*Guild of Editors laments, says media freedom under attack in Nigeria
*Warns that threat to democracy is threat to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy
*Urges FG to make newsprints, broadcast equipment, consumables, tax-free
*We recognise role of Nigeria media in strengthening democracy – Presidency
By Aaron Ossai and Mathew Dadiya
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day today, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE has lamented that the inalienable right to access and disseminate information through an independent press is under attack in Nigeria.
While calling for an urgent need to protect the media in a statement to mark the World Press Freedom Day, the editors warned that Nigeria’s fledgling democracy is in danger when a free press is threatened.
In the statement signed by the NGE’s President, Mustapha Isah and the General Secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the professional group of all the editors in Nigeria, said that while the threat to the media freedom in Nigeria is real, the impact on the state of democracy in the country will be very dangerous, if not checked.
‘’Today is a day globally reserved to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among journalists and other media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.
‘’We need to remind governments at all levels in Nigeria that a free and independent media that can keep the people informed and hold leaders accountable, is essential for a strong and sustainable democracy, including free and fair elections. Without it, Nigerians cannot make informed decisions about how they are governed; and address human rights abuses, corruption and abuse of power’’, the editors stated.
The Guild said that its members are concerned that elected leaders in Nigeria, who should be press freedom’s dependable protectors, have made several overt attempts to silence the media voices through proposed legislations – that clearly seek to criminalise journalism practice in the country.
They observed that apart from the regular attacks on journalists – carrying out their legitimate editorial assignments by overzealous security agents, the current attempts to criminalise journalism practice in the country through obnoxious proposed laws, the suffocating economic environment and harsh political/economic policies of the federal government, have in the past few years, made it almost impossible for the media sector to carry out its constitutional responsibility for the benefit of the citizens.
“There is an urgent need to protect the media because the impact of the suffocating economic and political environment being created by the government will be very dangerous to our democracy. A threat to the media is a threat to our democracy.
“Governments at all levels must take the lead in making sure that their actions do not inspire violations of press freedom. A democratic society like Nigeria should know that it has a crucial role to play in maintaining media freedom and facilitating access to public information.
“Government should regularly take strong and immediate action against any violations of media freedom – this should include speaking out against violence against journalists and authorities’ failure/refusal to identify and prosecute attackers”, the guild stated.
It also called on the federal government to make newsprints, broadcast equipment and all other consumables in the media sector tax free in order to save the media from total collapse.
‘’The media is a strong pillar of democracy; it is the oxygen of the democratic space; and there is urgent need for the federal government to make intervention to save it from collapsing’’, the editors added.
While saluting journalists, pro-media rights groups and others who have remained resolute in the defence of press freedom and independent press in the country, the NGE said that its ongoing Town Hall Meeting and Capacity Training Programme for editors in the six geo-political zones – being sponsored by the US Embassy in Nigeria, have also provided a huge opportunity to remind its members about the ethical values of journalism practice and the need to strictly adhere to those values.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has while rejoicing with the Nigerian media and recognizing their role in strengthening democracy salutes the courage and determination of those who daily go the extra time, sometimes at great personal risks, to keep the society well informed.
In fostering the pursuit of journalism in the country, President Buhari reiterated the Nigerian government’s commitment to freedom of the press, pledging to continue ensuring the protection of the rights and privileges of journalists in the lawful performance of their professional duties.
He therefore charged the Nigerian Press to use this year’s World Press Freedom Day to reflect on the need to embrace the best professional standards and practices, especially in the build-up to the forthcoming general elections in 2023.
He noted that the free performance of media roles and responsibilities during the electoral process is as important as the sanctity and will of Nigerians expressed through the ballot box.
With the elections in sight, the President urged the media to be mindful of sponsored political news or publications capable of inciting hatred, division, violence, and chaos in the country while also ensuring that the electoral umpire and other stakeholders play their roles in delivering free, fair, credible and transparent elections to Nigerians.
‘‘We must stay united in supporting media professionals who work hard to de-escalate violent conflict and promote peaceful societies without compromising the responsibility to report,’’ he said, urging government information managers to ensure that the press and the general public have access to facts and figures of government information, without tears.