NUJ wants a guarantee of press freedom
Ejiofor Alike and Shola Oyeyipo
The United States of America Consular General in Nigeria, Mr. John Bray, has urged journalists in the country to work to ensure press freedom and Internet nuetrality by offering the populace objective information on issues relating to the country.
Bray, who made the call yesterday in his remarks during activities marking the 2016 World Press Freedom Day held at the multi-purpose room of the US Consulate in Lagos in collaboration with the Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), said more than ever before, the media in the country is empowered to give the people a voice and should effectively perform the function.
He equally challenged Nigerian journalists to persist in the use of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act passed in 2011 and also press hard for an amendment to strengthen the law.
Talking to media practitioners, Bray said: “I want to offer a bit of advice. Protect a free press and a neutral Internet in your country. The Nigerian people will rely on you to offer them objective information on major issues that impact the country. Today, your profession is by far better positioned to make significant contributions on behalf of the voiceless compared to the early years of democracy in your country. I wish you a stimulating and successful discourse.
“Freedom of information is also closely linked to free and neutral Internet policy, which the US advocates strongly. The advent of the Internet has changed the way we live, study, and work. The ever changing technology has also produced unimaginable global opportunities. We have seen unprecedented innovation and growth driven by online activities. Education, entrepreneurship, healthcare, and good governance are accelerated by access to the Internet.
“Your profession has been profoundly impacted by social media. Today, we see every major broadcast and print media amplifying mainstream platforms via social media. Bloggers have carved a niche and have gained respect in contributing significantly to global discourse on major issues.
“Overall technological innovation which drives social media has had a significant impact on globalisation and democracy. And in general, the principle of Internet neutrality affirms that start-ups have the same opportunity to access the Internet as established businesses. As well as academics and university students have the same level of access to the Internet as teachers and students in the elementary and secondary schools. No one should unfairly slow down access to the Internet to make way for advertisers with more money. This is why we believe the Internet has broadened democratic principles.
He noted that since countries that have adopted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) understand its value, Nigerians should work to make use of the FOIA that that the country adopted in 2011.
“I encourage you to persist until the law is enforced, including pressing hard for amendment to strengthen the law,” he urged.
Other speakers at the event included former Dean, School of Communication, Lagos State University, Prof. Lai Oso; former Editor, Next Newspapers, Ms. Kadaria Ahmed; West African representative, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Mr. Peter Nkanga; Google Nigeria Country Manager represented by Google Communications and Public Affairs Manager for Anglophone West Africa, Mr. Taiwo Kola-Ogunlade; the Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Steve Ayorinde; NUJ National President, Comrade Abdulwaheed Odusile and the Lagos NUJ Chairman, Comrade Deji Elumoye.
All the contributors to the theme of the event: Asses to Information and Fundamental Freedom and Human Right, harped on the importance of the journalism profession in informing the people and why practitioners must be at their ethical best in carrying out their responsibility of holding government accountable to the citizenry.
In a paper presented at the occasion, the national President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Abdulwaheed Odusile called for a proper constitutional guarantee of press freedom in Nigeria and not just freedom of expression as contained in the constitution.
He argued that “free press could be seen, identified and regarded as the bedrock, footing and base of good governance, peace and national prosperity”.
Odusile said the effectiveness of the free press as watch-dogs should have the greatest impact upon stamping out corruption and promoting transparency and freedom of information.
“Consequently, greater transparency and more open information is thought to be particularly important for stamping out malfeasance and misappropriations by public officials, for example, economic studies have reported that places with widespread newspaper circulation, and the existence of freedom of Information have less corruption,” he said.
Odusile noted that while in some countries, press freedom or free press is expressly guaranteed in their constitutions or in the amendment to their constitutions, it is not so stated in Nigeria.
According to him, this has created the problem associated with the protection of press freedom in the country by the judiciary and has also constrained the Nigerian media to some extent in the discharge of their responsibilities.