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Anti-press violence: How safe are journalists?

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Like Soud Qbeilat, an artist, would say, “When there is no freedom, there is no creativity”. No doubt, press freedom in Nigeria has become increasingly worrisome as cases of journalists who  were murdered remain unresolved and the list continues to grow.

This disturbing development negates the provisions of the Constitution which guarantees press freedom. Section 39 (1) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

According to Subsection 2: “Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.”

However, 13 Nigerian journalists were killed in 2012 alone in active service, making it the highest in the history of the country since independence in 1960. Thus, this year’s World Press Freedom Day celebration provided another opportunity to take stock on the lot of journalists globally, especially as it affects the performance of their duty.

*Harassed journalist
*Harassed journalist

The event which took place at the United Nation Information Center, in Ikoyi, Lagos, attracted participants from the human right community, the media and the police, among others. Participants took turns to express their views on the need to ensure a safe environment for journalists in Nigeria to practice their profession unhindered.

Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Mr Ban Ki-Moon, in his message, called on governments, societies and individuals to do their utmost to protect the safety of all journalists.

He noted that the United Nations system has established a Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the issue of impunity, adding “the plan aims to raise awareness and to support practical steps to create a free and safe working environment for journalists. On this World Press Freedom Day, we call on Governments, societies and individuals to do their utmost to protect the safety of all journalists, offline and online. Everyone has a voice; all must be able to speak freely and in safety.”

Ban Ki-Moon noted that over the past decade, more than 600 journalists have been killed and at least 120 in the past year alone. He further pointed out that hundreds of journalists have been detained.

Expressing concern that so many of the perpetrators escape any form of punishment, the

UN Secretary General stressed that assault on journalists is an assault on the right of all people to the truth.

He said: “The dangers are not only physical: from cyber-attacks to bullying, the powerful are deploying numerous tools to try to stop the media from shedding light on misrule and misdeeds. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a cornerstone of good governance, sustainable development, and lasting peace and security.

“Yet every day around the world, journalists and media workers are under attack. They face intimidation, threats and violence from governments, corporations, criminals or other forces that wish to silence or censor them.”

The theme of the 2013 World Press Freedom Day, “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”, highlighted the need for action to upholding the right of journalists to carry out their vital work.

Anti-press violence absolutely negates the freedom of journalists, and killings of reporters continue to haunt the country. Meanwhile, a media advocacy organization known as Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) in an open letter to the Chairperson of African Union, Mr Nkosazana Zuma, called for the release of all imprisoned journalists in the continent.

CPJ stated: “Nigeria and Somalia are among the worst nations in the world in combating deadly anti-press violence, our 2013 Impunity Index has found. Five journalists have been killed with impunity in Nigeria since 2009. In Somalia, more than twenty murders have gone unsolved over the past decade. These killings are often politically motivated.”

Explaining some major problems the Nigeria police seem to have with the media, Deputy Force PRO, Mr Frank Mba, said an average journalist sees an average policemen as lawless, corrupt, unfriendly, liar, drunk, thief, killer, unsympathetic and incompetent.

He noted that unprofessionalism, blackmail and falsehood kills the Nigerian journalist, adding that lifestyle, dictatorial government, unsafe work environment, level of security consciousness and other environmental and sociological factors also hamper effective journalism.

Mba, who represented the Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar, at the event further said: “ The legal basis for journalism practice in Nigeria is enshrined in section 39 (1) and (2) of the 1999 constitution; the subsection 1 says: ‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.’

“It is this word ‘every person’ that actually makes it possible to sit in the confine of your home and begin to impart information, begin to receive information and begin to spread information. So that word ‘every person’ is very key, it is a huge advantage to the business of journalism. But it is also one of the things that have become like an albatross on the core media people.

“We find out that consistently associations like the Guild of Editors, the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ and others are not able to embody everyone on the line of their business because the trade is such a liberal one. Unlike policing for instance, there is so much restriction on who can actually call himself a police officer.

“And that is why it is difficult to say that this man is a fake journalist. The only way you can say he is a fake journalist is if he says that he works with a particular media organization and he is not working there, you can then accuse him of  impersonation. Otherwise there are a lot of people out there that are actually practicing journalism and it is so difficult holding them down to any media organization.

“Subsection 2 also goes on to say that: ‘Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.’

“ Journalism is a practice that is so encompassing. Unlike a farmer, for example, who would not have anywhere to operate outside his farm, journalists operate practically from everywhere” Mba added.

However, President of Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr Femi Adeshina, asserted that the security agencies believe that the media contribute to the negative image most members of the public have about them, noting that it characterizes the relationship of the media and the law enforcement agencies.

Adeshina pointed out that in order to move forward the police and the media need to engage one another by setting up a partnership that must be cultivated, adding that there must be a new thinking with mutual respect between the two parties.

“I call on journalists to be ethical and also call on the law enforcement agencies to be ethical too. The mindset of the Nigerian media has to change from being adversary to law enforcement agencies. The media has a history of crusade in Nigeria” he said.

Campaigns Director of Media Rights Agenda, Mr Tive Denedo, who also spoke at the occasion lamented that the specter of violence over journalism has changed the dynamics of the practice, noting that truth, fairness, objectivity and a host of other values of the profession have become casualties.

He said: “Deaths, threat to lives and, beatings have become recurring decimals in journalism while fear is not too far away anymore form the news room.  There is nothing in the history of journalism that can demand more of our collective efforts than providing a safe and secured environment for the practice of journalism. Our past experiences insist on it, our present realities demand it and our future requires it.

“When men and women who are not party to conflicts are gruesomely murdered for reporting the events and affairs of people, it only stands to reason that truth is more than endangered. The specter of the danger against journalists and journalism has even been raised much higher to include those sharing information on-line.

“Extending the boundaries of intimidation and harassment to include online reports is stretching it so that a lot of the liberties that are available online would also be trampled upon. The statistics all over the world for the murder of journalists in 2012 and broken down showed that sixty three percent of journalists covering politics were murdered, while fifty one percent covering war were murdered.

In countries where politics is practiced as war, the death figures hardly come as a surprise. The other beats showing percentages of journalists murdered include: 9% of those covering Business, 13% of those covering Corruption, 16% of those covering Crime,14% of those covering Culture, 40% of those covering Human Rights, and 3% of those covering Sports.

“With the war within Syria, the country has the highest number of journalists killed in 2012, 22 journalists were killed there. Nigeria was among the countries listed for the death of journalists with Channels reporter, Enenche Akogwu who was shot on January 20, 2012 in Kano. But there has been more before that and hopefully there will not be any more after the death of Enenche. The wasteful death of one of us diminishes the value of our lives, impairs the sanctity and the dignity of the human race.”

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