FES Nigeria, MRA Convene Multi-Stakeholder Roundtable on the Safety of Journalists in Nigeria

Mr. Lennart Oestergaard, Resident Representative, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Nigeria

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Nigeria and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) are convening a two-day roundtable on the Safety of Journalists in Nigeria in Abuja on November 28 and 29, 2023, which will bring together participants from different stakeholder groups to discuss the issue of journalists’ safety and explore the possibility of developing and adopting a multi-stakeholder National Mechanism on the Safety of Journalists.

The multi-stakeholder roundtable with the theme “A Collective Responsibility for Ensuring the Safety of Journalists in Nigeria” will bring together representatives of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, the Nigerian Union of Journalists, the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria, the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers, among others members of the media community; relevant civil society organizations and professional bodies; and representatives of relevant security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Other stakeholders expected in attendance include representatives of relevant Federal institutions such as the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, the Federal Ministry of Justice, and the National Human Rights Commission as well as representatives of relevant regulatory bodies, including the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the Nigerian Press Council (NPC), and the National Media Complaints Commission (NMCC).

The meeting is expected to consider developing a framework for the establishment of a national mechanism on the safety of journalists in accordance with a series of international instruments and guided by good practices already in existence in some countries.

The functions of the proposed mechanism would aim to address various aspects of the problem of ensuring the safety of journalists, including how to prevent attacks against journalists, the protection of journalists who are being threatened or under attack, the prosecution of perpetrators of attacks against journalists, and the establishment of monitoring mechanisms to track and document incidents of attacks against journalists.

The organizers plan to propose the framework emerging from the roundtable to the Federal Government as a means of addressing the challenge of the safety of journalists and assisting Nigeria in meeting its treaty and international obligations on the issue.

They argue that attacks on journalists and other media workers is not an issue which concerns only the media community, but it is a matter of tremendous importance and interest to the society at large, including all citizens and the Government, and that Governments have a legal obligation to ensure the safety of journalists and media workers.

According to the organizers, the rationale for the multi-stakeholder approach being proposed, which is also built into the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which was adopted in December 2013 by the UN General Assembly, is the fact that crimes against journalists are multifaceted and cannot be addressed by a single organization, agency or stakeholder group, including Governments.

They explained that the situation requires the development of strategies that are comprehensive and able to address the complexity of threats against journalists, ranging from reactive measures, to assistance to journalists in distress, preventive measures, advocacy, training and particular focus on ending impunity through effective judicial measures.

The organizers said the convening is intended to advance the issue of safety of journalists in Nigeria in the light of the limitations in the current legal and constitutional framework in the country.

According to them, although Section 39 of the Constitution contains broad guarantees for the right to freedom of expression while Section 22 of the same constitution affirms the freedom of the media to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people, the non-justiciability of Chapter 2 of the Constitution appears to blunt the rights and freedoms contained in that part of the Constitution and has resulted in an unresolved controversy as to whether Section 22 actually contains any guarantees of media freedom.

The roundtable is also borne out of the need to implement the recommendations contained in the reports from the African Media Barometer (AMB) conducted in Nigeria over the last 15 years, which have consistently highlighted the challenge of attacks on journalists, who have remained major targets of violence over the years, with some being either assassinated or kidnapped, thereby created a state of insecurity within the media sector.

Over the last 15 years, FES Nigeria, in collaboration with Fesmedia Africa, the media project of the FES in Africa, which is headquartered in Windhoek, Namibia, has conducted four African Media Barometer (AMB) studies in Nigeria.

The AMB, an in-depth and comprehensive description and measurement system for national media environments in Africa, is a self-assessment exercise based on criteria derived from African Protocols and Declarations like the “Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa” adopted in 2002 by the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The AMB is an analytical exercise to measure the media situation in a given country which is also intended to serve as a guiding tool for undertaking media reform initiatives. AMBs have been conducted in Nigeria and reports issued on each of them in 2008, 2011, 2015 and 2019.