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At forum, stakeholders seek media engagement, involvement in constitutional amendment

By Sunday Aikulola and Charles Akpeji
15 December 2020   |   3:53 am
Participants at the International Press Centre’s (IPC) media roundtable and stakeholders’ forum on journalists’ safety and press freedom limitations in Nigeria held in Lagos last week have restated the need for safety of journalists to be given desired attention and utmost priority.

Lanre Arogundade

Participants at the International Press Centre’s (IPC) media roundtable and stakeholders’ forum on journalists’ safety and press freedom limitations in Nigeria held in Lagos last week have restated the need for safety of journalists to be given desired attention and utmost priority.

Drawn from the print, electronic, online media, academics and civil society, the participants observed that the country’s media space is shrinking, which adversely, is affecting journalists’ output.

In his welcome remarks, Executive Director, IPC, Lanre Arogundade, said safety of journalists in Nigeria requires special attention, adding that there is urgent need to address the situation, as the country is now one of the most dangerous and difficult countries for the media to operate in West Africa.

He said IPC has documented several cases of attacks on journalists. “Moreover during the #EndSARS protests, police and demonstrators attacked at least 12 journalists covering protests against police brutality, and at least five, media houses were also attacked,” Arogundade revealed.

Similarly, Director, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), Dr. Akin Akingbulu, noted that current electoral reforms are being proposed at the National Assembly but some of the provisions are not in favour of the media, saying, “we need to be alert and continue to push for press freedom.”

The first presentation at the forum was the findings of a ‘Survey on Safety of Journalists and Press Freedom in Nigeria’ being a component of a three-year project on Safety Awareness, Impactful Reporting of Communities and Improved Institutional Capacity being implemented by (IPC) in partnership with Open Society Foundation (OSF).

The survey examined the perceptions of about 300 journalists and editors from the print, electronic and online media. Scholars and non-governmental organisations were not left out in the survey that looked at safety of journalists and press freedom in Nigeria.

According to the survey’s coordinator, Mr. Francis Abayomi, it “revealed that unfavorable working environments, which manifest in poor remuneration, delayed/unpaid salaries as well as poor welfare packages and incentives constitute dominant concerns that aggravate insecurity in the profession of journalism.”

Key recommendations from the survey, he explained, were: inter-agency collaboration between media professional bodies and the academic to regularly review and update situations on journalists’ safety and press freedom; regular training and retraining of journalists on safety and press freedom related issues; setting up a safety help desk; setting up a foundation to manage a special fund to assist victimised journalists in overcoming the trauma of victimisation; institutional assistance to help journalists deploy the instrument of Freedom of Information (FOI) Act; regular interface with government to highlight concerns about press fre edom; and improved synergy of activities between media NGOs and media professional groups to address concerns relating to safety of journalists.

In his keynote address, Professor Ayo Olukotun of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, emphasised the need for journalists to be active agents in the struggle for genuine democratic society while challenging media professionals and critical stakeholders to be at the forefront in the effort at restoring the dignity of journalism profession.

The media, he argued, should facilitate advocacy for horizontal accountability among actors in governance to complement vertical accountability that has already acquired robust momentum from platforms of the civil society.

He added that in the bid to sustain clamour for genuine democracy and good governance, the media must fine-tune public advocacy that resonate with actors in governance as a way of rediscovering the golden era of Nigerian media, which is in tandem with defending the truth, democracy and constitutional mandate of the journalism profession.

Arogundade said that the forum was also in continuation of IPC’s commitment to deepening engagement and consultations with media and relevant stakeholders on approaches for guaranteeing safety and improved welfare of Nigerian journalists.

He added that the event was held to mark year 2020 edition of the United Nation’s International Day to End Impunity (IDEI) for Crimes against Journalist.

In a communiqué issued after the roundtable and signed by the executive director of the Centre, Arogundade, participants called for an immediate review of existing regulatory provisions to make commitment to welfare of journalists by employers enforceable.

More to the foregoing, they unanimously agreed for a reappraisal of the roles of media professional bodies and associations to make them more relevant to modern day realities of the journalism profession and interested in promoting conducive environment in which journalists perform their duties.

While calling for an improved advocacy and campaigns for the welfare and safety of journalists by stakeholders in the civil society, advocated for special attention to and provision of protective measures for women in the journalism profession, more especially as it relates to peculiarity of assignments.

While raising the need to prioritise skills acquisition and capacity development media establishments as part of the welfare package for journalists, they called for greater networking among media professionals in the academic, public service and at the level of governance as a way of mobilising sustained interest in advocacies on improved welfare and safety of journalists.

Demanding for a sustained engagement with security agencies to push concerns relating to abuses against journalists to the front burner of ongoing clamour for reforms, journalists and other media professionals practicing and publishing online, as suggested by them “must openly declare commitment to the upholding of the ethical and professional standards of journalism as spelt out in the codes of ethics/conduct while also taking necessary protection and safety measures.”

Stressing on the need for sustained commitment to early warning alerts and helplines on safety of journalists as being piloted by IPC in Nigeria, a special endowment fund to be managed by credible foundations, they said, should be established to respond to the compelling needs of journalists in jeopardy as a result of abuses, poor welfare, and neglect.

According to them, “there should be media engagement and involvement in the constitutional amendment processes to ensure that there is constitutional provision for media independence, press freedom and the welfare rights of journalists as a way of ensuring better protection for journalists and promoting their safety.”

Present at the forum were the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Vice President, Zone E, Mr. AlHassan Yahya, representing the President of the NUJ; the Social/Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr. Ken Ugbechie, representing the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors; the President of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP), Mr. Dotun Oladipo and the chairman of Lagos NUJ, Mr. Leye Ajayi.