Promoting and Protecting Press Freedom & Freedom Of Expression In Nigeria

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Final Statement and Plan of Action

 

The World Bank Institute (WBI) in Washington D.C., in partnership with Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in Lagos held a three-day workshop in Lagos between October 18 and 20, 2005 to examine “Media Institutions and Capacity in Nigeria”.  The workshop brought together about 50 media professionals and experts, including editors, managers and journalists, to assess the state of Nigeria’s mass media industry – its strengths, weaknesses and the pressures that confront it and to propose strategies to create strong, effective and independent media institutions.

 

The workshop participants discussed issues relating to media practice and capacity in Nigeria, particularly the role of media in governance and development, key elements of effective media oversight such as the enabling regulatory and institutional environment, independence, quality and reach of the media, licensing, broadcasting regulation, freedom of expression regulations, the role of the state media, and the application of new media technologies.

 

The workshop participants agree to and hereby adopt this Final Statement and Plan of Action.

 

Participants observed that various stakeholders in the media industry have key roles to play in the emergence of strong, effective and independent media in Nigeria and hereby call on them as follows:

 

Federal and State Governments:

 

  • The present legal, institutional and regulatory frameworks for media practice in Nigeria inhibit media freedom and freedom of expression and should be reviewed.  This should include the repeal of repressive laws which have been carried over from the colonial and military eras, the reform of regulatory institutions established under those laws, and the entrenchment of a philosophy which recognizes that a free, independent and professional media is an essential element of a democratic society.

 

  • The present practice where the power to issue broadcast licenses is vested in the President of Nigeria exposes the process to the possibility of political manipulation and is unhealthy for the independence and effective running of the broadcast sector.  Accordingly, the power to issue or revoke broadcast licenses should be vested exclusively in an independent regulator, ideally in a reformed National Broadcasting Commission.

 

  • The present mode of regulation of the broadcast sector, which is discriminatory, as between state-owned broadcast media and privately owned broadcasting stations, particularly in license fees and network operations, is inequitable and unjustifiable.  The National Broadcasting Commission should take urgent steps to level the playing field.

 

  • In order to ensure the independence of the media, all state-owned media outlets, whether owned by Federal or State Governments, should be transformed into genuine public service media with their independence from government, commercial or partisan interests guaranteed by law and in practice.

 

  • Media practitioners require access to information to be able to effectively discharge the responsibility imposed on them by Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution to uphold the accountability of the Government to the people.  However, various legal provisions and institutional practices of public bodies impede access to information for media practitioners and other citizens alike.  Accordingly, the Federal Government, particularly the National Assembly and the President, should immediately pass into law the Freedom of Information Bill, which has been pending before the Legislature since 1999.

 

  • The harsh economic climate in the country has affected the purchasing power of most Nigerians and, therefore, their ability to purchase newspapers and access other media products.  The Government should adopt policy measures which will improve the economic circumstances and purchasing power of Nigerians and consequently the fortunes of the media.

 

  • Furthermore, the high cost of newspapers and other media products, which has made them inaccessible to a majority of Nigerians, has largely been due to high operational and production costs arising from the Government’s failure to provide the basic infrastructure that support the activities of the media industry as well as the high tariffs charged on imports of media materials and consumables.  The government should take urgent steps to ensure that basic infrastructural needs of the country, particularly steady power supply, are guaranteed.  It should also grant waivers on tariffs or tax relief for the importation of media materials and equipment in accordance with the spirit of UNESCO’s Florence Treaty – the Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials.

 

Professional Bodies in the Media (NUJ, NGE, NPAN, BON):

 

  • The credibility and effectiveness of the media has been gravely undermined by widespread corruption in the media.  Media practitioners and associations should commit themselves to reversing this unsavoury situation, including by developing effective sanctions mechanisms [e.g. an Ombudsman] for practitioners who violate the code of ethics for journalists.

 

  • Media proprietors and managers bear substantial responsibility for the indigent state of their workers through late payment or non-payment of salaries.  This has provided a ready excuse for the unethical practices which bedevil the profession.  Media proprietors and managers should commit themselves to paying decent wages as and when due. 

 

  • Media proprietors and managers should provide the resources and facilities which journalists and editors require for the discharge of their professional duties to insulate them from the corruptive influence of governments, corporations and other powerful interests.

 

  • Media proprietors should consider the possibility of mergers, joint management partnerships or other such options to create strong and economically viable media companies.

 

  • The media should form partnerships with non-governmental organizations working in the area of media development or media assistance to engage in advocacy activities aimed at securing waivers or concessions on tariffs for the importation of media materials and equipment in accordance with UNESCO’s Florence Treaty.

 

  • Professional bodies within the media should partner with media NGOs and other human rights civil society organizations to identify and campaign for the removal of all legal and institutional impediments which constrain media freedom or independent journalism practice.

 

  • Professional bodies within the media as well as individual journalists should show greater commitment to and provide more substantive support to the efforts to ensure the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill.

 

Media NGOs and Other Civil Society Organizations:

 

  • Non-governmental organizations working in the area of media development, media assistance or media freedom, along with other human rights civil society organizations, should continue to monitor attacks on media freedom and freedom of expression and provide support and assistance to media practitioners and organizations whenever they come under attack.

 

  • Media NGOs such as Media Rights Agenda (MRA), the International Press Centre (IPC) and the Centre for Free Speech (CFS) should form partnerships [through coalitions] with professional associations within the media and individual media professionals to identify and collate all remaining laws and regulations which inhibit media freedom or constitute obstacles to independent journalism practice, and work through the appropriate democratic institutions to redress the situation.

 

Journalism Training Institutions:

 

  • The poor standard of journalism and mass communication education is a major factor responsible for the poor quality of reporting in the media. Unlike other professional bodies such as those of the medical, legal, accounting, and engineering professions, media regulatory bodies and professionals are not actively involved in the assessment and determination of facilities and curriculums of journalism education.

 

  • Media professionals, associations, unions and NGOs should as a matter of urgency work out the modalities for intervention in journalism education with a view to improving the standard of training and closing the gap between the output from training institutions and the personnel needs of the media sector.

 

International Development Partners:

 

  • International development partners, including bilateral and multilateral donor agencies, should support advocacy efforts to reform the legal and regulatory framework for the media by encouraging the Federal Government, at every opportunity, to put in place the appropriate framework.

 

  • International development partners, including bilateral and multilateral donor agencies, should provide capacity-building assistance to the media in Nigeria to help them achieve independence and sustainability.  This could also include access to capital, possibly in the form of soft loans, as the existence of many media organizations is threatened by lack of capital.

 

 

 

Adopted in Lagos

October 20, 2005.

 

 

 

 

Coalitions

Partners

 

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