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Safety of Journalists, Democracy and Good Governance

Safety of Journalists, Democracy and Good Governance

By Patrick Albert

Today, we have gathered to ruminate with our professional colleagues and media workers across the globe on our duties and challenges under the auspices of the 2018 World Press Freedom Day. Quite remarkably, this year’s World Press Freedom Day is the Silver Jubilee edition since the world’s body – the United Nations (UN) inaugurated the celebration in 1993 to draw global attention to the Press. Let me therefore, on behalf of the State Working Committee (SWC), State Executive Council (SEC) and the entire members of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Akwa Ibom State Council welcome all guests, media executives, institutions and organisations for coming to mark this epochal event with us.

The theme for 2018 World Press Freedom Day is, “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law.’’ The theme is informed by the consistent approach of the United Nations through its agency, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is responsible to promote the annual celebration, in order to create awareness on the sacred role of the Press.

The theme of today’s event, covers issues of media and the transparency of the political process, the independence and media literacy of the judicial system, and the accountability of state institutions towards the public.

Happily, the Keynote Speaker, Mr. Charles Udoh, Hon. Commissioner for Information and Strategy and the Guest Speaker, Dr. Nsikak Idiong of the Department of Communication Arts, University of Uyo and other discussants will offer insightful thoughts on this theme and on other issues germane to the good health of the Media and democracy.

We must admit that since the landmark proclamation of the World Press Freedom Day by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1993 – which resulted from a recommendation adopted at the 26th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991, the thrust of the declaration and its import on media practice, has up the ante for the better appreciation of the workings of the press and the desirable cooperation for the optimisation of its objectives.

In the light of this, the goal of the World Press Freedom Day is to bring to fore the fundamental principles of Press freedom; preview the state of Press freedom throughout the world; protect the Media from unwarranted attacks on its freedom; and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in their lines of duty. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 46 journalists were killed in 2017. Other authorities like the Wikipedia list 71 while Al Jazeera list 81. The danger faced by journalists is enormous and it must be condemned.

Countries of the world have to be reminded of Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which states that everyone “has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

In keeping with its yearly hosting procedure, UNESCO held the global celebration of the World Press Freedom Day in collaboration with the Government of the Republic of Ghana, in Accra, Ghana on May 2 – 3, 2018. The 2018 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom winner of the annual prize sum of US$25,000 is Mahmoud Abu Zeid, an Egyptian jailed photojournalist. The Prize is named after Guillermo Cano Isaza, the Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper El Espectador in Bogotá, Colombia, on December 17, 1986. The prize “recognizes a person, organization, or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defense or promotion of press freedom especially in the face of danger.”

Maria Ressa, President of the independent international jury of media professionals on the 2018 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize said in a press statement on Monday, April 23 that the choice of Mahmoud, known as Shawkan, is to pay tribute to his courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression. Mahmoud, a freelance photographer who has worked for photo agencies such as Demotix and Corbis, is one of the longest-detained journalists in Egypt.

He was arrested on August 14, 2013, when hundreds were killed as security forces cleared two pro- Mohamed Morsi, former President of Egypt protest camps in Cairo. In 2017, the prosecutor handling his case reportedly recommended death penalty for Mahmoud.

Cases like this unfolds the dictatorial administrations that we have in parts of the world. We agree with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions that Mahmoud Abu Zeid’s arrest and detention is “arbitrary and contrary to the rights and freedom guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

We therefore commend the UN and its agency – UNESCO for campaigning for better awareness on role of the press. We also appreciate its efforts to invigorate the Media through regular training and retraining packages aimed at equipping journalists and other media workers to advance development, global peace, unity and good governance.

 It is incontrovertible that the media drives development in all spheres. Media practitioners as body of communicators feed the society with news and general information.  Even beyond the boundary of psychology, a man is who he is by reason of what he knows. In this wise, the media by the reason of information inputs conveyed through various means greatly shape the totality of a man’s wellbeing.

As it is, the state of development of every society is largely a reflection of the thought pattern of its citizenry. As stated earlier, the media remains one of the invigorators of the thought pattern of the citizenry. As scholars have agreed, the press is the market place of ideas. Authorities should therefore see journalists as enlightened agents who drive peoples thinking positively and are therefore worthy contributors to the management of the State.

Let me recall the position of former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the former UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein that “Quality journalism enables citizens to make informed decisions about their society’s development. It also works to expose injustice, corruption, and the abuse of power. For this, journalism must be able to thrive, in an enabling environment in which they can work independently and without undue interference and in conditions of safety.”

