World Press Freedom Day: NGE tasks incoming government on press freedom, safety of journalists

*Promises to engage authorities on review of NBC Act, anti-media laws

NGE President, Mustapha Isah

Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has tasked the incoming government to initiate deliberate and sustained policies and programmes to promote freedom of expression, media freedom and safety of journalists.

The Guild noted that there were conscious efforts in the past few years by some members of the National Assembly – working in collaboration with officials of the executive arm of government, to criminalise journalism practice in Nigeria.

The umbrella of all the editors in Nigeria, which stated this in a statement yesterday to mark this year World Press Freedom Day, also promised to engage the incoming government over the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act and the Broadcast Code of Conduct - with the aim to amend and reform them to conform to the global best practices.

The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, celebrated every May 3, is “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a Driver for all Other Human Rights”, which the UN said signified the “enabling element of freedom of expression to enjoy and protect all other human rights.’’ 

In a statement signed by its President, Mustapha Isah and the General Secretary, Dr. Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the NGE said that pluralistic mass media predicated on freedom of expression, freedom of information and free press is fundamental to any effective and functional democracy all over the world, stating that Nigeria can’t be an exception.

“We share the popular notion that freedom of the media is indispensable for the protection of all other human rights. Instances abound where inhuman treatments, torture, corruption, misuse of power, impunity and nepotism were exposed because of the reports by the media. Informing members of the public is often the first and essential step to begin remedying human rights violations and hold governments to account.

“Disturbing signs of repression, violations of media freedom and several cautious attempts to criminalise journalism practice, have been observed in the past few years in our country. There have been different forms of control, censorship, and pressure over the content of mass media in Nigeria, especially the broadcast stations, which have hindered their independence and pluralism.

“Cases of journalists who are deprived of their inalienable rights due to their work continue to occur over and over again. Cases of harassment, intimidation, violence - and even murder - have been documented in the past eight years - by both local and international pro-media rights groups’’, the NGE stated.

The NGE added that the case of two Nigerian journalists – Gidado Shuaib and Alfred Olufemi, who were recently convicted by an inferior court in Kwara State, ought not to have been charged, let alone convicted, for publishing an investigative report about a factory.

The conviction of the two journalists has sent disturbing signals to the mass media that pointed out the necessity to urgently reform our laws and ensure journalism is not criminalized in Nigeria in line with the intention of anti-media forces.

The NGE said it is nevertheless, not unaware of the media’s shortcomings, saying the professional body will continue to provide useful advice on the improvement of journalism profession.

The body advised members of the public to make use of the recently inaugurated nine-member board of the National Media Complaints Commission (NMCC), otherwise known as the National Ombudsman, to report cases of media misconduct.

“As earlier stated by the commission, the inauguration of NMCC is a major step by the media industry to strengthen public confidence in the media through prompt resolution of issues bordering on ethical breaches in media content.

“The process is being driven by the Nigeria Press Organisation (NPO,) comprising the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), and the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP), along with other strategic media players and the civil society, in particular the MacArthur Foundation’’, the editors added.

The NGE added that the commission was created to serve as an independent forum for resolving complaints about the press quickly, fairly, and free of charge; maintaining high standards of Nigerian journalism and journalistic ethics; and defend the freedom of the press and the rights of the people to know.

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