Empowering Journalists through the IPC Safety Initiative

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Journalists who participated in the IPC safety workshop in Lagos came away wishing another session comes up in the shortest possible time. Peter Uzohowho participated in the training programme, reports that it was an impactful one
 
The recent media workshop and roundtable conference for Nigerian journalists, organised by the International Press Centre (IPC), under the auspices of Open Society Foundation, was really, an impactful one.
Journalists who participated in the training may be wishing another session comes up in the shortest possible time as it offered them ample opportunity to acquire and be abreast of new trends in their profession, particularly, the issue of safety   .
The programme held between 29th and 30th June, 2016 at the International Press Centre, Ogba, Lagos, with the theme ‘Safety Consciousness, Safety Methodologies and Contemporary Safety Best Practices in Journalism’, brought together journalists from the print, electronic and online media, who were lectured and mentored by legal and media experts on different safety issues which journalists in Nigeria usually contend with while in the field.
Welcoming participants for the workshop, Director, International Press Centre, Lagos, Mr Lanre Arogundade, said the essence of the programme was to promote safety consciousness of journalists in Nigeria, particularly those who cover sensitive beats, who may be exposed to danger.
“It is all about promoting the safety consciousness of journalists in Nigeria for them to realise that by the fact of the very nature of the job they do, especially those of us who cover sensitive beats, they could be exposed to dangers. People might call these occupational hazards but we don’t think that would be correct because that would give the impression that it’s normal; you have to get exposed to danger.
“And this is one thing that we don’t do very well in Nigeria. In other parts of the world, journalists are constantly brainstorming on how to protect themselves; protect themselves from physical assault, protect themselves from kidnapping or killing, but more importantly, protecting the information that they work with,” he said.
“You know, a typical journalist gathers information and tries to use the information, processes this information and then gets it out to the public. Somebody who is likely to be exposed for corruption or other crime and knows that a journalist is working on that could actually do something using the modern technology to access that information and then prevent the journalist from doing his or her work,” Arogundade noted.
“So we’re also looking at that technical aspect of safety of journalists in terms of how you gather and protect your data, how you gather and protect your information and how you in fact, ensure the safety of your equipment to avoid sabotage by any vested interest. At the end of the day, we want the Nigerian journalist to be the complete journalist. A journalist has to realise that his or her work is not complete if he does not have some very fundamental knowledge of safety,” he added.
He however, presented statistics showing number of journalists who lost their lives in 2016 while covering assignments at sensitive beats, which according to him emanated from the website of the Committee to Protect of Journalists (CPJ).
 “In 2016, 15 journalists have been killed so far. Beats covered by the victims were; corruption 20 per cent, crime 13 per cent, culture 13 per cent, human rights 13 per cent, politics 47 per cent and war 67 per cent. Four Nigerian journalists were killed in circumstances related to Boko Haram,” Arogundade revealed.
He noted that “corruption is one area where journalists in Nigeria are repeatedly challenged”, adding that, “this shows that there are some beats where journalists are more vulnerable to attack.”    
Leading the presentation on the topic ‘Safety of Journalists in Nigeria: The Challenge of an Enabling Legal Environment’, Managing Partner, City Chambers, Lagos, Mr Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, stated that journalists are empowered by law to discharge their duties without fear. He pointed out that section 39 of chapter 4 of the Nigerian constitution stipulates the freedom and power reposed on journalists to disseminate information, saying that journalists should hold firmly to that.
Olumide-Fusika, who was competently represented by an activist lawyer, Mr. Tobi Olagunji, recognised that “there is constant conflict between those who want to hide something and those who it is their duty to expose things hidden.” He said “there are generic laws for the protection of every citizen of Nigeria, including journalists, against physical assault, molestation or intimidation.” Olumide-Fusika also pointed that qualified privilege is another provision available for journalists to defend themselves against suit of defamation. He said by that provision, any report published by a journalist that is on matter of public interest, such journalist shall not be liable of any default resulting from such publication.
“And chapter 4 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has a body of protective rights for everybody under the law. The provision peculiar to journalists in Nigeria is section 39 (1) of the Nigerian constitution. It says, Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.(2)Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this sub-section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish  and operates any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.
“Before now, particularly during the post- colonial era, the ruling class have enacted laws which make it impossible for journalists to investigate certain things such that when it is done the journalists, not even as a matter of desperation, can be legally tried with what is called most of the times, the law of sedition,” Olumide-Fusika noted.
Olumide-Fusika said according to section 50, sub-section 2 of the Nigeria’s Criminal Code, “It is a crime to publish seditious information, saying that seditious information or work means works published with seditious intention. Seditious intention means to publish anything which is calculated to bring disrepute or incite disaffection to the person in authority,” he explained.
However, he drew the attention of the participants and other Nigerian journalists to what he described as “an unfortunate law couched by the ruling class hatchet men” which is incompatible with section 39 of the Nigerian constitution that is often used by people in authority to scare the press from discharging their lawful duties.
“According to the re-codified criminal law of Lagos State 2011, any person who publishes or reproduces any statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace, knowing or having reason to believe that such statement, rumour or report is false is guilty of misdemeanour and liable to imprisonment for a period of two years. It is not a defence to a charge under section (1) of this section that you did not know or did not have any reason to believe that the statement, rumour or report was false unless prior to the time of production or reproduction of the material you took appropriate measure to verify such statement, rumour or report.
“This is an unfortunate law couched by the ruling class hatchet men which is incompatible with section 39 of the Nigerian constitution. Section 39 of Nigerian constitution overrules all other provisions in the constitution. It is used as a standard to test the validity of all laws in the country. So any law that is in conflict with that section 39 is automatically regarded as invalid and cannot stand,” Olumide-Fusika pointed out.
He also said “Qualified privilege is a potent tool available for the press to defend themselves against the suit of defamation. This means that when a journalist’s report is on matter of public interest, he shall not be liable of any default.”
Concluding his presentation on an advocacy note, Olumide-Fusika said “My advocacy include that this kind of law should not be included in our statutes books. Physical protection of journalists should be guaranteed in order for them to discharge their lawful duties safely and without harm of any form. Employers should ensure that enough facilities are provided for the security of their journalists while on assignment.”
Contributing, Lead Partner, Mohammed Fawehinmi and Co, Mr. Mohammed Fawehinmi aligning himself to the cause of journalists called on the Nigerian Union of Journalists to rise and institute a legal action demanding immediate investigation of all journalists killed in the country while on assignment.
 “I want the NUJ and every other body of journalists to institute an action that every single journalist that has been killed in this country should be investigated thoroughly and know what led to the killings and the punishment of the culprits as well as adequate compensation for the deceased’s family,” Fawehinmi said.
The son of the late legal luminary Chief Gani Fawehinmi, also charged journalists to always defend each other against attacks, adding that they should always use their pen to condemn any action or law that is intended to muzzle them.
Adding his thought to the discourse, Director, International Press Centre, Arogundade advised journalists to be responsible to one another. While calling for the spirit of comradeship among journalists, he challenged the NUJ to be more alive to its responsibility to its members.
 
