Media Rights Agenda (MRA) is seeking closer collaboration with the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) based on the complementary roles that both organizations perform in the area of media freedom and development. The call for more and closer collaboration between the two groups was made by MRA’s Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, on December 2, 2021 at a Town Hall Meeting organized by the NGE with the theme: “Agenda Setting for Sustainable Democratic Culture”.
Giving a solidarity message at the event, Mr. Longe said NGE and MRA had a lot in common and that the two organisations, including other media associations and unions as well as freedom of expression organizations ought to work more closely together to ensure media freedom. He added that he hoped that the occasion will mark the beginning of a fruitful relationship
He briefed participants about the work MRA does in the area of freedom of expression, media freedom, access to information and digital rights and freedom, adding that MRA also offers free legal and litigation services to journalists and media houses whose rights are infringed upon in the course of their works.
In attendance at the meeting were editors, leading pro-democracy/human rights activists in the South-west zone, renowned scholars from the academic community, pro-media rights groups, students from different tertiary institutions, faith groups, members of the international community and the media.
In his welcome address, President of NGE, Mustapha Isah, noted that Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, which gives the press, radio, television, and other agencies of the media should, at all times, the freedom to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people, gives the media the enormous responsibility to hold the government accountable to the people.
Mustapha said it is only when media practitioners perform their role that good governance can take root. He noted that as the 2023 transition election approaches, the media must move away from pushing the agenda of politicians, from the debate on zoning or power rotation but interrogate the real issues of development, education, insecurity, youth unemployment and poverty ravaging the nation.
He said: “What is currently dominating headlines in the media on the 2023 general election is zoning or power rotation. This is the agenda of the politicians. As the politicians talk about zoning, we, I mean the media, should remind them that we are more interested in the issues of development, education, insecurity, youth unemployment and poverty ravaging the nation.”
The US Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms Mary Beth Leonard, delivering her keynote remarks discussed the challenges faced by Nigeria and other democracies across the world while highlighted democracy’s greatest strengths: the ability to improve upon and reinvent itself. She noted that when the citizenry’s belief in democracy, good governance and elections are restored, invariably they will want to be a part of that system and will defend it.
She stated: “Our hope is that in this forum today is that you will lead and serve as catalysts for further discussions on countering disinformation; increasing transparency; solution building; and encouraging media literacy and their contribution to a democracy that is accountable to its people.”
Fiery human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), made the lead presentation on the topic: Assessing Media Performance in Consolidating Nigeria’s Democracy: Citizens’ Verdict and Outlining a Media Agenda for the Future.
Mr. Falana charged the media to set agenda for rather that react to political discussions. He also urged the media to stop promoting “those who have brought Nigeria to its knees” as the 2023 general election approaches and insisted that elections must be issues based.
Mr. Falana said: “Make the election issue-based, don’t talk about the religion of any candidate, that is his private affair, don’t discuss ethnicity, it is an accident of history, nobody decided where to be born. Rather, find out the pedigree of the candidates. Find out the agenda those who want to come out in 2023 have for security and how they intend to fix the collapsed infrastructure.”
He noted that for the Press to actively play its role, media houses must be ready to challenge unlawful acts taken by the government against them in court.
He pointed out that former US President, Donald Trump once expelled a CNN reporter from the White House over a certain report; that CNN went to court to challenge the expulsion and won the case and had its reporter reinstated at the White House. He said here, in Nigeria, we beg and beg even when our rights are violated.
Mr. Falana also noted that the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) imposes illegal fines on media houses and it has been difficult to convince media houses to challenge these fines in court, even after they have been told that the Board of the NBC never ratified the purported amendment of the code, so that remains an illegality but media houses are prepared to pay the fine noting that if such violations are not challenged, the oppressors will continue to oppress the people.
He said impunity will continue in government as long as the media does not rise to its responsibility.
He further said: “When many of the media houses are owned by members of the ruling class, what do you expect? He who pays the piper dictates the tune. So, the question of defending the interest of the people does not arise. It is hypocrisy to claim neutrality. Not to take sides is to take sides with the oppressor, you can’t be neutral. Nigerian editors must be critical in their approach.”
The Town Hall Meeting, the first of the six that the Guild plans to be held all over the nation’s six geo-political zones, aims to provide a platform for the media’s stakeholders to remind editors and other media managers of the sacred duties they are tasked to perform by the constitution on behalf of the citizens, drawing copious examples from advanced democracies around the world – in order to instill in them the need to perform these duties with the highest form of standard and sense of responsibility. The meeting was supported by the US Embassy in Nigeria.