Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has said that the country has always championed the observance of right to freedom of expression and the safety of journalists, insisting however that the right enjoyed especially by media practitioners, comes with a huge responsibility.
The Minister said the right to freedom of expression comes with a responsibility that says “we must be circumspect in the use of information at our disposal to avoid misinformation, fake news and hate speech which, if not well managed, could lead to serious disaffection and chaos in the society.”
He made this statement on May 5, 2022 in his address on the occasion of the presentation of the UNESCO World Report on Freedom of Expression 2021/2022, at The Regional Forum for West Africa.
While commending the UNESCO Regional office for organising the forum to present the report, which according to him, “seeks to strengthen our media space,” he asserted that issues surrounding freedom of expression and safety of journalists are topical and dear to democracy.
Appreciating UNESCO for its efforts at promoting an enabling environment for the entrenchment of freedom of expression and the safety of journalists, the Minister said the report “presented will further provide our leaders, media administrators, practitioners and indeed various stakeholders in the information sector insights into the successes achieved and the multidimensional challenges to freedom of expression and media development, within the context of our various legal frameworks.”
He reiterated that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right enshrined in the nation’s various statutes and legal mechanisms, and also a key feature of democracy across the world. He said Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights captures this succinctly.
Alhaji Mohammed noted that over the years, countries have made efforts to liberalise the media landscape by making it conducive for practitioners through adoption of laws in this regard, adding that: “We have also seen the glaring need to protect journalists, as well as build their capacities to conform to the ever-changing standards of practice, especially with emerging technologies and particularly social media.” He said UNESCO has provided leadership in this regard.
The Minister said: “I make bold to state here that Nigeria has a vibrant, pluralistic and free press, and this would not have been possible without an enabling environment.”
He said he reiterated this point when he received the executive members of the Nigerian chapter of the International Press Institute (IPI) at his office in Abuja, at which occasion, he said he restated the commitment of the present Administration that under its watch, the media will never be seen as a threat, but as key partners in the progress of Nigeria.
He said Nigeria has made the freedom of expression not just a guiding principle but also a key priority, just like the safety of media practitioners in the country.
Saying that since his assumption of office, he has made it a point of duty to regularly engage with several stakeholders in the media space with a view to strengthening the information sector and building the capacities of media practitioners for better service delivery, he stated that he has met with journalists under the various umbrella unions, media owners and executives, online media practitioners and bloggers, among others, in this regard.
Citing some of the things his Ministry has done, he said it has organised seminars, workshops and symposia for media stakeholders and specifically that a key workshop organised in collaboration with UNESCO in 2018 was on Conflict Reporting and Safety of Journalists. He added that Nigeria has also been celebrating World Press Freedom Day yearly by organising symposia, pointing out that the last time being in 2021 when it held a symposium with the theme Journalism as a public good.
The Minister said for the year 2022, Nigeria will organize a workshop in celebration of World Press Freedom Day, in collaboration with UNESCO and other partners, after the global celebrations adding, that Nigeria remains resolute in its determination to continue to provide the enabling environment for media practitioners to thrive within the ambits of its laws.
It is instructive to note once more that the freedom of expression we enjoy comes with huge responsibility. It is sad that some of our compatriots in the journalism profession take advantage of this freedom to engage in misinformation and hate speech and to spread fake news. That was why we launched a national campaign against fake news and hate speech in 2018, a campaign that has brought the issue to the front burner of national discourse.
Alhaji Mohammed urged journalists within the West African subregion to join hands with the various governments to curb the activities of journalists who taint the image and good works of those “who desire to uphold the ethos and professionalism of this very important profession,” adding: “As a step towards the realization of this, I call on journalists and media houses to set up a fact- checking desk, so as to arrest the prevalence of misinformation, fake news and hate speech in our society.”
He commended UNESCO and its partners for putting up the report, assuring them that Nigeria will study the it and the recommendations contained therein with the seriousness it deserves.
He used the occasion to inform participants that Nigeria will be hosting the 2022 Global Media and Information Literacy Week, the first country within our subregion to host this event. He solicited the support of all relevant stakeholders for the success of the event.