Deji Elumoye in Abuja
Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, yesterday declared that there could be no good governance in any country where press freedom was not guaranteed.
Saraki stated this in a goodwill message at a conference in Abuja to mark the 2019 World Press Freedom Day organised by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) and the European Union’s Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme.
The theme of the conference was: ‘Press Freedom in Nigeria — the Rule of Law, Media and Violent Extremism’.
Saraki, who was represented by the Deputy Minority Whip of the Senate, Senator Philip Aduda, emphasised that the 8th Senate valued the media as crucial partners in the quest to build a stronger and more vibrant democracy.
His words: “We do appreciate that we cannot deliver good governance without a free press, and we are always available to work in tandem with the media to ensure a democratic society that serves us all.
“Clearly, if we truly wish to grow and preserve our democracy, we must understand that a free and pluralistic media environment that guarantees access to information, is non-negotiable.
“When citizens have information, they are able to make informed choices due to the diversity of their viewpoints. When we have such a society, when citizens are not only well-informed but are free to express their valid opinions — without fear or prejudice — it is only then that we can truly say we are practising true democracy.
“This is because democracy has at its foundation the freedom of the press, which in turn promotes good governance, accountability and respect for human rights.
“The urgency of this is reflected in Nigeria’s ranking on the Global Press Freedom Index of 2019, where we are ranked 120 out of 180 countries.
“One step lower than our standing in 2018, in fact. Other pointers would include the incidence of detention of journalists in this country,” he stated.
He thanked the Chief Executive of PTCIJ, Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, for inviting him to the event, which presented an opportunity to reaffirm the power and responsibility of the media, and to recommit to the ideals of a free and independent press.
“It also serves as an occasion to reiterate that this power of the press comes with a great responsibility: to be the watchdogs that tell the stories that protect, defend and preserve our democracy; and hold leaders to account,” Saraki further said.
The European Union Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ambassador Ketil Karlsen in his remarks also noted that democratic process was linked to the state of freedom of expression as well as media freedom and pluralism.
“There is no democracy without a truly free press.
“This is why we have supported free media and investigative journalism in Nigeria as part of our support for democratic governance,” he added.
Karlsen explained that investigative journalism played a significant role in the fight against corruption, in sharing information and analysis of ongoing conflicts and holding politicians and Ambassadors to their promises.
He, however, regretted that investigative journalism was limited while self-censorship still existed.
He also lamented that too many journalists had lost their lives having exposed the inconvenient truth in addition to the global attempts to curb the free media space, by systematically undermining their credibility.
He therefore reaffirmed the EUs determination to defend press and media freedom within its borders and worldwide.
The EU Ambassador while saluting journalists on the occasion said, “I would like to pay tribute to those amongst the press who continue to do their best to report events in conflict areas, sometimes at risk of their own lives.
“Those that for little pay put themselves in the firing line.
“You are the true pillars of our society and play an important role in fostering democracy and in promoting a culture of dialogue.”
The Executive Director of PTCIJ, Dapo Olorunmi while responding to an assessment of the Press Freedom which had shown alarming increase in the violence against the journalist, had called for reformation in the Nigeria Press.
“One of the central pillars of democracy is the media and the ability of the media to be able to do its work, particularly with regard to the collection and dissemination of information accurately and truthfully is the most central part of our own constitution as media folks.
“The data is not pleasant, the data is saying between 2010 to 2015, there were 43 violations against journalists in this country and that between 2015 and now that attack has risen to 165. That is a scandal. That is four times what has happened in the past four previous years that is a problem of concern.
“We have come a very long way, it’s not rosy yet for instance from the data that is available, violation against the media has risen four times in the past five years that means there is so much work to be done. It is not necessary all from the government that this violation comes, now we have non state actors like insurgents.
“But the ability for us to build democracy depends to a large extent on how our journalism profession is treated, access to information and the safety of those who work” he said.
Also speaking, National Programme Manager, Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC), Danladi Plang, also urged that the government should obey and enforce the law it creates especially the freedom of Information Act to guarantee free press. This is just as he urged media houses across the country to ensure only credible stories were published.
He also advised that the welfare of journalists should be well taken care of.