PRESS FREEDOM: THE CONSTITUTION HAS EMPOWERED JOURNALISTS AS THE FIRST GUARD OF ALL RIGHTS IN NIGERIA-AGBA JALINGO.

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By: Admin.

 

 

 

On Protecting Press Freedom And Ensuring The Safety Of Journalists In Nigeria…

 

_Being text of a brief address presented by Citizen Agba Jalingo, activist and publisher of www.crossriverwatch.com, at the 2023 Journalism Safety Summit in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory on June 8, 2023.

 

 

In Nigeria, it is a constitutional right to seek and disseminate information through an independent press.

 

This right is equally a fundamental right the world over.

 

It comes in two folds – the Right to Freedom of Expression which is provided for in Chapter four, Section 39 as well as the role of the watchdog carved out for us journalists in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as altered.

 

Indeed, as per the Nigerian constitution, journalism is about holding those in power responsible and accountable thereby safeguarding other rights therein. In essence, the Constitution has empowered us as the first guard of all rights in the Country!

 

But these rights are under ferocious attack from both elected leaders, non-State actors and sections of the general public who should be press freedom’s staunchest defenders.

 

Indeed, there have been sustained and explicit attempts to silence critical media voices and strengthen those that serve up favorable coverage for the powers that be. This is despite the fact that the press was at the forefront of ensuring a return to Democratic governance that most of these perpetrators currently enjoy by buffeting on our commonwealth, a lá carte while trialing out every idea that will turn us into a civilian dictatorship.

 

But the instinctive panting of the people for access to honest journalism can never be extinguished and we who bear the brunt must continue to demand that this right be granted in full.

 

We must continue to make the point that those in power should not only find it necessary to support media independence, they should also find the appropriate measures to impose consequences for its restriction.

 

The threat to media independence today is not just the reality of journalists being thrown in jail, there are even more nuanced efforts to strangle media independence via government-backed ownership, regulatory and financial pressure, restrictive legislations, and public denunciations of honest journalists.

 

Governments have also offered proactive support to friendly outlets through lucrative state contracts, favorable regulatory decisions, and preferential access to state-held information.

 

The goal is to make the press serve those in power rather than those who put them in power.

 

From within, most independent journalists are also grappling with lack of funding, insecurity and threat to life, cyber tracking and bullying, ownership influence, flagrant lawsuits, time constraints, poor access to information, poor remuneration, amongst others.

 

But then, we have to be deliberate about protecting ourselves and our sources from this multi-pronged onslaught.

 

The initial step is to continue to bond ourselves and forge a common front in our efforts to push back any attempt to suffocate media independence as we have done recently against restrictive bills pushed by those who are supposed to be representing our wishes.

 

I believe that is exactly what we are doing here today.

 

At the advocacy flank, we should increase the monitoring and reporting of attacks on the media as well as continued research and awareness-raising that draws attention to media safety issues and provides a basis for broader advocacy.

 

Also, we should always seek avenues and platforms for dialogue between security forces and the media by facilitating discussions between media workers, authorities, and security forces aimed at making each party more aware of each other’s roles in a democracy.

 

We must as a matter of necessity, advocate for media law reform by setting up initiatives that seek to change laws that are used to intimidate and censor the media, and to ensure that media workers enjoy greater legal protection.

 

One of such is Section 24 of the Cybercrimes prevention, prohibition etc Act of 2015 which has become the easiest tool to jail journalists despite the ECOWAS Court of Justice declaring it a nullity. This is another area we have to look deeper – ensuring that governments obey the Courts which are the constitutional repositories of our laws!

 

Furthermore, we should as well, sustain regular campaigns aimed at promoting the safety of journalists among media workers, decision makers and the public.

 

There should always be collaborated and coordinated support amongst partners both locally and internationally, in countries where media workers are under sustained attack.

 

We should constantly generate guides, handbooks and other resource materials on safety for media workers, media trainers and decision makers.

 

We should also join, establish or strengthen journalists protection networks. There are several that are doing fantastic jobs around the country and around the world. We need to belong to them and strengthen their capacity to resist and push back.

 

We also need to create more in spaces where media workers are facing threats.

 

Continuous guidance and training of media workers on adequate practice knowledge and best practices to enable them avoid the bobby traps on the path of the job.

 

We should be deliberate about creating and sharing access to financial resources, professional training, tools and opportunities for fellow independent journalists to strengthen their capacities to function.

 

We must also join our voices in calling on our own professional vanguards, the Nigeria Union Journalists (NUJ) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) to stand up more purposefully and be counted when media workers come under attack. Most times, they have been found not just wanting, they have been complicit in complicating issues for attacked media workers by being enablers for the oppressors. But in the actual sense, there is a lot they can do in this regard.

 

In all, it has never been and will not be a dash. It’s a long walk, but I see the faces here today and I am convinced that we are all determined to go the whole distance in ensuring we have a right to earn a decent living as Journalists without threats and hell.

 

Yours sincerely,

Citizen Agba Jalingo.

Amawu Cletus Albert Amawu

I'm a Journalist, Host/Producer of The Verdict, your voice of conscience on FAD FM 93.1, Calabar, Public Affairs Commentator, Social Change Agent.

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