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03.06.2023 Journalism ‘Press Freedom, Freedom of Speech’. What Journalists Want From New Gov’t

Published 3rd Jun, 2023

By Tarinipre Francis

Journalists are expected to be the voice of the people and hold power to account, but rarely do the institutions meant to protect them in the discharge of their duties do so.

According to Report Without Borders (RSF), Nigeria is one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often monitored, attacked and arbitrarily arrested. Nigeria ranked 123 out of 180 countries in the latest RSF press freedom index.

RSF identified political control and legal restrictions as some of the challenges that Nigerian journalists faced, and because journalists typically have first-hand interactions with politicians during campaigns before they assume office, FIJ decided to seek out their views on the prospects of press freedom with this new administration and what ways they think it can strengthen press freedom and integrity.

Here’s what they said:

Alao Abiodun, The Nation

I want to be optimistic that the new administration will pay close attention to two things — respecting press freedom and freedom of speech.

Journalists have had to contend with a lot of harassment and intimidation in the course of doing their duties. Many media houses have been used to score cheap points, which is very unnecessary.

Press freedom is fundamental to any effective and functional democracy all over the world, and indeed, Nigeria can’t be an exception.

For the incoming administration, gagging the media is not the next thing to do; journalists are critical members of society needed to speak truth to power.

The relevant laws and constitutional provisions that guarantee media freedom and freedom of expression in Nigeria must not be undermined.

Todah Opeyemi, Zikoko Citizen

While his win is controversial, I believe Tinubu has a unique opportunity to shape the future of press freedom in our country, and hopefully for the better. There are arguments among citizens that a president who didn’t respect the media, especially local media in Nigeria, during his campaign by not granting interviews and participating in debates has nothing positive to say about respecting the press or improving the state of press freedom. At Zikoko Citizens, we have a WhatsApp community, and these are the arguments our readership shares.

Although I’d say it’s too soon to make predictions, there are some signs that the new administration may not even pay attention to or appreciate local or digital media. However, I’d like to be optimistic but also pay close attention to the level of media freedom both the press and citizens get to experience.

Tinubu’s administration needs the press on their side, and from speeches and comments, you can see that they are beginning to engage citizens in making efforts to build trust. If a large portion of the population doesn’t believe in a government, what level of optimism or renewed hope will the leaders bank on as fuel? They have to strengthen press freedom and integrity. The administration can take several measures, and one of them is that media independence and the autonomy of media institutions must be allowed; no interference or censorship must be practised. And they must put laws in place to protect journalists from intimidation, harassment and violence, which hinder many from carrying out their work without fear. I’d like to see state and security agents punished for even disrupting a journalist in their line of duty.

They also have to be transparent and accountable. The press must be informed and allowed to follow along on policy development and the inner workings of governance. They must have general access to information, and they must protect whistleblowers. They can also establish standards for holding public officials accountable for any infringements on press freedom.

The administration should also invest in media literacy programmes for citizens and empower media outlets like Zikoko Citizen, whose primary goal is to educate and inform Nigerians, particularly young Nigerians, on issues affecting them and encourage them to take action.

Reporter, The Punch

One may only hope that since the new Federal Government is not headed by a retired major general as we had in the erstwhile regime, the attack on journalists by state agents and sanctions on media houses may reduce. But on the other hand, looking at the fact that there’s only a change in individuals and not the party or system, the grass doesn’t look greener on the other side yet.

The new administration can protect press freedom by first identifying cases of assault on journalists in the previous administration, especially in the last elections, and prosecuting the culprits.

It must openly commit itself to protecting press freedom and allow criticism or critical reports about the administration, leaving media houses with no fear of reprisals.

READ ALSO: ECOWAS Court to Hear Suit Seeking Justice for 11 Nigerian Journalists Killed Between 1998 and 2019

In the past eight years alone, the National Broadcasting Corporation sanctioned over 100 media platforms; some for promoting hate speech, vulgar language and transmitting footage which they claimed were obtained from unverified and unauthenticated social media sources.

Also, several journalists faced harassment, violence and intimidation during the general elections in 2019 and 2023.

While some express optimism about the new government, others aren’t counting on them to respect press freedom. They see the new administration as an extension of the former, which engaged in various repressive activities against the press.

Reporter, Vanguard

Though the names have changed, the APC remains in power. I don’t expect anything different from the previous administration. 

Plus, if we go by what transpired between Channels TV, and Datti and how the new administration (then incoming) called for sanctions, then the prospects of press freedom look bleak.

85% of the mainstream media is controlled by the current administration in one way or another (ownership factor, monetary factor, particularly advertising). Let’s be realistic; we shouldn’t expect them to exhibit a laissez-faire attitude towards the press.

Joseph Adeiye, FIJ

As a journalist, I basically have no expectations from this administration. High expectations may precede disappointment. It seems harsh or fiercely opinionated, but this is about the same people with the same information war tactics as it was during the 2023 election. I think the new administration will preach press freedom in the open and take secretive steps to repress the press. It will be up to the press to prepare for more NBC sanctions.

A new administration can strengthen press freedom in Nigeria by providing the necessary protection via legislation. An instance is the repeated harassment of journalists with threats and abusive arrests, which can be easily checked with a protective press bill passed into law.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: For ‘Demanding Due Process’, Katsina PPRO Drag Journalist Before Emir, Brand Her ‘Criminal’

Abimbola Abatta, FIJ

To be honest, I envisage numerous cases of media gags in this administration, especially for media platforms that won’t pander to the new government’s wishes. So, I anticipate arrests of journalists. I won’t be surprised if we have another version of the Twitter ban. 

However, if the government wants to take press freedom seriously, it should create an enabling environment for journalism to thrive. They should be open to scrutiny and held accountable. There should be transparency and access to information. It shouldn’t have to be like finding a needle in a haystack when journalists need to access information, databases, statistics and whatnot. Journalists should not be harassed or attacked while on duty, and if it happens, the perpetrators must be brought to book. Also, those who have been arrested in the past for simply doing their jobs must get justice. It doesn’t matter whether it happened in the previous administration or not. This government should probe unlawful arrests of journalists, prosecute perpetrators, and, of course, compensate the survivors and victims’ families.

READ ALSO: REPORT: NBC, Illegal Arrests Make Nigeria Too Dangerous and Difficult for Journalists

Kunle Adebajo, HumAngle

Nigeria’s ranking worsened under the previous administration for so many reasons. And even though it is the same political party that is still in power and we have seen signs of the same brand of unhealthy engagement with the public and the press from Tinubu’s campaign team, there’s no harm in hoping the new administration will be different. They shouldn’t see the press as enemies, just as they wouldn’t see the legislature and judiciary as enemies. The press is called the fourth estate because it truly is just another arm of government, existing to hold all the other three arms accountable to the people. Once that mindset is installed, upholding press freedom will not be a problem. The government should be transparent. If there are shortcomings, it should be sincere about them. And it should constantly engage with the public, providing up-to-date facts so as not to give room to speculation. If the press publishes something it doesn’t like, it should be civil in its response and address the flaws that need addressing. That’s the only path to progress I see.

In addition to the things earlier mentioned, the government should make sure all MDAs adhere to the Freedom of Information Act. Media chats should be held frequently where journalists are allowed to ask critical questions about how the country is governed. Digital and data privacy rights should recognised and complied with. Finally, the flimsy assault, arrest, fining and detention of journalists must stop.

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Published 3rd Jun, 2023

By Tarinipre Francis

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