Nigerian Editors Demand Release of All Journalists in Detention, Review of NBC Code
The Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, the umbrella of editors in Nigeria, has asked the Federal Government to release all journalists in detention as well as cause a review of the National Broadcasting Code and other media statutes to make them conform to democracy and the promotion of free speech.
This was the kernel of a statement issued by the Guild on the occasion of this year’s World Press Freedom Day.
Below is the full text of the statement signed by the President, Mr. Mustapha Isah and the Secretary, Mrs. Mary Atolagbe:
On the occasion of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, wishes to congratulate all journalists in Nigeria and across the world for keeping faith with the tenets of the profession despite myriad challenges.
The NGE particularly celebrates journalists in the frontline covering the Covid-19 pandemic as well as those charged with the responsibility of reporting crime and security at a time like this when the nation is struggling to contain the scourge of insecurity. The Guild urges media owners, the private sector and the government to provide special protection for journalists as most of them are often neglected and exposed to sundry vagaries that not only impair their ability to discharge their duties but also imperil their lives culminating, in some cases, to untimely death.
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. This special day was inaugurated to act as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. Besides, it also places a responsibility on media professionals to reflect on and adhere to the principles of best practices that promote professionalism, ethical reporting and public-spirited advocacy.
The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day is “Information as a Public Good”, and it speaks to the necessity of governments, state actors and the private sector to recognise the value of information as a critical element in leadership and service delivery. Much more, the theme places a great deal of responsibility on governments across the world to accord respect to journalists, the conveyors and disseminators of information as partners in development, and not as enemies of the state.
Journalists across the world face grave challenges and dangers in the discharge of their duties. Some have paid the supreme price while yet others have been harassed and jailed for doing their lawful duty. This is because most governments still perceive journalists as intruders into the public space.
The International Federation of Journalists, the largest global body of journalists from over 140 countries says 66 journalists were murdered in 2020. More than 1,000 journalists have died from covid-19 in 73 countries since the start of the pandemic. The Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), another global defender of press freedom last month in Geneva, Switzerland, placed the daily average at more than 2.5 journalists dying per day from the pandemic.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, reports that 274 journalists were jailed in 2020 for doing their job of treating information as a public good. In Nigeria, several journalists have suffered harassment, some detained arbitrarily while some were murdered in cold blood by unknown assailants.
In 2020, alone, no fewer than 60 journalists in Nigeria faced life and career-threatening challenges in the form of intimidation, arrest and detention. Three journalists were killed within the same period, one by security forces during a protest in Abuja and two by unknown gunmen in Adamawa and Nasarawa states. Aside attacks on journalists, their offices were not spared. Several media outlets were attacked and torched by irate mob during the #ENDSARS protests with four media outlets fined for their coverage of the protests, while others were fined for airing dissenting opinions.
The Guild condemns very strongly these attempts at muzzling the media. Obviously, Nigerian governments at all levels do not value information as a public good hence they treat the vendors and conveyors of information as enemies, not partners. But we are partners and critical stakeholders in the national project. The media won both Independence and democracy. We cannot suddenly transform to agents of destruction of the institutions we built.
Information as a public good is the wheel that drives democracy and its attendant virtues including openness, free speech and other forms of civil liberties. The harassment of the media by the National Broadcasting Commission, the police, DSS and other state actors should stop.
The Guild calls for a review of the National Broadcasting Code and all other media statutes in order to make them more amenable to democracy and the promotion of free speech.
The Body of Editors urges the Nigerian government to, at all times, strive to protect the media. It’s only then that ‘Information as a Public Good’ would become relevant. Stop the detention, impunity, harassment and killing of journalists. Our product (Information) is a public good. The Guild aligns with the UN and other world bodies in calling for the release of all journalists in detention. Nigeria, and indeed the world, needs a free press to effectively report the pandemic and other issues threatening human existence including insecurity.
The Guild commends the Federal and State governments as well as all relevant health institutions and personnel for their spirited efforts at containing the Covid-19 pandemic.