By Isaac Asabor
If there is any global event which any Nigerian Journalist that knows his onions look forward to by each passing year, it is unarguably the World Press Freedom Day, and which is traditionally marked on May 3, by each calendar year. It is excitingly looked forward to by Journalists as it has a special meaning to them. Against the foregoing backdrop, one cannot hesitate in this context to say that press freedom means a lot to Nigerian Journalists, particularly as the country is approaching national elections that is scheduled to hold in 2023, and it is critically important for the press to provide fair and balanced coverage to educate and inform the electorates about the issues and the positions of the contesting parties. The media is often called the fourth branch of government (or the “fourth estate”). That is because it monitors the political process in order to ensure that political players do not abuse the democratic process. The responsibility of the press is daunting. Editors and television executives must weigh the public’s right to know against the potential for inciting civil unrest by publishing or televising inflammatory news stories. This is responsible journalism.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme “Journalism under digital siege,” spotlights the multiple ways in which journalism is endangered by surveillance and digitally-mediated attacks on journalists, and the consequences of all this on public trust in digital communications.
Against the backdrop of the special day, President Muhammadu Buhari has warned the media against carrying sponsored political reports and stories ahead of the 2023 general election in the country.
In a message to mark the special day, President Buhari, in a statement by his Media Adviser, Femi Adesina, rejoiced with the Nigerian media and recognized their role in strengthening democracy.
He charged the Nigerian Press to use the World Press Freedom Day to reflect on the need to embrace the best professional standards and practices, especially in the build-up to the forthcoming general election.
In as much as the president has spoken in favor of Journalists, it is equally expedient to tell him through our colleague, who we expect to come back home at the expiration of Buhari’s tenure to lend a voice to Nigerian Journalists that are being silenced around the country in the course of carrying out their news gathering duties on daily basis. In too many places, they are attacked, intimidated, and despised for trying to report the news or exercise their freedom of expression. The collective plight of Nigerian Journalists is inexorably pitiable as even most educated Nigerians that can unmistakably be assumed to be well informed about the dynamics of Journalism appear to have forgotten that freedom of the press is a form of liberty that must be pervasive throughout society.
Come 2023, voters will go to the polls to determine the political coalition that they believe is best suited to govern their nation till 2027. What must hold firm before and after the elections, regardless of the result, is a determination and an unwavering commitment by the press to accurate, fair, and equitable coverage of all leaders and parties contesting the polls. Print, radio, television, online news sources and all forms of press are therefore set to rededicate themselves to ensure the stories they write or air on radio or television are based on facts and that they provide equitable coverage to all sides’ points of view. Journalists, therefore, as they are wont to have never been relenting from one political dispensation to another as virtually every Nigerian Journalist I have come across is desirous to do his or her job diligently and professionally.
Given the myriad of hindrances which an average Nigerian Journalist faces, I am appealing that Nigerians, who are not in any way affiliated to the profession, should allow us to perform our duties as we were taught in the school, and on the job within the purview of the constitution as it is a profession that is boldly recognized by the constitution, and it is unarguably on that grounds it has been labelled to be “Fourth Estate of the Realm”, in the order of executive, legislative and judiciary.
However, the fact that Journalists are not let to be in the course of practice has ostensibly being authenticated in a Report just released as the world marks 2022 World Press Freedom Day. According to the Report, Nigeria dropped to 129 from 120 in the latest ranking of press freedom across 180 countries.
According to the ranking, which is compiled by Reporters without borders, Nigeria is “one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often watched, attacked, arbitrarily arrested and even killed.”
It noted that while the country has a rich and diverse media landscape, the level of government interferences in the news media is significant.
“It can involve pressure, harassment of journalists and media outlets, and even censorship,” the report noted.
“In 2021, the Peoples Gazette news site was blocked after it revealed that privileges were given to the son of a member of the president’s inner circle. Twitter was suspended for seven months after it deleted one of the president’s tweets. Media outlets were ordered to delete their Twitter accounts as a ‘patriotic gesture’.”
While Nigeria’s constitution protects freedom of expression and opinion, there are many laws that make it possible to obstruct the work of journalists.
“Several very dangerous laws regulating social media have been proposed in recent years, causing an outcry,” the report said.
Meanwhile, Norway was ranked as the country with the most press freedom, while North Korea’s press was regarded as the least free.
The ranking is calculated by tallying “a quantitative tally of abuses against journalists in connection with their work, and against media outlets” and “a qualitative analysis of the situation in each country or territory based on the responses of press freedom specialists (including journalists, researchers, academics and human rights defenders) to an RSF questionnaire available in 23 languages.”