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Press Freedom Day: Stakeholders seek recognition of information as public good

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MAY 3, every year is marked ‘World Press Freedom Day (WPFD)’. This day is set aside to remind global leaders of the need to respect the fundamental principles of press freedom.  The day also calls for reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. Most importantly, WPFD is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition of press freedom. It is equally meant to pay tributes to those journalists who lost their lives in the course of their duty.

   World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nation’s General Assembly in 1993, following a recommendation adopted at the 26th session of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s  (UNESCO) General Conference in 1991. This in turn was a response to a call by African journalists who in 1991, produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration on media pluralism and independence.

  This year’s World Press Freedom Day, marks the 30th anniversary of the UNESCO Windhoek Declaration for the development of a free, independent and pluralistic press. That declaration led to the recognition by the UN of the World Press Freedom Day to be celebrated every 3rd of May. After 30 years, the historic connection made between the freedom to seek, impart and receive information and the public good remains as relevant as it was at the time of its signing. The importance of freely accessing reliable information, particularly through journalism, has been demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic: in times of crisis such as this, information can be a matter of life or death. The COVID-19 crisis has placed journalists and quality journalism and public interest media once again at the center of the global discourse.

  Around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered. For instance; recently in Nigeria, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) imposed a fine of N3 million on each of these broadcast stations; African Independent Television (AIT), Channels Television and Arise Television, accusing them of professional misconducts in their coverages during the #EndSARS protest against police brutality. According to reports, three photo-journalists were attacked at the Headquarters of the Nigerian National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) in Abuja, by the officers the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), who ceased their cameras and also deleted the images in them as they were covering Nigerian citizens who were linking their SIM Cards with their National Identification Number (NIN). These are some of the numerous examples of ill treatment against journalists in the course of discharging their professional obligations.

  This year’s theme ‘Information as a Public Good’ serves as a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good, and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind. The theme is of urgent relevance to all countries across the world including Nigeria. It recognises the changing communications system that is impacting on our health, our human rights, democracies and sustainable development.

  In her message, Director General of UNESCO, Audrey Azulay stated that “the theme of this year’s WPFD underlines the indisputable importance of verified and reliable information.  It calls attention to the essential role of free and professional journalists in producing and disseminating this information, by tackling misinformation and other harmful content”.

  As Nigerian journalists joined their counterparts across the globe to celebrate the day, President Muhammadu Buhari in his message reiterated the commitment of his administration to freedom of the press, and urged media professionals to wield such freedom responsibly.

  Speaking through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina on Sunday, in Abuja, President Buhari described freedom of the press as “an irreducible minimum in a democracy that will flourish”, adding that the freedom must be used responsibly.

  “Everything that is permitted must have rules of correctness, particularly in a polity seriously challenged as ours now. The media must be sensitive to what we are going through as a country; anything that will exacerbate the situation and further inflame passions and emotions should be avoided.

  ”The media needs to ensure that while informing, educating, entertaining and setting agenda for public discourse, it does not encourage incendiary words and actions that could further hurt our unity in diversity.”

  Moreover, the president maintained that licentious freedom was different from freedom with responsibility, and charged the Nigerian media to embrace the later, rather than the former. While pledging greater cooperation with the media to discharge its duties in line with the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day which is “Information as a Public Good, he charged those who manage information for government to make public interest their guide and encouraged the media to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to make its jobs easier.

  The Speaker, Anambra State House of Assembly, Uche Okafor, while rending his voice to the importance of the day, called on the federal government to map out special remuneration for journalists in recognition of their contributions towards peace, progress and corporate existence of the country, describing the press as the mirror of the society.

  The speaker however, noted that journalists deserve a good measure of treatment devoid of intimidation, harassment or death to enable them discharge their duties without fear or favour. He reminded journalists that press freedom is not absolute as it goes with enormous responsibilities and urged them to shun speculative journalism in view of its destructive tendencies.

  While commending Governor Willie Obiano for his kind disposition and assistance to various media organisations in the state, Mr. Okafor advocated for training and retraining of journalists by their establishments to enhance their productivity. He assured that the state House of Assembly would continue to provide an enabling environment for the press in the state to operate optimally and charged them to uphold objectivity at all times in their reportage.

  The Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Anambra State Council, Emmanuel Ifesinachi, in his message called for urgent attention of all stakeholders to threat of extinction faced by state owned media organs and local news stations across the nations due to a huge drop in revenues following the COVID-19 pandemic.

  In a press statement jointly signed by the chairman and secretary of the council, Comrades Emma Ifesinachi and Emma Udeagha, the chairman, while calling for urgent measure to check the unwholesome impact of the online media environment on our health, human rights, democracy and sustainable development, urged the three arms of government to strengthen the safety of journalists as well as improve their working conditions as a precondition for attainment of the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs).

  He commended Governor Willie Obiano for his achievements, particularly the construction of the ultra-modern Anambra International Cargo and passenger Airport at Umueri and the on-going International Conference Centre and Sports Stadium in Awka, and urged him to sustain his efforts as he prepares to round off his administration next year.

  He also commended practicing journalists in Anambra State for their professional and balanced reportage of happenings in the state and charged them to always prioritise investigative journalism since it holds the greatest societal value in the journalism business.

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