All forms of attacks on journalists and other media actors constitute attacks on democracy itself as there can be no democracy without a truly free press, according to Mr. Clément Boutillier, Head of Democracy, Governance and Migration Section at the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Nigeria and ECOWAS.
Speaking in Abuja at the National Freedom of Information (FOI) Awards ceremony organized by the International Press Centre (IPC) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on December 10, 2021 in commemoration of the 10th year anniversary of the signing of the FOI Bill into Law in Nigeria, Mr. Boutillier paid “tribute to those amongst the press who continue to do their best to provide information on issues of public interest, sometimes at the risk of their own lives.”
He said: “We recognize the hard work of all journalists, especially those who risk their safety and their very lives to inform citizens with accurate reporting. Factual, accurate reporting should never put anyone’s life in danger.”
Mr. Boutillier noted that freedom of information and expression is a fundamental right enshrined in international law, adding that in recent times, new technologies have imposed themselves as an extremely powerful medium for the preservation and fostering of this right.
According to him, “While bearing the great responsibility to guarantee accurate news to the public, free, diverse and independent media are at the core of a pluralistic and open society. Investigative journalism fulfils a necessary watchdog role that assists the public in holding governments and institutions, at all level, accountable for their actions and obligations.”
He regretted, however, that “we see more and more attempts to curb the space for free media, also by systematically undermining their credibility” and that too many journalists have lost their lives or have put their lives at risk for having exposed inconvenient truths or by reporting in conflict areas.
Mr. Boutillier stressed that the key role of journalists and other media actors in unveiling wrongdoing, corruption, crime and abuse of power exposes them to intimidation, threats, harassment and violence, abusive litigation, sometimes to arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and in some most extreme cases, to torture and killings.
He condemned attacks against journalists and other media actors as serious violations of human rights because they target not only the concerned individuals, but deprive others of their right to receive information, thus undermining public debate, which is at the heart of pluralist democracy.
In this regard, he said, “All forms of attacks on journalists and other media actors therefore constitute attacks on democracy itself.”
Mr. Boutillier called for political attention at the highest level and coordinated action from the governments at all levels, in cooperation with all relevant stakeholders in addressing these concerns.
He said by the EU’s assessment, the Nigerian Press remains one of the most vibrant on the continent and that the adoption of the Freedom of Information Act has generated hope while the EU is continuing to encourage its effective implementation.
Mr. Boutillier commended the courage of Nigerian journalists, saying the EU recognised the importance of their work in promoting peace and democracy.
He therefore called on the Government to take measures to strengthen the legal system for investigating and prosecuting crimes against journalists, including addressing past cases of impunity, insisting that “This is in recognition of the commitment of the Government of Nigeria during the Universal Periodic Review of 2018 to ‘create a safe and favourable environment for human rights defenders, journalists and civil society’”.
Mr. Boutillier reiterated the important role of the FOI Act in fostering democracy and promoting a culture of dialogue, and restated the EU’s commitment to supporting the safety and welfare of journalists and all individuals who rely on the Act in the course of their duties.
Acknowledging the “essential role of freedom of information as a pillar of democracy”, he said the “quality of democratic processes is linked to the state of access to information, freedom of expression as well as media freedom and pluralism”, adding “There is no democracy without a truly free press.”
Mr. Boutillier congratulated the recipients of awards at the ceremony and thanked them for their “hard work and resilience in the face of opposition”.