3RD MAY, 2019
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) heartily felicitates with the Press on the celebration of the 2019 World Press Freedom Day. The day presents an opportunity to remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The theme, “Role of Media in Elections and Democracy” chosen for this year celebration is pertinent to democratic strengthening. Bearing in mind that access to information and the form of information made available through media has significant impact on electoral outcome, the role of the media in elections cannot be over-emphasized.
In the past few years, evidence suggests that Nigeria has further retrogressed in its rating of promoting press freedom. Nigerian journalists and media companies have been a subject of harassment, arbitrary arrest, threat, physical violence and assault mostly by the security forces. Even, despite the existence of Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), journalists are always denied access to information by government officials. Since 2015, the country continued to maintain a top position in the ranking of countries with high cases of abuse of press freedom. In the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Nigeria is rated 120th which marked an increase from 111th position in 2015. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the country’s ratings were 116th, 122nd and 119th respectively.
Many journalists have been arrested and charged under the 2015 Nigeria’s cyber-crime act and anti-terrorism law for allegedly defaming and harassing top government officials. We have also witnessed a prosecution of a journalists under the penal code related to sexual assault and murder for a refusal to disclose a source of a story on the activities of top government officials. Most brazenly was freezing of journalists’ accounts to frustrate and traumatize them into complying to their (security forces) bidding. Rash invasion, confiscation of properties and unlawful closure of media houses were also obvious attempts to cow journalists from objective reporting of government activities and holding them (government) accountable.
During the 2019 Nigeria general elections, many journalists were attacked and, in some cases, killed. The gruesome experience during Kano State during the 2019 supplementary governorship elections that witnessed barefaced assault and harassment of journalists in Gama Ward of Nasarawa LGA, amongst others, typified a disruptive state of press freedom in the country. Unfortunately, Nigeria has had its share of the number of journalists death recorded globally. In the last two decades, at least 10 Nigerian journalists have been murdered with impunity by unidentified assailant, mob, security personnel, etc. while carrying out their constitutional mandate. No doubt, these are clear cases of an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the pillars upon which any democracy must be built, but it is regrettable that investigation into these cases by the security personnel has not yielded any meaningful outcome.
The extent to which the media perform its “watchdog” role in a democracy predicates on the state of press freedom in a country. The media advances the democratic value and such laudable role cannot be effectively delivered in an atmosphere of threats, harassments and assaults. The celebration of the 2019 Press Freedom Day is a wake-up call to the government. As we mark this day, CDD calls for:
- An end to the constant attempt to intimidate and undermine press freedom. President Mohammed Buhari should immediately order the release of detained journalists and media executives, held captive for doing their job. The protection of source is a sacred trust journalist MUST uphold. The press has the right to protect the secrecy of informants’ information as guaranteed by the laws of the country.
- Proper investigation into murder of journalists and attacks on media houses in the country. The law enforcement agencies should put an end to the delayed justice by ensuring that those culpable of the offences face the wrath of law.
Also, while commending the efforts of the press, we urge the Fourth Estate to be weary of spreading, promoting or escalating fake news and propaganda that could fuel hatred and division among the people.