…Says press remains oxygen of democracy
… Media biggest threat to itself
By Emmanuel Elebeke
ABUJA: As the 2019 general elections approaches, the Senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Sen. Shehu Sani has charged Nigerian media to resist any temptation from the political class capable of undermining their reportage.
This came as he said that Nigerian political class is driven by selfish interest instead of national interest.
The senator gave the charge yesterday at the Nigeria Union of Journalists Press Freedom Awards held in Abuja.
The lawmaker, who spoke on the topic: The Role of the Media in Holding Government Accountable, urged the media practitioners to always stand firm and adhere strictly to the ethics and values of the profession in their reportage.
He accused the ruling class of using the media to climb to positions of their interest only to treat them as enemies after assumption into office.
He therefore warned the media not be taken for a fool again and show the impartiality of the profession by holding people to account.
‘‘We are into an election year; this time the politicians will need the media. Before 2015 elections, some of us who are in public office today saw the media as partners, while trying to see if we could reach out to advance ideological interest. The interest was to see how we could dislodge the ruling party and restore a change government but after the last government was removed, there are people who are in the position of power, that now see the media as enemy after using you and dumping you.
‘‘Now, we are coming back to you, the very media we called progressive, fair and just is now the one we refer as being sessional and partial in objective. Most times, you the media are used by the politicians when they are in search of power and when that power comes you become the enemy.
‘‘There is need for you this time around not to be taken for a full again, you must show the impartiality of your ethics in holding people to account. You should give fair hearing to everybody because as far as a politician is concerned, it is his interest that matters.’’
Continuing, Sen. Sani, who expressed worry over the intimidation and attacks usually launched on the media and opposition figures said: ‘‘I think we should all accept that there is an onslaught against democratic values and institutions in this country. People are still being haunted for their views, and persecuted.
‘‘The political ruling elite are still finding it uncomfortable to adapt themselves to the reality of press freedom, seeing the media as enemy.
‘‘What you need to do is to remain firm and stick to the ethics of your profession. It is possible to have a free and fair election but this is also an opportunity for you to do everything possible to report events as it is and analyse issues as they are.’’
While stressing the need for adherence to ethics and values of the journalism profession in the Nigeria, the human rights activist noted that ‘‘the reason why the media still remains relevant is that it is the only place to read a story without doubting the source.’’
‘‘We can have a truly democratic society if our people who are leading the country accept the fact that without Press Freedom, we cannot have a democracy that we will truly call democratic.
‘‘The media has a duty not only to put the political class in check but has a duty also to ensure that the electoral process and electoral body do their jobs as they supposed to. We have to take the media along to see what actually went wrong in the system,’’ he added.
Sen. Sani, who described the Press as the oxygen of democracy, extolled the Nigerian Press for its doggedness in fighting the successive military regimes in the country for undermining the democratic tenets.
‘‘Journalists have proven to be one of the pillars of democracy. From 1983 to 1999, Nigeria was under a brutal military regime, journalists were arrested and detained. Some were accused for their struggle to restore democracy in Nigeria.
‘‘Without journalist we wouldn’t have democracy. We must not forget the sacrifice and service of seasoned journalists who have seen those years, how the Press kept the flame alive and challenged the military to submission.
‘‘I know how we shared many prisons with many journalists who fought for this democracy. What we are enjoying today, if there is any, it is from the sacrifice and seed planted by Nigerians media. Without the media, imagine what Nigeria would have been?
‘‘There are times Nigerian political class is driven by selfish interest instead of national interest. For me, free Press is the oxygen of democracy and a free Press is the heart beat and soul of a democratic society because it is that very institution that holds everyone in government to account. And also keeps everybody on his toes.’’
The Playwright, who did not spare the media proprietors as a major contributor to the woes of the profession, described the non-payment of salaries to media workers as a major threat to Press Freedom, adding that exposure of media practitioners to such temptation undermines their impartiality.
According to him, ‘‘The press is not free from its own challenges. In the past, threat to Press used to be the police, SSS, and the army but today, it is diverse. Among many of the threats today, is the condition of the media.
‘‘Many media houses are finding it difficult to pay wages of their staff. They leave their staff to fend for themselves. And that seriously affects the independent and impartiality and the professionalism of the media itself.
‘‘Many journalists in the states are held hostages by the press secretaries of state governors. If you are sent as a correspondent in a state, you are being told not to write anything negative against the governor. You are also told to seek clearance before publication. Press men who insist on being independent and professional, would be institutionally ostracised by their colleagues in the state.
‘‘Most times, the Press secretaries of people in power try by all means to turn journalists from being professionals to also being spin doctors of people in power. Most times, the Press in the states don’t carry news from the opposition, especially those who are not in the good books of the government,’’ he added.
He then urged the professionals to check the activities of their colleagues in state chapters to ensure that journalists are protected, insisting that ‘‘If we don’t have a free Press, then we will have politicians colluding with each other to undermine the ethics and profession.
‘‘The challenge we have is that in as much as you are required to be patriotic, love your country and be impartial in your reporting. Journalists should also have conscience to always stand on the side of the people because government come and go but people will always be there,’’ Sani said.
Earlier, the NUJ President, Abdulwaheed Odusile said the importance of Press Freedom to good governance, deepening of democracy and nation building cannot be overemphasised.
He described Press Freedom as an indispensable factor in the equation of democracy that fuels democracy by ensuring transparency, accountability and rule of law.
Odusile said the maiden edition of the NUJ Press Freedom Awards was organised to celebrate and motivate journalists, promote press freedom, good governance and deepen democracy in Nigeria.
Highlight of the event was presentation of awards to Sen. Shehu Sani, Speaker, House of Representatives, Dogara Yakubu, NCC EVC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, NITDA DG, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, Gov. Abdullahi Ganduje and Chief Oliva Okpala among others in different categories.