“A journalist owes a duty to other journalists regardless of whether they are your competitors, whether one is above the other or whatever category one might be. You must hold yourselves as a body not just under NUJ or any other umbrella body, but must be responsible to yourselves,” Arogundade said.
“I think for the Nigerian Union of Journalists, it is for every attack on journalists they must speak out much more loudly. It’s not as if they were not speaking out loudly, but also here to take legal action against attack on journalists. As we know that sometimes our employers are so reluctant, ordinarily it should be a primary duty of our employers to protect us but, we do know why sometimes they don’t want to do this. But even if they do it, it does not stop the NUJ as an activist organisation or pressure group to take matters that concern the safety of journalists.
“So if a journalist is attacked by the police, the NUJ should not stop at issuing a statement, it should seek audience from the Inspector-General of Police or the Commissioner of Police as the case may be, to demand for explanation and to demand for compensation. Then if it comes to the side of the army, the NUJ should issue similar statement to the authorities and where necessary, the NUJ needs to go to court.
“And at the meeting, Fawehinmi suggested that a court action should be instituted to demand explanation for all the killings of journalists that we’ve had in this country; I’m in support of that and only the NUJ is well placed to do that. And I’m sure there could be lawyers there that would be willing to support the NUJ in this process without necessarily asking for money,” Arogundade noted.
He further said, “The other thing is that we need greater solidarity among ourselves as journalists and we need to adopt the principle of ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’. If a journalist is attacked, we should not take it as business of the journalist’s organisation or we begin to raise insinuations against the victim.
“The first principle should be that of comradeship; that as a journalist’s right has been violated that all of us will write about it, we’ll condemn it and allow investigations to complete the rest of the process.
“So from what we have heard today, I think there are strong reasons why the NUJ and other professional bodies in the media, including the Guild of Editors, should now begin to be more decisive when the rights of journalists are violated especially, in terms of assault, abuse, harassment, threat and intimidation.” So I urge all journalists to come together as a body to protect themselves,” he added.
Continuing the second day, participants were exposed to security issues faced by journalists who work in unsafe and hostile environments. They were informed of certain precautionary measures to be adopted at all times while on assignment or prior to embarking on assignment at dangerous beats to ensure safety against physical attack.
The Presenter and Executive Director, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Mr. Dayo Aiyetan brought his long years of experience in investigative journalism to bear as he dissected the issue. Aknowledging the risky nature of investigative reporting, Aiyetan advised journalists to make adequate research of the environment they are going to cover before setting off. He gave the techniques and tips worthy of adopting when covering such beats as organised crimes, terrorism, war, riots and civil disorder, natural disaster, fire, accident, election, amongst others.
Admitting that life is so precious to be lost for nothing less, he said “no story is worth dying for”, warning every journalist to proceed with caution.
Later, a practical session on data, information and source protection and management as safety imperatives was held.
West African Representative, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Abuja, and Mr. Peter Nkanga who solely delivered the session, taught participants how to generate and send encrypted messages, which he said, was one of the ways journalists can communicate with their editors or colleagues secretly.