Safety of journalists in a free, independent and pluralistic media environment has continued to dominate discussions as the United Nations system in Nigeria and the European Delegation to Nigeria and the ECOWAS observed the World Press Freedom Day with a conference in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory and a technical workshop for journalists in Lagos.
Addressing the global theme of this year’s observance, ‘Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms: This Is Your Right!’, the conference in Abuja and the workshop in Lagos both noted the need for government to protect journalists and combat any form of violence and harassment of media actors in the country.
In his message at the events organised by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Abuja and the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Lagos representing the United Nations (UN), in partnership with the EU, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-moon urged all governments and citizens to commit to nurturing and protecting an independent and free media. Mr Ban in his message read by the United Nations Resident Coordinator a.i., Ms Rati Ndhlovu, said further, “I am very concerned about the increasing restrictive environment for media workers in many countries”.
Delivering the keynote address, Head of the EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, H.E. Ambassador Michel Arrion reaffirmed the commitment of the EU to promote laws and practices that protect freedom of opinion and expression; media freedom and pluralism and foster an understanding among public authorities of the dangers of unwarranted interference with impartial and critical reporting.
In his opening remarks, the Officer-in-charge of UNIC Lagos, Mr Oluseyi Soremekun, noted that annually, the press freedom day is observed to talk about the fundamental principles to protect the independence of the media and to hour media workers who risk and have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. He called on public institutions to adopt proactive disclosure of information as a step to increasing public access to information.
Speaking on ‘Freedom of Information as a Fundamental Freedom and Human Rights’ at the technical workshop in Lagos which was supported by Media Awareness and Information For All Network (MAIN), the Dean, College of Social and Management Sciences, Caleb University, Lagos, Prof. Nosa Owens-Ibie, noted that promotion of a culture of openness is vital to citizen empowerment for value-added and informed electoral choices which would deepen democratic governance.
In her paper on ‘Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists in the Digital Age’ the Head of Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, Dr Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndisika, called for an improved rapport between the government and the media as lack of communication and mutual suspicion has been responsible for regular frictions between the government and the media in Nigeria.
Other speakers at the events included the Director of UNESCO Abuja Regional Bureau, Mr Sousou Benoit who read the message of UNESCO Director General, Ms Irina Bokova; the Ambassador of Sweden to Nigeria, Ambassador Svante Kilander who spoke on ‘250 years of Freedom of Information Law’; Executive Secretary, Nigerian Press Council, Mr Nnamdi Njemanze; Media and Arts Editor, The Guardian, Mr Kabir Alabi; Representative of the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture; Representative of the National President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists; among others