Published On: Tue, May 7th, 2019

World Press Freedom Day 2019

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World Press Freedom Day 2019 was celebrated may 3 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The United Nations General Assembly inaugurated the Day in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. The objective was to raise awareness about the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to uphold the Right to Freedom of Expression, enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since the Declaration of Windhoek, the anniversary has been observed annually worldwide. The theme of this year’s celebration was “Media for democracy: Journalism and elections in times of disinformation”.

We admit that in Nigeria, Press Freedom is not just a Constitutional stipulation; it is there in practice, largely. We know of no institutional inhibitions against the right of journalists to gather and disseminate news and information. This is not to say overzealous government officials have not been a pain in the necks of professional journalists. We join the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) that ended its delegates’ conference over the weekend in Lagos in calling for a stop to impunity. A statement the Guild released during previous meeting also in Lagos said: “More importantly, governments must begin to treat the Media as an ally in development and nation building.

“As a matter of fact, the history of Nigeria cannot be written without a mention of the role the Media played in the struggle for independence, enthronement of democracy and promotion and propagation of social justice and human rights. Having acquitted itself thus, its operators and indeed, journalists, do not deserve to be treated with anything less than respect and decorum in the course of performing their Constitutional responsibility.

“While we call on governments and the political class to recognise the role of the Media in sustainable development, as a watchdog fostering transparency, accountability and the rule of law, we reiterate the fact that it is the responsibility of governments and relevant institutions to protect journalists from physical harm and intimidation”.

Obstacles to Press Freedom in this country do not come from the government alone. Often they are the consequences of an unfavourable economic environment such as the recession from which we emerged only recently. Many media houses have been forced to shut down due to huge operational costs. The few that are still afloat have accumulated years of unpaid salaries. As the NGE said, “This development has created an atmosphere of uncertainty and in effect, reduced the general morale of journalists in the country.”

This situation does not bode well for not only the media industry, but also the health of our democracy. Again to quote the NGE, “It is important to call the attention of all on a day like this that a nation whose economy does not and cannot support the economy of its Media industry cannot thumb its chest that its press is free. A broke Media industry has no press freedom and is, therefore, far from being free, for as long as the economic shackles are firmly in place.”

However, we must soldier on no matter the adversity that confronts us. Once again, the NGE, “On our part as members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm, we must collectively play our role in the interest of the generality of Nigerians whose trust we hold by maintaining and observing the highest professional and ethical standards in total compliance with the Code of Ethics of the Journalism profession. We must not allow agents of retrogression to use our platforms to preach hate and extremism under the guise of free speech”.

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