World Press Freedom Day 2013

United Nations Information Centre Lagos Nigeria, in collaboration with an NGO – Media Rights Agenda organized a Seminar on Friday 3 May 2013 to mark World Press Freedom Day.

The event was held in the context of the global celebrations with the theme: “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”. The global event put the spotlight in particular on the issues of safety of journalists, combating impunity for crimes against freedom of expression, and securing a free and open Internet as the precondition for safety online.

The seminar, in line with the global theme, highlighted the issue of the safety of journalists, its implications for the right to freedom of expression, not only for the journalists, but also for their audiences; it created awareness about the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity; and formulated a Strategy for Ensuring the Implementation of the UN Plan of Action in the Nigerian context.
L-R. Mr. Tive Denedo of MRA; Mr. Gbenga Sesan of PIN, Mr. Femi Adesina President Nigerian Guild of Editors, UNIC Officer-in-Charge - Ms. Olajumoke Araba, CSP Frank Mba Force Public Relations Officer.
About 50 participants from the print, broadcast and online media; human rights and civil society organisations, the Nigeria Police, and members of the public attended the seminar, which was held at the UNIC Lagos.

Guest speakers were CSP Frank Mba, the Force Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Police who spoke on “The Role of the Nigeria Police in Ensuring the Safety of Journalists”; Mr. Femi Adesina, President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), who spoke on “Building Partnerships between the Media and Law Enforcement Agencies to Ensure the Safety of Journalists”; and Mr. Gbenga Sesan, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), who spoke on “Strategies for Securing the Safety of Journalists Online”.

Prior to their presentations, Mrs. Olajumoke Araba, the Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), Lagos read the Secretary General’s, message as well as the joint messages of the Secretary-General and UNESCO’s Director-General – Irina Bokova on the occasion.

In his welcome remarks, Mr. Tive Denedo, Campaigns Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA) said: “There is nothing in the history of journalism that can be more in demand of our collective efforts than providing a safe and secured environment for the practice of journalism.” He noted that deaths, threats, beatings etc. have become recurring decimals in journalism while fear is not too far away anymore from the news room. He warned that: “When men and women who are not party to conflicts are gruesomely murdered for reporting the events and affairs of people, it only stand to reason that truth is equally endangered.”

Participants agreed that the safety of journalists has become an issue of concern with the rise on attacks on journalists, media houses, and freedom of expression. Guest speakers and participants proffered various solutions to remedy the situation in Nigeria.

Observations

The seminar observed as follows:

• Journalists perform important roles in any society and indeed have roles assigned to them in the Nigerian Constitution. They should therefore be allowed to perform their roles without any form of harassment or intimidation.
• While performing their roles and duties, journalists also have rights which must be protected
• Journalists all over the world, including in Nigeria, are increasingly being targeted; threatened, assaulted, and even killed for performing their professional duties.
• Journalists and security agencies perform complementary roles and should not see each other as adversaries
• The jobs of media practitioners and security agencies are complementary. They should therefore not see each other as adversaries while both sectors could benefit from more systematic cooperation with each other. .
• There are challenges associated with journalism profession including online media; practitioners should therefore be safety and security conscious at all times

Recommendations

The Seminar recommended the following measures and strategies for ensuring the safety of journalists and online media:

• Security officials and agencies should make concerted efforts to rid themselves of their negative mindset about journalists and online media operators and endeavour to appreciate the critically important roles that the media sector place in a democratic society of engendering transparency and accountability while also providing a platform for public debates about a variety of issues of national or public interest.
• Nigerian security agencies and the media community should strive to operate under an atmosphere of mutual trust and appreciation.
• The security agencies should deploy competent, professional and humane officials to interact with the media as a way of defusing the mutual distrust that exists between the two sectors.
• The media community and the security sector need to relate with each other in a professional and ethical manner as that will build mutual respect.
• The Nigeria Police and indeed all security agencies have a duty to protect the rights of journalists, including by ensuring their safety and security, while journalists also have roles to play in enhancing policing functions. Each sector should perform its role conscientiously.
• There should be more constructive and qualitative engagement between the media and the Police, and indeed all security agencies to create better understanding of the roles, functions and challenges across both sectors.
• There should be increased collaboration and partnership between media practitioners and security agencies
• Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure the seamless flow of information between security agencies and the media.
• Media practitioners should familiarize themselves with the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity so as to be able to create awareness about it within the larger society and pursue its effective implementation in the Nigerian context.

He said Nigeria, over time, has been rated as partly free in terms of freedom of expression and online freedom. He noted that the situation may not always remain the same and that government was no longer ignoring online elite.

He therefore called for safety and precaution against hackers, state oppression, online security compromise etc.