Nigerian Press: Burden Of Sustaining Democracy

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On May 3, every year, the global community marks the fundamental principles of Press freedom. The day is set aside to, among other things, evaluate Press freedom around the world, defend the media against attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 following a recommendation adopted at the 26th session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991. This, in turn, was a response to a call by African journalists who in 1991 produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration on media pluralism and independence.
May 3, therefore, acts as a reminder to government of the need to respect their commitment to Press freedom and to inform citizens of violations of Press freedom. This is against the backdrop of the fact that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and seized, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.
This year’s theme; “Keeping Power In Check: The Role of Media, Justice and the Rule of Law”, therefore, could not have been more apt in capturing the essence and challenges of the modern day media in democracy.
That this year’s celebration covered issues relating to the media, transparency of the political process, inter-independence and media literacy of the judicial system and accountability of State institutions towards the public, speaks volumes of why the Press should enjoy unencumbered environment to carry out their social responsibility.
While The Tide joins the rest of the world to celebrate this year’s Press Freedom Day, we frown at any form of executive recklessness and rascality against the Press.
We note that Press freedom as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended), is a fundamental right of the Press and should therefore be respected by all institutions of authority. Such constitutional provision empowers the media and indeed, the citizenry to freely express opinions within the ambit of the law.
It is against this backdrop that we condemn in the strongest terms breaches of Press freedom in Nigeria by mostly the executive arm of government and security agencies, such as the banning of the Punch Newspapers from the State House, Abuja, sometimes last year; the banning of a correspondent of a national newspaper by Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha and Bayelsa State government’s hammer on the media sometime ago.
We need not remind the government and its agencies that the Press fought for the democracy Nigerians, and indeed, politicians are enjoying today and that there can be no virile society and participatory democracy without the Press.
A nation without free Press is bound to fail. The Press is key to societal development and remains the link between government and the governed. The Press holds public office holders accountable to the citizenry and is an indispensable factor in modern democracies.
The Tide is, however, sad that in spite of the high social responsibility placed on the shoulders of the Press and its contributions to societal growth and good governance, there is neither a special salary structure nor insurance scheme for Nigerian journalists as is the case in other climes. This is worrisome, discouraging and should be looked into without further delay.
We, therefore, call on Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) and other media stakeholders to put journalism practice in the right perspective by securing good welfare package for Nigerian journalists to enable them perform optimally without fear or favour.
We also call for a review of the Press Council Act and the Cyber Crime Law to ensure that journalism practice in Nigeria is standardized in line with global best practices.
Journalists themselves, as watchdogs, must keep to the ethics of the profession and must not be afraid to speak the truth at all times, no matter whose ox is gored.