As Sir Tom Stoppard, a Czech-born British playwright and screenwriter said, “I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.” Journalism must therefore operate without chains. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution rises to this fact. In Chapter II, under the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, section 22, the constitution empowers the Press to hold public officers accountable to the people. It states thus “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”

This sacred empowerment draws further strength from the Freedom of Information Act 2011. The FOI Act states in Section 1(1) thus, “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other Act, law or regulation, the right of any person to access or request information, whether or not contained in any written form, which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution howsoever described, is established.” We know that press freedom is not without safeguards. We know that there is huge responsibility on practitioners, which demands adherence to ethical standards as contained in the code of Ethics for journalists.

The Nigeria Union of Journalists, as a responsible professional body is also on with good efforts to drive the practice in line with the expected decorum.  We have in furtherance of our constitution, set up Ethics and Disciplinary Committee to arbitrate on complaints bordering on professional misdemeanour and acts of indiscipline by members.

This has accounted for the reasonable ethical compliance in the media industry in Akwa Ibom. Even the activities of some online writers and some local tabloids with no identifiable addresses which tended to blur public perception and appreciation of the press in the State have greatly reduced. Our revalidation exercise in line with the directives of the National Executive Council of NUJ to authentic journalists has been very fruitful. We reiterate that journalists who are our members, have respect for the norms of the profession.

As veteran journalist Ray Ekpu once stated, those who engage themselves in dispensing information on the social media should not be classified as citizen journalists but rather as conversationists. I wish to say therefore that it takes a process to become a journalist and it equally takes a laid out procedure to gather and disseminate accurate information. The often resort to castigate journalists or our professional umbrella, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) on issues of misdemeanour,  coming from quarters or persons with no professional standing or within our  professional fold, is completely misplaced. But where our members err, we apply sanctions appropriately.

Journalism as a profession is intellectually demanding and requires support from Government and the private sector to engage our members on a number of training and retraining to keep them abreast with challenges especially as the Nation prepares for electioneering campaigns towards 2019 General Elections. Such support would help us keep pace with the demanding realities.

We can also say that the welfare of journalists is not commensurable with the work load of having to news-feed the World round-the-clock. We urge the Akwa Ibom State Government to extend its responsive attitude in the payment of salaries in implementing the 22.5 percent weigh-in allowance for journalists in its employ as already being implemented by the Federal Government and some States of the Federation.

The State Council appreciates once again the state government for appointing our member, Mrs Margaret Edem of the Akwa Ibom Newspaper Corporation as a Permanent Secretary in the public service. We urge for more of such appointments for other qualified journalists within the state government-owned media houses like the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation –Radio and Television Services and the Akwa Ibom Newspaper Corporation.

As the Fourth Estate of the Realm, we deserve increased attention and support for our members. We commend Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, the senator representing Akwa Ibom North East for extending his recent Constituency Briefing/Empowerment Programme by offering fifty (50) Laptops to journalists in the State. We appeal to other two Senators in the National Assembly to emulate the gesture. We also urge the State Government to support the NUJ in its drive to empower all registered journalists with laptops.

We wholeheartedly commend our Grand Patron, Zone “F’ South South, Akparawa Ephraim Inyang-Eyen, who is the Hon. Commissioner for Works for powering the plan to complete and inaugurate the ongoing 2-storey Office Complex through the provision of Doors and Aluminium Glass Windows. We also appreciate the Hon. Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh for his concern and interests in our welfare, especially on the Health Insurance Scheme for journalists in the state and the hosting of the National Executive Council meeting of NUJ last December.

Today’s event will witness the conferment of commemorative awards on three personalities. Next year’s edition will include special awards to a very outstanding journalist who has braved the odds in his line of duty.

Finally, we call on politicians in the state to respect the freedom of others to affiliate, associate or belong to any group or political party of his/her choice. Politics should be played with decorum to avoid infractions in the polity. Once again, we thank all our Guests for honouring our invitation. We appreciate our members and the Planning Committee for this event and wish to reiterate that together, we will continue do the unbelievable.

God bless us all.

Being an address of welcome by Elder Patrick Albert, Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Akwa Ibom State Council on the occasion of the 2018 World Press Freedom Day at the NUJ Press Centre, Information Drive, Off IBB Way, UYO, on Friday, May 4, 2018.


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