Monday, May 3, 2021 was a day set aside by the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, for the celebration of the World Press Freedom Day, WPFD 2021. This year’s edition, being the 30th, was celebrated by UNESCO in partnership with the government of Namibia in Windhoek, the birthplace of the universal declaration of the WPFD back in 1991.
The Director-General of the UNESCO, Audrey Azolay, had before the celebration, announced its theme as “Information as a Public Good”. This theme is apt and a statement of the obvious. Information is power. At no other time in human history was this fact truer than at this Information and Computer Technology, ICT, age powered by the Internet. Because of the free access it offers to virtually everyone, the virus of fake news is as dangerous to information seekers as coronavirus is to all humans. Therefore, “verified information” is a priceless resource which the UNESCO takes seriously.
For this reason, the UN body focused the deliberations of this year’s WPFD on three vital areas: ways of keeping the providers of verified information economically viable, ensuring that the Internet providing companies remain transparent and responsible, and enhancing the Media and Information Literacy, MIL, level of the public to enable them to value and demand information as a public good.
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The media industry in Nigeria (as in many parts of the world) is gasping for survival. Even before the debilitating coronavirus pandemic, the astronomical cost of production inputs and the massive technology disruptions over the past 20 years or so have shrunk the readership bases of the mainstream newspapers. Many media houses have folded up, and many more are just barely there. The UNESCO really has a job exploring means of keeping providers of verified information in business.
After about 16 years of relative freedom since the return of democracy to Nigeria in 1999, the media in Nigeria, especially the electronic sector (radio and television), has come under the iron grip of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC’s, ubiquitous threats of licence suspension and fines for giving those that government does not fancy their rights to be heard.
The punishment of 99.3 Nigeria Info FM for airing an interview with Dr. Obadiah Mailafia and Channels Television for interviewing the spokesman of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mr. Emma Powerful, for allegedly breaching the controversial “Broadcasting Code” are cases in point.
The Federal Government has also remained aloof to the calls for policy palliatives for the media to enable practitioners to continue providing the invaluable verified information for the public good, the survival of our democracy and the restoration of our shattered faith in our country, Nigeria.
A strong media sector is for the public good. The media must be supported.