Today is being observed by the global community as the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD). The day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 acting on a recommendation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
The occasion is used to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, assess the state of press freedom throughout the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tributes to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
The theme of this year’s commemoration, “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”, is carefully chosen to align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the UN General Assembly in 2015. SDG 16 concerns issues of peace and democracy as preconditions for equitable and sustainable development.
It further states: “When freedom of expression and safety of journalists are protected, the media can play vital role in preventing conflict and supporting peaceful democratic process.”
Journalists all over the world have suffered all manner of persecutions, intimidations and unnecessary harassments. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), in 2018 alone, at least 94 journalists were killed, rising from 82 from the previous year. The most dangerous countries for the practice of journalism in 2018 were Afghanistan with 16 fatalities, Mexico with 11, Yemen with 9, Syria and India with 8 and 7, respectively.
Reporters Without Borders (RWB) identified 80 fatalities within the same period, 49 of them deliberately killed and 31 murdered while reporting. It also stated that three were missing, 60 held hostage and 348 detained.
Nigeria has had its own fair share of brutality and impunity against media workers. Apart from the high profile murder of Newswatch’s
Dele Giwa in October, 1986 via a letter bomb, there have been several
gruesome murders of journalists in recent years. They include Bagauda Kaltho of The News magazine, who was killed in Kaduna and labelled a
bomber; Tunde Oladepo, Ogun State bureau chief of The Guardian who
was shot dead in his bedroom in Abeokuta; Godwin Agbroko, chairman
of the editorial board of THISDAY, who had life snuffed out of him on Christmas eve in 2006; Samuel Famakinwa of THISDAY, who was
found dead in his hotel room in Maiduguri; Abayomi Ogundeji, also of THISDAY, who was eliminated in August 2008; Bayo Ohu, a father of
five and political reporter of The Guardian who was assassinated in his
Lagos home on September 20, 2009. There have also been uncountable
incidents of harassment and unlawful detention of journalists.
One common trend in all these murders is that the killers have never been found. No one can deny the fact that journalism is a risky profession
all over the world. Amnesty International, Journalists Without Borders,
Committee to Protect Journalists and other international human rights
groups constantly chronicle cases of killing, maiming and jailing of media men and women. One of the theories holds that investigations always
get stalled when agents of the law cannot deny complicity in the crime.
Curiously, when robbers kill a policeman or an undercover agent, the criminals are usually caught and brought to justice.
Nigerian journalists are viewed as enemies of overzealous security operatives. Devious politicians and top ranking public officers are always
on the prowl, not wanting to see contrary viewpoints in print or on
the airwaves. Corrupt accounting officers and CEOs of large private
concerns and government ministries, departments and agencies, armed bandits and fraudsters dread investigative reporters like a plague. The
journalist is the most unwanted guest at every location where crimes are
being conceived or perpetrated.
But those who hunt journalists down have not succeeded in getting the practitioners to sheathe their pens in order to suppress the truth altogether.
Nigeria parades some of the best journalists in the world. As Nigeria
marks the occasion, we urge the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) to ensure that their members
are adequately protected and their welfare well taken care of. Nigerian
media practitioners operate under deplorable conditions especially those
working in the private media outfits that exploit them. Regular payment of salaries and allowances are not guaranteed, not to speak of gratuities
and pensions on retirement. Many are also not provided with basic tools to work with and are prone to danger. It is perhaps this deplorable
situation that exposes some of them to brown envelop temptations.
Very few of them, if any, are covered by life assurance in the event of loss of life or injuries while on duty tour.
It is reassuring to note the pledge made by President Muhammadu Buhari to Nigerian journalists on this occasion that his administration
would not muzzle the press.
Be that as it may, we urge the Nigerian media to be factual in their reportage and resist the temptation of being sucked in by the vortex
of fake news which now defines the social media. The phenomenon
of fake news could be likened to an ill wind that blows no one any good. The incalculable damage done by the social media rats in recent
years, especially during our elections, is too frightening to be allowed to fester. And this is one of the main issues which this year’s theme seeks