Only Free Media Can Effectively Promote Human Rights, Says MRA Director

Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA)

Mr Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has said that: “For the media to be able to effectively promote and protect human rights in any context, including in the Nigerian context, the media must be free, professional and independent.”

He said “Countries like Nigeria, therefore, have a duty to create the enabling environment for such media to emerge and thrive

He made this remark while delivering a paper titled “Role of the Media in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Nigeria” at the 2019 Human Rights Summit and Awards organized by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in collaboration with Human Rights Stakeholders in Nigeria.

Edetaen in his paper took a deep look at the issue exploring a variety of option and coming to the conclusion that indeed the media have a role to play in the promotion of human rights in Nigeria.

Citing three sources: the social responsibility of the media, the 1999 Constitution, as amended and international instruments, he expressed the view that the media in Nigeria not only have a role to play in the promotion and protection of human rights but that indeed they have a duty or obligation to promote and protect human rights.

The MRA Executive Director, however, pointed out that there are conditions precedent to the media being able to perform the obligation and all media stakeholders have their roles to play to make this possible.

Edetaen also cited the provisions of several local and international laws and UN Resolutions that support his position.

He warned that: “Where the media are weak and do not know what to do, they will be of little value in the task of ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Looking at the state of media freedom and freedom of expression in Nigeria, he took the position that there are many legal, policy and institutional obstacles to the exercise and enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression in Nigeria that makes the guarantee of these rights fall short of international standards and practices and expatiated on some of them.

Edetaen made several recommendations to strengthen the media and enhance its capacity to be able to independently and freely perform its duties.

He noted that there is an urgent need to transform state-owned broadcasting stations in the country, at Federal and State levels, into genuine public service broadcasters by removing them from the direct control of the President or the Minister of Information (at the Federal level) and of the Governor or Commissioners for Information (at the State level). Additionally, he recommended that the regulatory body in charge of broadcasting should be made one of the Federal Executive Bodies recognised under the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution.

Government stations, he said, should be run by independent boards whose members are appointed through a transparent process and have the security of tenure.

He also proposed “that the media should collectively put pressure on media owners in the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON) as well as the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) to develop and adopt a Code of Conduct for Media Owners.”

Other concrete recommendations he made include that the right to freedom of expression should be balanced against the legitimate right of individuals and entities to protect their reputations against unfair, inaccurate and unwarranted reporting or attacks.  However, the laws of defamation and libel should be reviewed to ensure that they meet the requirements of international standards and, in particular, to re-orient the emphasis in defamation cases towards the vindication of the reputations of individuals who have been subjected to unfair and inaccurate reports.

In the paper, Edetaen called on Nigeria to take urgent steps to bring its laws into conformity with internationally accepted standards for the protection of media freedom and freedom of expression by repealing or amending, as the case may be, all laws which criminalize speech and media content, particularly laws on Criminal Defamation, False Publication, and Sedition or Seditious Libel Laws.

He pointed out that the overbearing presence of government officials in the governing body of the broadcast regulator should be curtailed and recommended removing representation for the State Security Service and the Federal Ministry of Information from the membership.

The process of appointing representatives of the different interests groups that constitute the governing body of the broadcast regulator, Edetaen noted should include a requirement for consultations to be held with the various stakeholder groups in each of the named sub-sectors of the Nigerian society when selecting their representatives for appointment to the governing body.

He also recommended that members of the governing body and staff of the regulatory body should have the security of tenure and clearly defined conditions of service.

“Part of the functions of the regulatory body should be the exclusive power or right to issue and revoke broadcast licenses through a transparent process with clearly stated criteria that are publicly available. This function should not be exercised with reference to or under the instructions of any other authority, but the decisions of the governing body should be subject to judicial review. Consequently, the proviso to Section 39(2) of the Constitution should be amended to reflect this principle of empowering the regulatory body to act in this manner,” Edetaen concluded.

The Human Rights Summit and Awards which took place from December 8 to 10, 2019 at the Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Abuja was held to commemorate the International Human Rights Day, celebrated worldwide on December 10.