The International Press Centre (IPC) has expressed concern that the ambiguity in the presidential directives in respect of media access in relation to the 14-day COVID-19 lockdown in Lagos and Ogun states and the FCT may constitute a threat to journalists and other media professionals on legitimate duty.
IPC stated that this is because it may give room for security agents to harass, intimidate and assault journalists who may be performing their journalistic obligations in the coverage of emerging issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and other related issues of national importance.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Executive Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said that while all hands should be on deck to ensure curtailment of the spread of the disease in Nigeria, the media, as part of the stakeholders engaged in critical information dissemination should not be put in jeopardy as a result.
Arogundade therefore called on media proprietors, organisations and associations to immediately seek unhindered movement for journalists once they are able to identify themselves.
He said the media bodies could also enter into dialogue with relevant government institutions and security agencies on modalities for identification, or, if necessary, accreditation to guarantee hitch-free coverage of COVID-19 and other issues of public interest at this critical period.
“There is need to ensure that the media is not placed in a position where it will be intimidated or harassed as the President, unlike other stated categories of stakeholders, did not categorically exempt the media from restrictions,” Arogundade added.
Arogundade said these measures are necessary because the statement by the President that ‘workers in telecommunication companies, broadcasters, print and electronic media staff who can prove they are unable to work from home are also exempted,’ could be arbitrarily interpreted.
“The ‘who can prove’ is tricky and left to the interpretation of security personnel and this may create a window for over-zealous ones to assault and harass journalists who may have genuine reasons not to work at home.
Arogundade also stressed that the government must understand the important role professional journalists can play in the dissemination of credible information on COVID-19 and help check the growing menace of fake news over the pandemic.
Arogundade however reminded journalists on duty during this emergency to take all precautionary measures as stipulated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, the World Health Organisation, the Ministry of Health, in order not to put themselves into danger.