Media professionals canvass adequate protection for journalists in 2022
Following the poor rating of Nigeria in 2021 by World Press Freedom Index, media professionals have stressed the need for government and other state actors to guarantee safety of journalists this year, especially, as the 2023 general election draws nearer.
Recall that Nigeria was ranked 120 out of 180 countries in the press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
This may have suggested why media stakeholders described the country as one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists to operate.
Speaking with The Guardian, Executive Director/ CEO Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Reporting (WSCIJ), Motunrayo Alaka, said journalists are citizens and government has a duty to protect them.
While saying that security is a major duty of government, Alaka described journalists as harbingers of truth and because they play the role of watchdog in any society, “there is another layer of protection that the work deserves.”
Alaka said media owners and employers, as well as, editors, have a duty to provide a framework for the protection of journalists.
She stressed that this could be done though the machinery of state or thinking through story ideas and their risks or exposure levels before they are conducted.
According to her, “we always say there is no story that is worth a journalist’s life. You must live to write another story.”
For the Executive Director Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Lagos Edetaen Ojo, “it is a fundamental obligation of the State to guarantee the safety of journalists and other media practitioners.”
He disclosed that under various regional and international instruments and principles, which impose this obligation on the state, particularly, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, the duty of the state includes, taking measures to prevent attacks on journalists, investigating, if any of such attacks happen, prosecuting and punishing perpetrators of the attacks, and ensuring that whenever such attacks take place, the victims have access to effective remedies.
Country Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said the nation is facing difficult times and insecurity is on the rise.
“Nobody is safe and journalists live in the same society,” she said.
Ojigho raised the need for an improvement in the security architecture, adding, “over the years, there had been attempt, through legislations, to limit the scope of journalists’ operations, as well as their access to information.”
She noted: “If government respects the law and the rights of everyone, things would fall in place.”
Frontline journalist and former Special Adviser, Media Affairs to Edo State Governor, Tony Iyare, said government must refrain from its mindset of wanting to put the Nigerian media under chains via sponsorship of draconian bills at the National Assembly.
He said state actors need to fully appreciate the work of journalists, and by extension, the responsibility of the media as enshrined in section 22 of the Constitution and create a conducive atmosphere for them to carry out their professional duties.
On the roles of journalists ahead of 2023 general elections, Ojo said an important element of a credible electoral process in the context of a democratic system of government is the ability of all contesting points of view to be fairly communicated to the electorate so that they can make informed choices.
He noted that it is also of critical importance that the media communicates information about the elections, including voting procedures, dates, times and eligibility to vote to the public.
In this era of hate speech and fake news, he said the media community must strive to prevent the circulation and broadcast of propaganda, inflammatory material, hate speech, insults or damaging rumours, which can destroy communities and prevent the building of trust.
He also said given how delicate issues of religion, ethnicity and cultures are in Nigeria, the media need to be sensitive to the religions and cultures of various groups, which is one issue that tends to inflame passions easily and quite often in Nigeria.According to him, “we have seen time and time again that when people make bad political choices, either because they are ill-informed or because they want to pander to some sectarian interest, we all suffer the consequences. In such situations, the media have often also been victims.”
Alaka, on her part, suggested that journalists could do better by engaging in deep profiling of candidates. She said beyond sentiments, the offices of the citizens must be exalted.
She also said journalists could awaken that civic consciousness in the people that they have an office and that office is powerful.
According to her, “questions like what the candidates are or what they are bringing to the fore must be asked.”
Alaka advised journalists not speak down on institutions but must tell well-rounded stories and empower the citizens to engage.
Sharing similar perspective, Iyare called on journalists to adhere strictly to the ethics of the profession by ensuring that they properly grill contestants and present the electorate with reasoned choices.
He said they must conduct proper checks of what they publish, be conscious and properly guided about the use of language in their reporting.
On how the nation can improve on its rating in the Press Freedom Index, Alaka regrettably said, “the truth is that the civic space has shrunk. We are no longer as free as we used to. There has been subtle but strong threat that have increased self-censorship. People are not speaking.”
As a way out, she said there is urgent need to have conversation about the effect of media ownership on what is published or what is allowed.
She added, “we need to talk about self-censorship because I have found out that self-censorship is perhaps the biggest challenge apart from ethics we have in the media.”
Ojo, on his part, linked Nigeria’s poor performance in terms of press freedom to the direct result of government’s inability to live up to its obligations to ensure the safety of journalists.
To change this, he said government should adopt legal, policy and administrative measures that would enable it fulfill its obligations and live up to its responsibilities.
The legal and policy measures, he explained, should be aimed at strengthening existing frameworks for the protection of journalists and the media and for ensuring media freedom in Nigeria. He said where no frameworks exist; the objective should be to put them in place.
Ojo noted that the policy should adopt administrative and institutional practices through which the government could give practical effect to the principles and commitment in the legal and policy frameworks.
Practical example of this, he stated, would be to ensure that anyone who attacks a journalist or the media, whether the person is a government official or a private citizen, is promptly investigated, prosecuted and punished by the relevant agencies of government.
Advising journalists on what they need to do differently in 2022, Ojigho suggested that 2022 is an opportunity for journalists to be brave and courageous.
She said journalists must work together and be able to build necessary network and coalition in order to deal with any challenges that come in carrying out their functions.
According to her, “journalists should know that they must move with the time, that is they have to update themselves regularly. They need to interrogate issues that would give the reader enough information to form an opinion of what has been presented before them.”