Practitioners seek end to impunity, crimes against journalists
• 893 journalists killed globally in 10 years,
• 29 cases of attacks involving 39 journalists across the country, says ICSPJ
• 12 journalists attacked during the February 2023 general elections
In commemoration of this year’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, media practitioners have expressed concern over rising cases of attacks and harassment of journalists.
The practitioners spoke at a forum organised by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Abuja on X Space.
It is estimated that more than 893 journalists have been killed globally since 2013, while International Press Centre for Safety and Protection of Journalists (ICSPJ) noted that this year alone recorded 29 cases of attacks involving 39 journalists across the country, including attacks on at least 12 journalists that covered the February 2023 general elections.
Moderated by Director, UNIC Abuja, Ronald Kayanja, other participants at the discussion were Assistant General Manager, Operations, Channels Television, Lagos, Kingsley Uranta; Associate Professor & Dean, Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, Bingham University, Nasarawa State, Desmond Okocha; Editor, EarthNews NG, Ruth Tene Natsa and Senior Human Rights Adviser, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Adwoa Kufuor.
With ‘Violence Against Journalists, the Integrity of Elections and the Role of Public Leadership’ as theme, Uranta said covering elections is the dream of every journalist, because of opportunity it provides to deepen democracy.
Expressing worry over continued attacks on media workers, Uranta recalled that during the last election, “journalists were harassed and prevented from doing their job. But we must do our job and there must be truth and objectivity.”
To him, journalists are exposed to danger of attack by touts and security men, noting, it is critical to take security of journalists seriously.
Ahead of the forthcoming off-cycle elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states, he stressed the need for journalists to understand the tenets of the profession.
He advised, “journalists must be conscious of the environment, survey the environment, keep in touch with colleagues and identify where the car is parked in case of emergency.”
For female reporters, he suggested decent dressing, avoidance of high-heeled shoes and reporting from safe point.
Sharing Channels Television experience, he noted, “in covering elections, we conduct risk analysis and come up with mitigation plans. Every reporter that goes to cover elections is insured. It is also important journalists are educated on how elections should be covered.
“We ensure that our staff are paid as at when due. That way, the journalist is self-assured that he doesn’t have to depend on people for ‘brown envelope’ so that your information is not controlled.”
Speaking further, he described media as business, adding, “the challenge of balancing the two–Your responsibility as a journalist and running the business will always clash.”
Insisting journalists must never get cowed, he further harped on the need for media houses to celebrate their own, adding, “we tell stories of others as well.”
Saying there is a need to interrogate the nation’s democracy and accord the journalist his rightful place, Okocha argued the media must not be taken for public relations practice.
He cautioned, “the journalist must be seen as a member of the fourth estate of the realm, but the elites see the journalists as a public relations tool. We must realize that allegiance of journalists is not to the ruler or elites, but to the people.”
The don further observed research has shown that most of the attacks against journalists are perpetrated by state actors.
Saying treatment meted out to journalists by government officials go unpunished, he asked: “Since 1999, till date, how many people have been prosecuted for violating the rights of journalists? We have the laws but we don’t have the attitude.”
He also stressed the need for members of the International Organisations to intervene in ending impunity against journalists through visa ban or withholding of documents of perpetrators.
Okocha, however, advised journalists to be tech savvy, warning that most of the perpetrators of crimes against journalists also monitor them on digital platforms.
To achieve credible elections, he insisted there is need to interrogate economy of the media industry.
“All media houses must lift the economic status of journalist. In universities, journalists are also trained on emotional intelligence and the need to be sensitive to their communities.
“There is need for training and retraining of the journalists, to understand the peculiarities of the environment they are operating. The electorates, political class and the elites must be educated to know that the journalist is a partner in development. Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ) must update their register so that charlatans can be filtered.
“We must rejig and push speedy dispensation of justice. Media houses must purge themselves of political affiliations. Journalists must do self-censorship so that we are not purveyors of fake news.”
Kufuor, on her part, observed more than 80 per cent of crimes against journalists occur with impunity. She said journalists in Nigeria and elsewhere remain at risk.
Saying this is intolerable, she noted women journalists, according to UNESCO, also face gender based harassment.
To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, she observed freedom of information is critical.
To her, the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalist and Universal Declaration on Human Rights clearly highlight the rights of journalists and must not be violated.
Advocating laws that safeguard media freedom, she called for more actions from the police and justice system to investigate and prosecute crimes that target journalists.
Natsa, on her part, said as long as culture of impunity continues to thrive, the journalist would always be endangered.
Advising journalists to tell the story and not become the story, she stressed the need for media houses must be above board.
To her, “we shouldn’t be in a hurry to break the news. We must ensure what we present is factual, objective and nothing but the truth.”
Ahead of the off-cycle elections, she said media houses must provide safety apparatus for journalists.
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