Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on May 27, 2021, held a tweet chat that explored some of the channels for “Ensuring the Safety of Journalists in Nigeria”, particularly through litigation, with lawyers from the organization who served as panellists stressing the need to combat impunity for crimes against journalists through the legal process.
Specific issues that were discussed during the tweet session with the hashtag #SOJLitigationNG include the state of the safety of journalists in Nigeria, litigation as a remedy to combat impunity for attacks or crimes against journalists, benefits of litigating attacks on journalists, challenges and measures for effective litigation.
MRA’s Communications Officer Idowu Adewale moderated the tweet chat, while the panellists comprised of the organisation’s Programme Manager, Legal, Chioma Nwaodike and its two legal officers Morisola Alaba and Sideeq Rabiu.
Adewale kicked started the tweet session with a bit of background into the issue of safety of journalists in Nigeria. He noted that MRA has recorded at least 17 journalists killed either in the line of duty or as a result of their workin the last 22 years with perpetrators not being prosecuted, adding that, “this atmosphere sends a wrong message to the perpetrators that they can kill journalists and have no adverse consequences.”
He pointed that, “attacks on the media, particularly the killing of journalists, have escalated during the period of civilian democracy, far above the levels recorded during the military regime.
“In virtually all cases, law enforcement and security agencies have never been able to investigate the killings or hold anyone accountable for these crimes despite the obligation that the Government has to protect all citizens, including media professionals.” He said.
He thereafter recommended that, “an important remedy to these continued impunities to crimes perpetrated against journalists and media workers is to challenge these crimes through rigorous litigation.”
Responding to questions, Chioma affirmed that, “in the context of the safety of Journalists, litigation is the preferred method because it offers a clear outcome as court judgments clarify issues as well as counter speculations and false or inaccurate information.”
She however, noted that cost could be a major deterrent for journalists to seek litigation but revealed that, “MRA typically provides a cheaper path to litigation and in many circumstances, provides pro bono services to journalists and media workers attacked while performing their duties, making litigation a more cost-effective option.”
Chioma assured that a journalist will always get a result he/she engages in litigation, whether he/she likes the result is, of course, another matter. She stated that however long it takes, there will be a result, concluding that litigation is the last and most conclusive hope for attacks against journalists.”
Morisola in her tweets highlighted the challenges of litigation, noting that “the willingness of the media organization where an attacked journalist works can also be a challenge for the journalist in question to institute an action in Court.” She added: “In some cases, the media organization where the journalist works is not ready to take legal action against the attack on behalf of the journalist.”
She noted that economic consideration, especially fear of loss of revenue due to advert withdrawal can induce a media organization to prevent its reporters from instituting cases of attacks in court and that as well, the fear of being further attacked by perpetrators of this crime is also a hindrance to litigation.
She stated that, “many times we see cases of journalists giving their authorization to litigate on their behalf and later turn around to revoke the authorization out of fear, intimidation or bribery.”
Morisola advised journalists to seek support from MRA to institute action in court to seek redress for attacks against them, stressing that, “Journalists attacked because of or in the course of their works can reach out to MRA for litigation support with no financial cost to them.” Such journalist, she said, can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sideeq, while giving recommendations on effective litigation, tasked the Federal Government to “live up to its international treaty obligations to guarantee the safety of journalists and other media workers, including by preventing attacks on them whenever possible.”
He said: “In striving to meet its obligation to protect journalists and other media workers, the Federal Government should ensure that all attacks on journalists and other media workers are investigated and that the perpetrators of the attacks are prosecuted and punished.”
Sideeq advised legal practitioners to “get involved in using their expertise to protect and defend journalists and other media workers who are attacked for their work and should avail themselves of opportunities, which enable them to stay up to date and deepen their knowledge and understanding of issues relating to the safety of journalists and thereby enhance their expertise on the subject.”
He also noted that “Media organizations have a responsibility to ensure the safety of journalists and other workers in their employment and should, accordingly, conduct periodic and regular safety training for them so that they can do their work safely and professionally.”
Media organizations, he added, should provide journalists and other workers in their employment with the appropriate equipment, such as protective gear, where necessary, to prevent or minimize their exposure to various hazards that they may confront in the course of their work.
In addition, he urged judicial authorities to issue practice directions for courts to guide the hearing and determination of cases on the safety of journalists in order to improve the effectiveness of judicial mechanisms in addressing the challenge of crimes against journalists.
Bringing the tweet session to an end, Idowu called for continued discussion on issues relating to the safety of journalists to create a conducive environment for journalism practice in Nigeria.
The tweet chat was part of activities under its project on Ensuring the Safety of Journalists and Media Freedom in Nigeria through Litigation supported by the Global Media Defence Fund (GMDF) through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).