Summit Participants Call for Stakeholder Engagement to Enhance Press Freedom in Nigeria

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Participants at a Summit in Lagos in March 2017 called on stakeholders to take steps to ensure true press freedom in Nigeria. They specifically urged stakeholders to fashion out acceptable regulatory frameworks for journalists in the country through consultation, engagement and consensus building.

This and other recommendations were contained in the communique issued at the end of the one-day Summit on Enhancing Press Freedom in Nigeria which took place on March 301, 2017.

The Summit was held under the overarching framework of the main objective of enhancing Journalism practice and Media Freedom in Nigeria. The specific objectives of the summit were increasing media capacity on the mechanisms for promoting free press; Improving the observance of existing constitutional provisions and code of ethics for journalists for press freedom in Nigeria; and interacting with media practitioners on current developments in the media industry and proffering solutions to current challenges.

Participants observed, among other things that every democracy recognizes the government and the media as the two institutions that oversee the democratic process. They noted that it is imperative for the media to be free because, all over the world, the media have defined role to play in shaping democracy and making government accountable to the citizenry by providing perspectives into governance and happenings in the society.

It noted that though the media in Nigeria constitute a very powerful institution, it has not played the role defined for it by the constitution optimally particularly in holding the government accountable by ensuring that chapter 2 of the Nigerian constitution which defines the primary purpose of governance as the security and welfare of the people is implemented to the letter

It accused the government of half-heartedly, not fully making the environment conducive for freedom of the press adding that the tools are not there for journalists to carry out their functions both in the private and public media.

Reminding the media that press freedom is not static, the communique called on the media to continue to guard it and fight for it and not allow it to be taken away. It said the media must be aware that press freedom does not mean absence of prior restraint or legal constraint to publish but they must know that after publishing they become answerable for what they publish.

The communique declared expressly that: “A major threat to press freedom in Nigeria is the continuing arrest of journalists and the shutting down of media houses.”

It cited prohibitive cost of newsprint as one of the economic factors inhibiting press freedom and that has led to a shrink in the number of pages being printed in addition to adverts that are placed on credit.

It pointed out that the dispute over the Nigerian Press Council Act is stalling effective regulation of the media in Nigeria although there exist other regulatory frameworks including the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, the Code of Ethics of NUJ, etc.

The social media, it noted, has been playing a lot of positive roles and has impacted positively on the social and progressive development in democracy while it has provided employment to teeming youths.

Participants also identified specific areas that the media need to address to ensure press freedom in Nigeria. On the operations of public media, they called for the review of the frameworks that established them to make them operate independently of the government in power while serving as genuine public broadcasters acting in the interest of the public.

Industry unions including the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) were asked to act as true professional gatekeepers and defenders of press freedom. Participants called on them to lead the campaign and advocacy for fundamental reforms of laws that impinge on press freedom. These Unions were also asked to also accord priority to the promotion of the welfare interests of their members over and above pecuniary patronage.

Calling on the media in Nigeria to return to the path of investigative journalism participants also urged them to always strive to publish credible and factually accurate stories urging them to, as part of the process of improving the veracity of their information, intensify the use of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011.

To enhance media professionalism and efficiency, they harped on the need for more regular training, periodical workshop, seminars and symposium.

Calling on the media to always strive to publish credible and factually accurate stories, participants called on the media in Nigeria to return to the path of investigative journalism while appealing to the media including online publishers continue to operate on journalistic value systems and see that they base their news judgements on ethical considerations.

Prof. Oso delivered the keynote address titled Enhancing Journalism and Press Freedom in Nigeria while Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA) made a presentation titled, An Appraisal of Press Freedom in Nigeria: The Government; the Press and Institutional Frameworks.

Jude lgbanoi, a legal practitioner and Principal Partner of Jude lgbanoi & Associates presented a paper titled An Appraisal of the Legal Environment and Press Freedom in Nigeria. Associate Prof. Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndisika of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos explored the theme Journalism in Nigeria in the Age of New and Social Media: Challenges and Prospects in her presentation and Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin, Managing Editor, The Nations Newspapers Online, looked at Press freedom online in the age of social media in Nigeria.

It brought together various stakeholders comprising of male and female journalists and other media professionals from the print, broadcast and online media outlets; media professional bodies and support groups, Mass Communication scholars, civil society groups and representative of the United States Consulate General in Lagos.

The Summit organized by the Centre for Constitutional Governance (CCG) was held in Lagos and was chaired by Professor Lai Oso, former Dean, School of Communication, Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo-Lagos. It was supported by the United States Consulate General, Lagos.