Participants at a one-day round-table held in Abuja, Nigeria to commemorate the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists have called for collaboration among media stakeholders in order to collectively address the challenges that confront the industry in Nigeria.
This position was reached at an interactive roundtable dialogue organized by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) which brought together journalists, Journalists Unions, media freedom organisations, lawyers and government agencies to brainstorm on subject Stakeholder Dialogue on Press Freedom and Whistleblower Protection in Nigeria. The meeting took place in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
In his opening remarks, Dapo Olorunyomi dwelt on the repression on the press over the decades and especially the sacrifices journalists have had to pay including battery, arrest and detention and even murder. He linked it worth the UN action on safety of journalists which necessitated the dialogue. He acknowledged the work MRA has been doing in promoting and protecting press freedom particularly during the military era. He then appreciated the support of Free Press Unlimited for its support in building a coalition of CSOs on Whistleblower Protection and Press Freedom and also the support of Netherlands Embassy.
Ms Chelsey Buurman, Second Secretary at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Nigeria in her remarks noted that press freedom in most developing countries was restricted. She said the Dutch Embassy in Nigeria was partnering with Free Press Unlimited to specifically improve access to information for the media in Nigeria.
Thereafter, Mr. Charles Otu, the Ebonyi State Correspondent of The Guardian newspaper who was on June 3, 2017 abducted from his office in Abakaliki by thugs suspected to have been sent by the State governor and mercilessly beaten recounted his ordeal. His offence was because in a Facebook post, he called on the State Governor, David Nweze Umahi, to honour his campaign promises by providing social amenities and meaningful infrastructures instead of spending the state money on things that have no direct benefits to the people of the State.
He said the matter went to court but collusion of the judge in the matter and his lack of funds collaborated to his being fined by the court. Dapo however said that civil society will handle the matter.
The first panel session discussed Policy Constraints Regarding Press Freedom and Whistleblower Protection in Nigeria and had as panelists Ayode Longe, Programme Director at Media Rights Agenda (MRA) Tunde Akpeji, Special Assistant to Mr. Sunday Dare, Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) whom he represented and Lanre Arogundade who moderated the session.
Ayode, in his contribution dwelt on the legal constraints. He noted that Nigeria does not have express media freedom in its statutes pointing out that Section 22 of the Constitution merely place an obligation on the media to hold government accountable to the people but is not justiceable while Section 39 of the same constitution guarantees a general right to freedom of expression and not any specific media freedom guarantee. He also pointed out that a Court of Appeal has ruled that the two Sections of the Constitution do not confer any special right on the media. He drew a comparison with Nigeria’s neighbouring country, Ghana which he said has express constitutional guarantee of press freedom in Chapter 12 Articles 162 to 173 of its 1992 Constitution.
Ayode also drew attention to the fact that Nigeria still has criminal defamation in its laws whereas the world is moving towards civil defamation. He cited two instances where law enforcement agents arrested bloggers and charged them to court under criminal defamation.
He added that the only development has been the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act which guarantees a legal right of access to information and journalism confidentiality among others.
On whistleblower protection, he said he believes that Nigeria needs a standalone whistleblower protection law that will, like the Freedom of Information Act, establish procedures for achieving it.
Tunde in his contribution disclosed that the NCC has recently come under pressure to regulate Over The Top (OTT) media including such mobile apps as Whatsapp, Skype, Viber, WeChat, Twitter and other social media platforms etc.
He pointed out that the pressure to regulate OTT arose out of financial and economical consideration by service providers. He said the NCC has however shown leadership by stressing that the Commission won’t regulate OTT because it’s a grey area.
Tuned said: “If we do that, there will be identity issues and at that point the whistle blower may lose his/her protection”.
He added that as with the SIM card registration where identities of people can easily be known, the Commission conducts its regulatory work in such a way that users identity are not compromised.
He said the Commission expects the telecommunication companies to follow due process in their operations.
In his contribution, Chido Onuma disclosed that the Whistleblowers Protection Bill going through the legislative process at the National Assembly and that a Public Hearing will soon be held on it and that CSOs need to be on the alert to make necessary inputs. He however pointed out that there is a section in the bill which makes it a criminal offence to falsely blow whistle on public officials. Adeboye Adegoke of Paradigm Initiative also pointed out the criminalization of false whistleblowing.
Adeboye added that OTT regulations should be considered from the point of net neutrality. He added that technology is disruptive and telcos must not be allowed to make NCC to regulate OTT.
Waheed Odusile agreed on the need to make media freedoms and FOI constitutionally guaranteed adding that the NUJ was ready to partner with other organisations to make it possible.
Martins Oloja said constitutional protection of press freedom will not be easy because press organizations are not organised. He added that stakeholders need to collaborate, advocate and lobby for it to be possible. He also made the point that the Official Secret Act is still being used to frustrate the implementation of the FOI Act.
The second panel session which discussed Nigerian Media: Burning Issues of Impunity and Steps Towards self-Regulation had panelists comprising of Chido Onuma, Executive Director of the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL); Waheed Odusile, President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists; Mrs. Ifeyinwa Omowole, President of the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ); Martins Oloja, a member of The Guardian newspapers editorial board and a reporter with Sahara Reporters.
Waheed pointed out the disruptive nature of technology that has affected the media and how people now access the news. He also added that attacks against journalists and the media have majorly gone unpunished. On the NUJ rising to the defense of its members, he disclosed that not all journalists are members of the NUJ and that in any case, the NUJ has in some cases assisted journalists who have been attacked but are not members of the NUJ. He also disclosed that a national committee is being set up between NUJ and security agencies including prison authorities to tackle impunity and attacks on journalists in Nigeria.
Ify Omowale said membership of NUJ is tool that enables payment of dues and for registered members to participates in its activities and meetings. She also advocated for self-regulation, personal development, capacity building to address issues.
Onoja urged journalists to stick to factual reporting adding that they should not be afraid of arrest because at anytime and anywhere, good journalism matters and will work for the journalist’ good. He advocated for self-regulate called for the revival of the Nigeria Press Council to regulate the print media and on ethics.
Arogundade called on journalists to see attack on one as an attack on all and suggested Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) be modeled as a professional clearing house for persons who want to practice journalism irrespective of what they studied in school.
Akinfolarin Oluwaseun of the online medium, Sahara Reporters made the point that there is over reaction to media reports and to journalists and that there should be zero tolerance to attacks on journalists and the media in Nigeria. He also called for the spirit of be camaraderie among the media and journalists.