Labaran Maku, Information Minister
By Raheem Akingbolu
Despite the persistent echoing of the fact that the media is the ‘Fourth Estate of the Realm,’ development over the years have shown that only a few members of the public accord journalists the respect of being one of the major stakeholders in the public. In recent times, not a few journalists have suffered humiliations, threats, arrests and even untimely deaths in the hands of politicians and law enforcement agencies, who ordinarily should be their protectors. The latest issue is the arrest, detention and trial of some journalists from the Leadership stable over a report the authorities found inaccurate. Leadership stood by the report, which the authorities insisted lacked basis and truth. Some watchers of media affairs who saw reason with the government over the case, however, objected to government’s approach. “If journalists had committed any wrong, use the proper channel by charging them to court, not to resort to self help, by arresting and hounding them,” they argued. The Leadership journalists were eventually charged to court, but government later withdrew the case, as it said, in the spirit of the World Press Freedom Day.
The Nigerian media industry had passed through more excruciating moments. The media had experienced some tortuous moments, which had led to the death of several journalists. Twenty-five years after the death of the late Dele Giwa, Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch, which many people thought would put an end to senseless killings of journalists, many reporters had been killed unjustly by yet unidentified people. Like Giwa’s, the killings of some journalists – Godwin Agbroko, ThisDay (December 22, 2006), Paul Abayomi Ogundeji, ThisDay (August 16, 2008), Bayo Ohu, The Guardian (September 20, 2009), Edo Sule Ugbagwu, The Nation (April 24, 2010), Zakariya Isa of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) (2011); Enenche Akogwu, Channels TV, (January 20, 2012) have remained unresolved.
A report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has shown that Nigeria has joined the list of prominent countries in the world where journalists are murdered regularly and their killers go free.
But in what looked like a veer-off from the popular belief, the United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator Daouda Toure last week said in spite of some hitches witnessed by Nigerian journalists, it was still one of the freest in the world.
Toure said this in Abuja at an event organised by United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Toure said the Press in Nigeria is regarded as one of the freest in the world in spite of some pockets of incidents of impuwwnity and attacks. “Unfortunately and sadly, three journalists and media workers died in the line of duty in Nigeria in 2012.”
He said the United Nations family, through UNESCO, had dedicated webpage in the memory of “these gallant colleagues who died while performing their constitutional responsibility.”
Toure said the UN system in Nigeria had consistently promoted freedom of expression and public access to information through institutional capacity building and curriculum development for journalism training.
In light of the present situation in the country, some stakeholders have reacted to the statement as a global perception, which is not in tandem with the local reality in the industry.
A senior lecturer at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Mrs. Ada Popoopla, who argued that many Nigerians are still not in tune with the contribution of the media to good governance and healthy democracy, recommended thorough re-orientation of the public.
“In informed nations, journalists are well remunerated and treated with respect to be able to do unbiased stories under a safe atmosphere but Nigerian journalists are still living in fear. They are not only poorly remunerated but are also being subjected to danger by both media owners and government.
In some countries, children, women and journalists are respected even during the war but the reverse is the case in Nigeria. For journalists to be free there is need for re-orientation of members of the public.
This is also the position of the Chief Executive Officer of Red Carpet TV, Mr. Yemi Olowolabi, who expressed his concern over the safety of the journalists in the modern Nigeria. According to Olowolabi, mere sloganeering and speech making at symposia cannot solve the problem but drawing of government attention to the need to ensure the safety of journalists.
Olowolabi’s position is tailored toward the declaration of the United Nation through one of its agencies, UNESCO that stated that press freedom must be guaranteed for journalists to be able to perform its role effectively
In celebrating this year’s World Press Freedom Day, the United Nations decided to draw attention to violence against journalists, with the theme, “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”.
In his statement to mark the day, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon said the world would benefit more, if it is safe to speak because freedom of expression is the cornerstone of good governance, sustainable development and lasting peace and security.
Meanwhile, to reflect the fact that the Nigerian media was concerned about the success of the nation, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, has tasked the media to continue be partners in development, worthy allies in the nurturing of the nation’s democracy and quest for a great country.
President of the guild Femi Adesina, who made the call, however, expressed his regret that successive administrations in Nigeria had always treated the media with suspicion, if not as some sort of adversary.