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After #EndSARS attacks, stakeholders express concern over safety of media houses, journalists

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The Shoprite shopping mall in Lekki Phase 2 was looted on October 22, 2020, after the army repressed peaceful protestors gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate despite curfew. – Over 20 important state properties have been set on fires, multiple banks and shops were destroyed and food shops looted. (Photo by Sophie BOUILLON / AFP)

• IPI condemns attack on National Pilot

On October 21, 2020, arsonists invaded more than five media houses in Lagos, looting and setting buildings and cars ablaze. The affected media houses are Television Continental (TVC), Max FM, Lagos Television (LTV), The Nation Newspapers, Radio Lagos and Channels TV. Also affected is National Pilot, Ilorin.

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There were also reports of journalists being attacked while covering the protests. Hoodlums also attacked Ayo Makinde of Channels TV as he reported the destruction of TVC office in Ketu, Lagos. Two Punch Newspaper reporters, Segun Odunayo and Femi Daudu, were attacked equally during the protest at Lagos State House of Assembly, Alausa.

Recounting her experience, Morayo Afolabi-Brown, presenter of Your View on TVC, who was on a live programme, when the armed thugs invaded the premises, said: “We were told that hoodlums had entered our studio and asked to stop the show. All our cameramen and producers had to run for safety. We locked ourselves and had to barricade the door. We had the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) men around, but they ran away. We were stuck in the studio.”

Co-presenter of the show, Tope Mark-Odigie, said, “they first broke the mast and later set buses outside on fire and we were inside. As we walked past them, they were holding machetes. They hit our head and our buttocks.”

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Media stakeholders have, however, expressed concern over this unpleasant development, insisting that the attacks were totally uncalled for.

Meanwhile, the International Press Institute (IPI) Nigeria has condemned the attack on National Pilot Newspapers based in Ilorin, Kwara State capital.

In a statement issued on Sunday and signed by its chairman, Kabiru Yusuf, and Secretary, Raheem Adedoyin, the institute demanded, “the perpetrators be fished out and brought to justice.”

According to the statement, “just when we thought the attack by protesters on media houses had ceased, we received a disturbing report that National Pilot Newspapers has become the latest victims.”

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The institute expressed its sympathy to the management of National Pilot and its staff, calling on “government to prioritise the protection and safety of journalists in the country.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council recently passed a new resolution on the safety of journalists, which it has done every two years, since 2012. This year addresses new issues such as gender-based violence, access to information, COVID-19, overbroad and vague laws, extraterritorial threats, strategic lawsuits against public participation and accreditation.

The resolution, A/HRC/45/L.42/Rev.1, introduced by Austria, was adopted by a consensus of the 47-member UN Human Rights Council at its 45th Regular Session, which ended in Geneva, Switzerland.

Specifically, the resolution expressed concern over incidences of extraterritorial targeting of journalists and media workers, including harassment, surveillance and arbitrary deprivation of life. The resolution stressed that government must develop and implement strategies for combating impunity for attacks and violence against journalists, including by creating special investigative units or independent commissions; appointing a specialized prosecutor; and adopting specific protocols and methods of investigation and prosecution, among others.

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In a chat with The Guardian, President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Mustapha Isah, said, “the media should not be a target because we are doing our job. We reflect the views of all sides. If we have a volatile situation like this, the police or security agencies should be deployed to media houses so that if there is a problem, they can come to the rescue. The media shouldn’t be working in an atmosphere of insecurity. When you do that, you will lose your editorial independence. There should be the adequate deployment of security. We have issued a statement that the media should not be part of any crisis, because we report the crisis. We are the fourth estate of the realm. If you go to court, there are always security agencies there. If you go to the National Assembly or Aso Villa, you see the same; so, why not the fourth estate of the realm? The government must also compensate for the affected media houses.”

Isah said insurance for journalists is very important, adding, “journalists go out to cover protests, anything can happen to them there. A reporter should have insurance cover, it shouldn’t be discussed. It should be automatic. You can ensure your office, you must also ensure the reporter.”

In a similar vein, Prof. Umaru Pate, Department of Mass Communication, Bayero University Kano, said, “media houses must also engage in proper risk management. Many of our media organisations don’t have risk management policy, but if we have that, it can help journalists take positive decisions that can protect them or minimise the level of risks that they face. Journalists must also be professionals in what they do so that those out there wouldn’t perceive them as aligning to a certain interest. We have to ensure we always balance issues and be fair. If we want to do investigative journalism, we must do it professionally. Journalists must not be seen as unnecessarily witch-hunting people. Many of our journalists live in fear because they are working for media houses that have a political interest, so, you become a victim not because you are part of it, but because you are aligned to a certain interest.”

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Programmes Officer/ Safety Desk Officer, International Press Centre (IPC), Melody Lawal, said: “IPC finds these recurring attacks very worrisome and alarming as the rate keeps increasing. Lives and properties associated with these media organisations, no doubt, are on the receiving end of these reprisals.”

She said that the media is the voice of the people, and so, should not be made to suffer from the anger against perceived issues of bad governance. “Journalists are also part of the society and their role in reporting happenings of society is imperative. We are calling on the aggrieved citizens to reason that destroying and attacking the media is inimical to the desired outcome.”

Similarly, Programmes Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Mr. Ayode Longe, said the failure of government and its law enforcement agencies to protect media houses, journalists and other media workers in the face of these threats, wanton acts of harassment and intimidation, arson, physical violence and other violation of media rights is a shameful abdication by the government of its legal and constitutional responsibility to protect them as well as a breach of its obligations under international human rights law.”

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According to him, “the media serve a critically important function in society, particularly in times of crisis and emergencies, as it is imperative that citizens, other members of the public and communities are adequately informed about the prevailing situation, including any threat to their lives or wellbeing. Such acts of intimidation and violence against the media and journalists, as we have witnessed in recent days, undermine their ability to perform their functions and violate the public’s right of access to information.”

Longe stressed that there could be no justification for attacking journalists and media houses as such actions are likely to result in self-censorship, as journalists and other media workers become fearful that they are being watched and would be attacked by any party to a conflict or any interest group that is displeased with their reporting.

He also urged government and law enforcement agencies to live up to their responsibilities of ensuring the safety of journalists and other media workers by taking urgent steps and putting in place mechanisms to protect media organisations, journalists and other media workers across the country.

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Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalist, Lagos State Council, Dr. Quasim Akinreti, said, “journalists must extremely be careful. Mob action could be very dangerous. If we need to shut down the station, we should do that to safeguard our lives. We are pushing for media endowment for the affected media houses. We want to see how we can provide succor to affected colleagues. We have to look inwards. Some of our colleagues can’t go to work because their places of work have been vandalised. It is a trying time for us. Government must also provide adequate security for media houses.”

Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), Dr. Akin Akingbulu, said, “industry professional and civil society groups must give solidarity to the affected media outlets and journalists, conduct a collaborative assessment of the damage done to the affected media organisations, develop an industry response or strategy informed by the assessment, continue to support the media in strengthening professionalism, particularly at this time.”

He added that journalists must remain consistent in professionalism despite the challenges of this period and prioritise safety consciousness and measures at all times.

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