World Press Freedom Day: Media freedom under attack, democracy in danger – NGE
The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) says the absolute right to access and disseminate information through an independent press is under attack in Nigeria and called for an urgent need to protect the media.
The body who made the position known in a statement to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) observed May 3 of every year, also said “democracy is in danger when a free press is threatened.”
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A statement by the NGE President, Mustapha Isah and General Secretary Iyobosa Uwugiaren, said “while the threat to the media freedom in Nigeria is real, the impact on the state of democracy in the country will be very dangerous, if not checked.
“Today is a day globally, to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among journalists and other media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.
“We need to remind governments at all levels in Nigeria that a free and independent media that can keep the people informed and hold leaders accountable, is essential for a strong and sustainable democracy, including free and fair elections. Without it, Nigerians cannot make informed decisions about how they are governed; and address human rights abuses, corruption and abuse of power,” the editors stated.
The Guild further said its members were concerned that “elected leaders in Nigeria, who should be press freedom’s dependable protectors, have made several overt attempts to silence the media voices through proposed legislations that clearly seek to criminalise journalism practice in the country.”
The editors added that “apart from the regular attacks on journalists carrying out their legitimate editorial assignments by overzealous security agents, the current attempts to criminalise journalism practice in the country through obnoxious proposed laws, the suffocating economic environment and harsh political/economic policies of the federal government, have in the past few years, made it almost impossible for the media sector to carry out its constitutional responsibility for the benefit of the citizens.”
It, therefore, said “there is an urgent need to protect the media; because the impact of the suffocating economic and political environment being created by the government will be very dangerous to our democracy. A threat to the media is a threat to our democracy.
“Governments at all levels must take the lead in making sure that their actions do not inspire violations of press freedom. A democratic society like Nigeria should know that it has a crucial role to play in maintaining media freedom and facilitating access to public information.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has lauded the role of the Nigerian media in strengthening democracy.
While speaking on the WPFD, he also commended the courage and determination of those who daily go the extra time, sometimes at great personal risks, to keep the society well informed.
In fostering the pursuit of journalism in the country, the president reiterated the Nigerian government’s commitment to freedom of the press, pledging to continue ensuring the protection of the rights and privileges of journalists in the lawful performance of their professional duties.
He charged the Nigerian Press to use the WPFD to reflect on the need to embrace the best professional standards and practices, especially in the build-up to the forthcoming general elections.
He said the free performance of media roles and responsibilities during the electoral process is as important as the sanctity and will of Nigerians, expressed through the ballot box.
With the elections in sight, he urged the media “to be mindful of sponsored political news or publications capable of inciting hatred, division, violence, and chaos in the country, while also ensuring that the electoral umpire and other stakeholders play their roles in delivering free, fair, credible and transparent elections to Nigerians.
“We must stay united in supporting media professionals who work hard to de-escalate violent conflict and promote peaceful societies without compromising the responsibility to report.”
The president also urged government information managers to ensure the press and the general public have access to facts and figures of government information, without tears.
In line with the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, ”Journalism under digital siege,” President Buhari assured that government agencies under his watch would always stand against actions capable of limiting the preservation of the freedom of the Press guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He said the federal government was working hard to support media organisations in Nigeria through provision of better internet access to underserved communities, and achieve 95 per cent digital literacy by 2030.