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NPAN, NGE fault attempts to stifle press freedom as fresh attacks on journalists worry stakeholders

By Sunday Aikulola
02 August 2022   |   2:41 am
Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and International Press Institute (IPI) have stressed the need for industry-wide engagement

Adeola Ogunrinde, one of the journalists attacked by thugs in Lagos

Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and International Press Institute (IPI) have stressed the need for industry-wide engagement in setting up a structure for the regulation of journalism practice in the country.

In a communiqué issued after a recent meeting in Abuja, the media professionals insisted that press freedom is vital to the sustenance of democracy.

The communiqué was signed by the NPAN President, Malam Kabir Yusuf; NGE President, Mustapha Isah; NUJ President, Chris Isiguzo; IPI President, Mojeed Musikilu, and the Executive Director, International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Dayo Aiyetan.

The professionals said their position was necessitated by the renewed vigour in the National Assembly to reintroduce bills likely to stifle media practice.

They noted that the media would not allow covert or overt attempts to muzzle and criminalise journalism practice in Nigeria – whether through the obnoxious social media bill or the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Code of Practice.

They said that the principles of good journalism practice such as truth, accuracy, balance, independence, and protection of journalists, should be upheld.

According to the communiqué, “we agreed that there is a need for self-regulation based on the Code of Ethics, in addition to the need for further review of existing code.

“Stakeholders insist on the primacy of media freedom, and to jealously guard same, and are not unaware of the responsibilities that come with such freedoms.”

The groups, which recommended a timeline of six weeks for the said structure for media regulation for review and takeoff, agreed that capacity building for media professionals should be prioritised.

“Therefore, the training and retraining of all segments of the media, especially editors, reporters and bureaucracy of the various media associations and unions – NPAN, NGE, NUJ and IPI should be in focus. This is to enhance professionalism, institutional memory and sustainability,” they noted.

They further tasked media houses to also have an in-house framework, either at the level of individual organisations or collectively.

Conclusively, they advised governments to desist from interfering in the editorial independence of public-owned media institutions.

MEANWHILE, stakeholders in the profession have expressed concern over renewed attacks on journalists, saying it as an assault on press freedom. In fact, they described journalists as endangered species, who are often spied on, harassed, tortured, intimidated, physically assaulted and victimised.

The International Press Centre (IPC) Safety of Journalists alert desk observed that between January and July 2022, more than 40 cases of dangerous and life threatening incidents involving journalists and other media professionals have been recorded.

On May 24, 2022, a vehicle conveying members of the Correspondents Chapel of the Osun State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) was attacked by suspected political thugs, while covering the state governor, Gboyega Oyetola’s campaign in Gbogan, Aiyedade Council of the state.

On the same day in Benin, Edo State, three journalists – Deborah Coker of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Sunny Inarumen of African Independent Television (AIT) and Osamuyi Ogbomo (Independent Television) – were arrested while covering a factional primary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Other attacks include the harassment of Oyo State correspondent of The Nation newspaper, Yinka Adeniran, on May 25, 2022. He was allegedly attacked and beaten by policemen during the PDP gubernatorial primary at the Lekan Salami Sports Complex, Adamasingba, Ibadan.

Few days after, precisely on May 31, 2022, police allegedly shot the Osun State Correspondent of the same paper, Toba Adedeji, during a protest in Osogbo, Osun State.

Similarly, on Saturday, June 18, 2022, Omoniyi Jeremiah, a campus journalist, who was deployed by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) to cover the Ekiti governorship poll was arrested and taken away by the Department of State Services (DSS) during the polls, for allegedly recording a video of a brawl involving party agents at a polling unit in Irepodun/Ifelodun Council.

On Sunday, June 19, 2022, in Lagos, thugs on Lagos Island attacked the press crew covering Lagos State Governor’s Office, leaving no fewer than two journalists seriously wounded, with others sustaining injuries.

The affected journalists, Adeola Ogunrinde and Omatseye Atsenuwa of Smooth FM were severely injured, while Adedoja Salam of TVC was left in a state of shock.

On June 27, 2022, Mr. Haruna Mohammed, the publisher of WikkiTimes online newspaper and one of the reporters, Mr Idris Kamal were reportedly harassed and molested by security agencies in Bauchi State.

The ordeal of the two journalists began when they honoured an invitation from the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID) following a petition by Mr. Yakubu Shehu Abdullahi, a member of the House of Representatives representing Bauchi Federal Constituency, concerning a Wikki Times report of May 18, 2022, on the sudden death of APC chairman in Bauchi Council.

The journalists arrived at the station at about 10:00 am on Monday but after making a statement they were allegedly clamped in a cell and physically assaulted.

Despite the presence of their lawyer at the police station, they were not set free until about 10 hours later and asked to report back on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, for further interrogation.

The two journalists again reported at the SCIID Bauchi as directed but were promptly taken before a Bauchi Magistrates Court, where they were charged with criminal conspiracy, defamation of character and cyberstalking.

The court ruled that they should be held in custody until Wednesday, June 29, 2022.

In his reaction, Executive Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said journalists should not continue to be treated as endangered species in the country, stating that in all circumstances, security agencies must always strive to follow the rule of law in handling complaints or petitions against journalists and other media professionals, just as they should normally do for every citizen.

He insisted that such attacks represent a return to the era of media repression in the country, adding that such development constitutes a grave danger to press freedom and freedom of expression.

To him, it is also worth reminding all security agencies that the role of the media during electoral processes and elections is recognised by the constitution and the Electoral Act and any assault on media professionals means that the laws of the country are being undermined.

With specific reference to the attack on the press crew bus on Lagos Island, he observed that the worst could have happened to the journalists and charged both the police and the Lagos State Government to bring the perpetrators to justice to serve as a deterrent to those who may be planning similar attacks in the count down to the 2023 elections.

In a similar vein, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) Programmes Director, Ayodele Longe, said the reported attack is condemnable in all ramifications because it was unprovoked.

He said though the police and security agencies were around, there was no report of them trying to protect the journalists or preventing them from being harmed. Unfortunately, he noted that this has been the trend that law enforcement and security agents, when they are not the ones attacking journalists, actually turn a blind eye when journalists are being attacked.

For them, he said there was only one man whose life matters, that of Asiwaju Tinubu. He said they actually have a bounding duty to protect every citizen, much so journalists who are in the line of duty, enlightening the people on what is happening in the country.

To him, while it is necessary that relevant agencies investigate the attack and bring perpetrators to book, he suggested the need to be trained on their duty to protect Nigerians of all walks of life. He said, “they should not stand aloof while innocent citizens are being attacked.”

Arogundade added that political parties and the government must put in place mechanisms for the protection of journalists during campaigns and elections. He noted that parties should be reminded that the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage requires them to grant access to journalists interested in covering their activities including primaries while taking measures to protect them from aggrieved party members or political thugs.

He further suggested the urgent need for the leadership of the security agencies to enlighten their officials on how to accord respect to journalists covering events of public interest and refrain from assaulting them.