Sunday, 24th September 2023

‘Barring journalists from Aso Villa blow on media freedom’

By Sunday Aikulola
18 September 2023   |   4:00 am
Media professionals have continued to express concern over recent revocation of accreditations of 25 journalists covering the Presidential Villa Abuja, describing it as a devastating blow to media freedom in the country.

Aso Rock Villa.: Pix: Twitter

Media professionals have continued to express concern over recent revocation of accreditations of 25 journalists covering the Presidential Villa Abuja, describing it as a devastating blow to media freedom in the country.

The Federal Government had on August 18, 2023, withdrawn the accreditation tags of some 25 journalists from Vanguard Newspapers, Galaxy TV, Ben TV, MITV; ITV Abuja; PromptNews, ONTV and Liberty, stopping them from covering activities at the Presidential Villa Abuja, citing “security concerns and overcrowding of the press gallery area.”

The affected journalists were told at the main gate of the Villa to submit their accreditation tags.

But the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), President Chris Isiguzo, said no official statement has been received from the Villa.

He said: “We want to believe it is rumour because we haven’t received an official statement from the Villa. None of our colleagues covering the Villa have reported to the NUJ that his accreditation has been withdrawn. What is very clear is that the Villa is a public place.

“It belongs to the people and one unique feature of democratic governance is the people. Once you alienate the people from governance, then there is no democracy and one sector that stands in the gap between the government and the governed is the media, so freedom of expression is something that cannot be toyed with in a democracy.”

Speaking further, he said President Tinubu is a democrat, who would not muzzle the press.

To him, “the president was one of those who remained in the trenches to ensure Nigeria returns to democracy and I don’t think he will be part of those who will undermine the same democracy.”

Insisting that the Presidency must rescind the decision, Amnesty International Nigeria stressed that action would impact the right to freedom of expression.

To Amnesty, media freedom, media diversity and protection of journalists are a central part of the effective exercise of freedom of expression.

Saying the media has a role and responsibility to convey information and ideas on matters of public interest and to make sure the public has a right and the possibility to receive them, the group explained that the arbitrary revocation of the journalists’ accreditations is inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s international and constitutional human rights obligations and commitments to media freedom.

The group added: “Nigeria is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which guarantee the right to freedom of expression and impose legal obligations on states to protect freedom of expression and information.

“Authorities should encourage and promote the enjoyment of human rights including freedom of expression and media freedom rather than restricting them.”

Noting the action as an attack on free press, Associate Editor, Premium Times, Adeyemi Adesomoju, described the Villa as one of the most important institutions to be covered.

“I join well-meaning Nigerians to call on the presidency to rescind the decision. If the spokesperson to the president has any problem with the kind of people coming to the Villa, he can do re-accreditation to ensure only credible journalists have access to the Villa,” he suggested.

Similarly, Chief Technologist in the Department of Mass Communication, Yaba College of Technology, Abidemi Gbekeloluwa, described the development as an unfortunate situation, especially in a democratic dispensation.

She said: “I strongly condemn it. Like I would always say, the press as the fourth estate of the realm should be free to carry out her responsibilities without any form of intimidation. I see it as a subtle way to gag the press. Practitioners shouldn’t let this slide.”

Similarly, members of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said the existence of free, independent, vigorous, pluralistic, and diverse media is essential for the proper functioning of a democratic society.

In a recent suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), Kolawole Oluwadare, and Ms Valentina Adegoke, at the Federal High Court in Lagos, SERAP is seeking: “an order directing and compelling President Tinubu to reverse the revocation order.

“An order of perpetual injunction restraining President Tinubu or any other authority, person or group of persons from arbitrarily and unilaterally revoking the accreditations of any journalists and media houses from covering the Presidential Villa.”

SERAP is also seeking: “A declaration that the withdrawal and revocation of accreditation tags and ban on the journalists and media houses from covering the Presidential Villa without any lawful justifications is inconsistent with the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, participation, and media freedom.”

In the suit, SERAP specifically argued: “If not reversed, the arbitrary ban would open the door to other cases of arbitrariness and would restrict people’s right to freedom of expression, access to information, participation, and media freedom.”

The suit, in part, reads: “The ban on the journalists from covering the Presidential Villa fails to meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and proportionality.

“The free circulation of ideas and news is not possible except in the context of a plurality of sources of information and media outlets. The lack of plurality in sources of information is a serious obstacle for the functioning of democracy.

The group added that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression through the media is fundamental for advancing the collective deliberative process on public and democratic issues.

The suit further reads: “The strengthening of the guarantee of freedom of expression is a precondition for the exercise of other human rights, as well as a precondition to the right to participation to be informed and reasoned; the Federal Government should aspire to promote and expand the scope of media freedom, access to information, freedom of expression, and citizens’ participation, not restrict these fundamental freedoms.”

To them, “barring these journalists and media houses from covering the Presidential Villa is to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate constitutional responsibility.

“The withdrawal of the accreditation tags of these journalists directly violates media freedom and human rights including access to information and the right to participation. It would have a significant chilling effect on newsgathering and reporting functions, and may lead to self-censorship; the withdrawal of the accreditations of the journalists would construct barriers between Nigerians and certain information about the operations of their government, something which they have a constitutional right to receive.”

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