives social media has had a significant impact on globalisation and democracy. And in general, the principle of internet neutrality affirms that start-ups have the same opportunity to access the internet as established businesses. As well as academics and university students have the same level of access to the internet as teachers and students in the elementary and secondary schools. No one should unfairly slow down access to the internet to make way for advertisers with more money. This is why we believe the Internet has broadened democratic principles,” he said.
According to Bray, since countries that have adopted the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, understand its value, Nigerians should work to make use of the FOIA that that the country adopted in 2011. “I encourage you to persist until the law is enforced, including pressing hard for amendment to strengthen the law. We do not only defend a free press with vigour in the United States but we also monitor other governments how they operate when it comes to a free press.
“Each year, the State Department gathers information and reports how press freedom is operating as part of our human rights assessment. The report is disseminated to governments, the news media, and civil society. Countries that condone the oppression of the press are exposed in the human rights report, which helps them to take steps to uphold the freedom of the press. In our public and private engagement we defend and reinforce a free press.”
On his part, Abdulwaheed Odusile, national president, NUJ, called for a proper constitutional guarantee of press freedom in Nigeria and not just freedom of expression as contained in the constitution. He argued that free press could be seen, identified and regarded as the bedrock, footing and base of good governance, peace and national prosperity.
Odusile said the effectiveness of the free press as watch-dogs should have the greatest impact upon stamping out corruption and promoting transparency and freedom of information. “Consequently, greater transparency and more open information is thought to be particularly important for stamping out malfeasance and misappropriations by public officials. He cited example of economic studies which reported that places with widespread newspaper circulation, and the existence of freedom of Information have less corruption,” he said.
The NUJ national president noted that while in some countries, press freedom or free press is expressly guaranteed in their constitutions or in the amendment to their constitutions, it is not so stated in Nigeria. According to him, this has created the problem associated with the protection of press freedom in the country by the judiciary and has also constrained the Nigerian media to some extent in the discharge of their responsibilities.
Other speakers at the event included Lai Oso, former Dean, School of Communication, Lagos State University; Kadaria Ahmed, former editor, Next Newspapers; Peter Nkanga, West African representative, Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ; Taiwo Kola-Ogunlade, Google Communications and Public Affairs Manager for Anglophone West Africa; Steve Ayorinde, Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Deji Elumoye, chairman, Lagos NUJ.
The World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations, UN general assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. Since then, May 3, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day. It is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, assess the state of press freedom throughout the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
In 2016, World Press Freedom Day coincides with the 250 anniversary of the world’s first freedom of information law, covering both modern-day Sweden and Finland. The 25 anniversary of the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration of press freedom principles; the year 2016 is also the first year of the 15 year life-cycle of the new Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs.