Journalists At Risk Worldwide

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Relishing his breakfast along with his London Bureau chief, the American-trained and fearless journalist was oblivious of the danger that awaited him.

As soon as Dele Giwa opened a mail addressed to him on October 19, 1986, life was snuffed out of him. He remains the only known victim of a parcel bomb in Nigeria so far.

Journalism in Nigeria suffered yet another blow when Krees Imodibe of The Guardian and Tayo Awotusin of the Champion newspapers were killed on the orders of Liberian warlord, Charles Taylor, whose rebel group was fighting to oust then President Samuel Doe from office.

The duo had left Nigeria’s shores to cover the Liberian war for their respective media organisations; they never returned home.

Godwin Agbroko, also a fearless journalist and Chairman of the Editorial Board of ThisDay newspaper, was killed by unknown assailants on December 22, 2006 while driving home.

Two years later, Agbroko’s colleague and also a member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board, Abayomi Ogundeji, was equally killed on August 17, 2008. Like others before it, this killing has yet to be solved by the police.

The two journalists were reported to have written articles sharply criticising certain actions in some quarters.

In yet another horrific incident, Bayo Ohu, the Assistant News Editor and Deputy Political Editor of The Guardian, was murdered at his residence in Egbeda, a Lagos suburb, at about 7 a.m. on Sunday as he was preparing to go to church. Ohu’s wife and young children witnessed his shooting.

For observers and practitioners themselves, this litany of murders illustrates the risk journalists across the world face.

It is not unexpected, therefore, when the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) voices its concern, demanding a halt to “these senseless and gruesome killings”.

 Nov. 30 to December 3, 2009, reports that 88 journalists killed in the first 11 months of 2009, while hundreds of others were arrested and jailed.

Reviewing the issue of press freedom worldwide in the first half of the year, the association recalls that more than 30 journalists were among the 57 people murdered in a gruesome attack in the Philippines on Nov. 23, 2009.

The killings bring the total in the Asian country to 35 alone this year, making it the most dangerous nation in the world for journalists,

WAN·IFRA states.

“More than 750 journalists have been murdered worldwide in the past decade,” the association says, noting that arrests and sentencing of journalists often result from “sham trials” or without formal charges being brought against them.

Top Nigerian journalists, who attended the 16th Congress of the World Editors Forum, which held on the sidelines of the WAN·IFRA gathering, share the association’s mounting concerns.

Mr Nosa Igiebor, the Editor-in-Chief of TELL magazine, says “journalists are always in danger, even in countries where there are no conflicts. Journalists are exposed to severe danger, even more than the military who are only at risk in a war situation.

“For journalists, it is a matter of life and death. You are not sure of whom you have annoyed. Journalists have enemies around them, even in government circles.”

Mr Victor Ifijeh, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of The Nation newspaper, is equally disturbed.

“Some of these things — killings and harassment – also happen to journalists elsewhere; we are not unmindful of them.

“We are mindful of these killings but we are not deterred. We have come to regard them as a hazard. We have heard accounts of journalists from other parts of the world who have been killed, but we are undeterred by such obstacles.

“Rather, we are encouraged. In journalism, we must speak and report the truth always,” he says.

 Many critics, however, blame journalists for exposing themselves to danger by fuelling unnecessary conflicts or pitching camps in contestable matters, especially politics.

In this regard, Najam Sethi, the Editor of two Pakistani newspapers — The Friday Times and Daily Times — holds both the Pakistani and

Indian media culpable for fuelling the lingering conflict between these nuclear armed neighbours.

Sethi, who received the Golden Pen for Freedom Award in Hyderabad for his uncompromising, fierce and courageous writings, accuses the media in the two nations of being trapped in “narrow nationalism”.

The Pakistani journalist, who has received death threats from the Taliban and is on his government’s dishonour list, cites instances where the two media stopped the Indian and Pakistani governments from continuing with their peace initiative.

Observers are of the firm belief that journalists must, as a matter of necessity, refrain from publishing any material that stems from narrow-mindedness so as to stem the unwarranted attacks on them.

In spite of such attacks, nevertheless, these practitioners must trudge on undeterred in the discharge of their professional mandate, analysts say.

For Igiebor, “it takes a brave heart to be a journalist. If you are not a true believer, you cannot be a journalist.”

Echoing the TELL magazine boss, Ifijeh says no amount of harassment should stop journalists from doing their lawful job, “particularly as given to us by the Constitution — that is, to hold the government accountable to the people”.

Since the profession is not designed for the chicken-hearted, the journalists, however, would want UNESCO, the global organisation mandated to defend the freedom of expression and press freedom, to rise to the occasion.

This, analysts believe, will go a long way in stemming unwarranted attacks on and killing of journalists in the course of duty.

As the mirror of the society, journalists are demanding that their voices should be heard and not muffled.

Danisa is of the News Agency of Nigria (NAN)

 

Kola Danisa