May 3, 2020, the world marked the World Press Freedom Day, set aside to highlight the role of the press and challenges they face carrying out that role. This special day is meant to be a reminder to governments about their need to commit to a free press and also serves as a day for media professionals to reflect on issues of press freedom, professional ethics and their contribution to societal sustainability.
According to the UN, the theme for 2020’s World Press Freedom Day,‘Journalism without Fear or Favour’ is an idea made especially significant during the Covid-19 crisis, as the press has been declared an essential service, and journalists deemed a vital part of the frontline battle against coronavirus.
Center for Media Environment and Development Communications, CEMEDEC joins in applauding the noble roles the press has played and continues to play in society especially in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic which has infected over three million and claimed over two hundred thousand lives.
The challenge of covering the pandemic which has claimed some 53 members of the profession globally epitomizes the vital space the media occupies as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, a position which unfortunately, constantly pitches practitioners against other arms of government as they try to carry out the dual function of keeping the people informed and working to protect public interest.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day focus which is on reporting without fear or favour, also takes into consideration the protection of the media practitioners more so in this deadly infectious time. The focus couldn’t have come at a better time. While in some countries press freedom continues to face an uphill challenge, here in Nigeria, in almost every state, there is a battle to keep the press silent on issues of development likely to work against the people as well as relating to transparency and accountability.
Varied attempts by the legislature to smuggle in bills that will curtail the powers of the press to access and project information unhindered under a democratic setting points to a system far from democratic practice. It calls for a press that is on alert watching for negative plots against the people, wanton abuse of office and resources and every attempt to subjugate the will of the people.
This is a journey fraught with danger for which all media practitioners must put on the cloak of courage, eagle-eye watchfulness, and be ready for the sacrifice this public responsibility demands. It also demands a high sense of respect for the tenets of the profession-objectivity and credibility-which do not respect the high or low-the core of reporting without fear or favour with truth as the watchword.
We cannot ignore the imperative for the Nigerian press to help rescue the country from its sinking state thanks to an endless reign of corruption, grossly on display even in this time of coronavirus pandemic. Accountability and transparency are signposts of good governance but these are glaringly missing in Nigerian government systems. The Press must interrogate the actions of government to ensure that the interest of the masses overrides all decisions.
But to do this, the press must be protected. The present scenario where government executives and their aides see media persons as enemies does not augur well for society and is dangerous to the safety of the press. There have been increased cases of harassment of journalists in government houses across the country, including Aso Rock where two major media houses, Vanguard and the Sun have been shut out. In Cross Rivers State, we have Agba Jalingo detained for a report considered uncomplimentary by the governor; Abia State and Bayelsa states have had their own records of press intimidation and Governor Umahi of Ebonyi State succinctly captured the executive ploy to control the press with the unabashed proclamation of a ban on two state correspondents from the Ebonyi State government house for reports he considered uncomplimentary. All a breach of the constitutionally guaranteed press right to freedom of expression.
Granted that the emergence of a wider media sphere with the internet has given room to some unprofessional conducts as citizens jostle to participate in information sharing, resulting sometimes in bouts of misinformation and unverified news, but professional journalism demands that practitioners stand out to win back public trust by promoting the ethics of journalism-truth, objectivity –always placing public interest above all other considerations.
The Coronavirus pandemic puts to serious test, the courage and discipline of the press in telling the stories as they are, digging for the stories no one else will tell, to help the citizens, country and the world overcome the ill-wind that has shaken society beyond every imagination. This demands courage, tenacity and dedication but cannot be carried out without the guarantee of safety.
A reasonable number of journalists have had brushes with the law in the line of duty; we demand protection of journalists from executive lawlessness and from the virus itself.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the failure of the Nigerian government and a wide distance between the leaders and the people they are supposed to be serving. This disconnection accounts for government failure to achieve maximum compliance from citizens in the face of obvious failure to provide basic services for the people. As the pandemic and issues arising from it unfold, more dire consequences will evolve. It will be the duty of the press to watch out for, and highlight them as they arise as the watchdogs of society, to ensure citizens are not consumed by both the coronavirus and it’s after effects.
CEMEDEC urges journalists to stay safe and continue to deepen their understanding of issues and adapt to emerging technologies to be able to intelligently and adequately report, informing and helping point the way to a better society. Media owners and related organs should encourage continuous training programmes to assist practitioners to be better.
To reduce incidents of face-off with security operatives, the security arm should begin to see journalists as partners in the duty of helping build a better society while government must respect the Freedom of Information Act, FOI and make access to information easy and quick to journalists to block avenues for misinformation known to be dangerous to society. Only a transparent and accountable approach in tackling the Coronavirus pandemic can help the world defeat the menace fast.
We call for an end to harassment of journalists in the course of their duty and the release of all journalists under lock anywhere in the world for carrying out their constitutional assignment. A fearless and unhindered press is a passport to sustainable development.
#Unlock all jailed journalists
#No Democracy without Free Press
#Yes to Journalism Without Fear or Favour