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Stakeholders hail UN resolution on safety of journalists, call for govt implementation

By Sunday Aikulola and Ngozi Egenuka
20 October 2020   |   4:19 am
Since 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council has always considered resolutions on the safety of journalists every two years.

Since 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council has always considered resolutions on the safety of journalists every two years. This year’s addresses new issues such as: gender based violence, access to information, COVID-19, overbroad and vague laws, extraterritorial threats, strategic lawsuits against public participation and accreditation.

The resolution, A/HRC/45/L.42/Rev.1, introduced by Austria, was adopted by a consensus of the 47-member UN Human Rights Council at its 45th Regular Session, which ended in Geneva, Switzerland, recently.

The resolution was led by a cross-regional core group of Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar and Tunisia, and co-sponsored by over 70 countries from all world regions, sending strong international commitment to end all attacks, reprisals and violence against journalists worldwide.

Specifically, on gender-based violence, the council canvassed strengthening of language of communication. The resolution sought comprehensive measures to protect women journalists, including to “prevent sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence”, to “encourage the reporting of harassment or violence by providing gender-sensitive investigative procedures”, and to “provide adequate support, remedy, reparations and compensation for victims.”

Besides, it urged political leaders and public officials to “refrain from using unpleasant or any discriminatory language towards women journalists.”

The resolution also stressed the importance of journalists having access to information held by public authorities and the right of the general public to receive media output.

It called on governments to adopt and implement transparent and expedient laws and policies that provide for the effective disclosure of information held by public authorities, including online.

On COVID-19, the resolution raised deep concern that the pandemic has had noticeable implications for the work, health and safety of journalists and called on nations to assess the damage that the COVID-19 pandemic is inflicting on the provision of vital information to the public and the sustainability of media environments, and to consider, wherever possible, devising appropriate mechanisms to provide financial support to the media without compromising editorial independence.

Looking at extraterritorial threats, the resolution expressed concern over incidences of extraterritorial targeting of journalists and media workers, including harassment, surveillance and arbitrary deprivation of life. This is the first resolution by the council on the safety of journalists since the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings’ investigative report into the extraterritorial murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Across the world, journalists are increasingly faced with meritless lawsuits that have the objective of imposing an overwhelming procedural and economic burden. These lawsuits – sometimes related to defamation or protection of reputation or personality – often have political and economic undertones, with governments, corporations or wealthy private actors attempting to bankrupt and silence journalists and newspapers for their investigation of corruption or public inefficiency.

According to MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Federal Government to fully implement the resolution and, in particular, undertake a comprehensive review of all its laws, policies and practices and, “where necessary, repeal or amend them so that they do not limit the ability of journalists and media workers to perform their work independently and without undue interference.”

He said, “this latest resolution by the Human Rights Council on the safety of journalists is a clear and comprehensive guidance to governments around the world, including the Nigerian Government, on the concrete actions they need to take to protect their journalists and media communities given the invaluable service they provide to their societies; to keep their citizens properly informed; and to fulfil their obligations under international human rights law as far as media freedom is concerned.”

Ojo highlighted other aspects of the resolution, which the Nigerian government must urgently implement in order to meet its international human rights obligations, such as:

• Establishing prevention mechanisms, such as an early warning and rapid response mechanism, to give journalists and media workers, when threatened, immediate access to authorities competent and adequately resourced to provide effective protective measures; and
• developing and implementing strategies for combating impunity for attacks and violence against journalists, including by creating special investigative units or independent commissions; appointing a specialised prosecutor; and adopting specific protocols and methods of investigation and prosecution, among others.

On how the resolution could be implemented in Nigeria, Professor Umaru Pate of the Department of Mass Communication, Bayero University, Kano, said “safety is a very important issue. We need journalists who can write news not news to be written about them. The first principle is you must be alive to report the news. We have to work harder to ensure that journalists are safe, particularly the environment now. You can see insurgency and kidnapping. Not only that, the economic situation of our journalists is quite challenging, so they need economic safety, physical safety, psychological safety that is to operate without fear, economic safety— they are well remunerated, then legal safety— not for lawyers to raise legal issues against them, gender safety so that they can operate without fear of being harassed at work or out of work, then digital safety—some journalists are digitally harassed, most of our media organisations don’t have safety policies and if anything happens to you, you are on your own. Journalists go to places or assignments that are risky without risk analysis, no insurance cover. I hope Nigeria Union of Journalists will wake up and be more focused in addressing these issues.”

Similarly, veteran journalist, Owei Lakemfa said, “journalists are the watchdogs of the society. If there is right to information, it is a right that should be fought for at every given time, because those who hold power and the rich do not want correct information to be passed to the public. So, it must be fought for at every given time. Like the late Kwame Nkrumah said, independence is not given on a platter of gold so you have to fight for it at every given time. The journalists in the colonial era fought for the right of freedom of expression, so, we now have a solid foundation on which our generation could build on. Tragically, due to economic deprivation that many journalists face, delay or non payment of salary and the degeneration of Nigerian society, many journalists are willingly giving up these rights and defending those opposed to freedom of expression and it is becoming difficult for Nigerian journalists to speak the truth and stand by it.”

“We journalists need to emancipate ourselves in order to carry out our basic responsibilities and functions. And I believe, at any given time, the journalist must owe its allegiance not to the government or the rich but the ordinary people.”