Joe Effiong, Uyo
Members of the Correspondents Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Akwa Ibom State Council, have threatened to boycott all activities of the State government due to the supposed ‘stigmatisation’ of journalists as COVID-19 carriers by government officials.
The threat to stop covering government activities which was issued on Monday at the Chapel’s emergency meeting came as a reaction to the humiliation meted on a few members of the chapel who made efforts to cover the inauguration of new members of the State Executive Council as well as the newly-elected executive of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the Banquet Hall of the Government House, Uyo.
While most members of the chapel failed to show up at the events venue due to previous experiences and absence of official invitation, a few others who went were badly humiliated and tagged “carriers of COVID-19” by security men at the entrance of the events.
Reacting to the frequent cases of stigmatisation and humiliation of Correspondents by the state government, the Chairman of the Correspondents Chapel, Idongesit Ashameri of Daily Independent Newspapers, said it was absurd that government could allow party loyalists, well-wishers and members of interest groups to attend the two inaugurations while preventing journalists from performing their duties.
She said that stopping correspondents from covering activities at the State government amounted to stigmatisation and a slight on the sacrosanct watchdog role of the media in the country’s democracy.
‘As those who midwifed the democracy they all enjoy today, we know that the media as the Fourth Estate of the realm have been at the forefront of projecting government activities. When COVID-19 started in Nigeria, the media were at the forefront of the battle,’ Ashameri stated.
‘And, incidentally, we noticed that COVID-19 first started attacking the high and mighty in the world, especially prominent government officials, and because the media practitioners work closely with these prominent Nigerians, we were not spared the hazard.
‘At the end of the day, many of us were exposed to risk. In Akwa Ibom State Government House, about 16 members of the Press Corps were affected by COVID-19.
‘And after the incident, I heard about stigmatisation against the media by the state government, but I never knew that journalists in the state will sustain a permanent scar over something some of them contracted while working with the primary victims.
‘I got the shock of my life today when I discovered that no member of the Correspondents’ Chapel was either invited to cover or admitted into the two prominent events in the State – the swearing-in of the eight new members of State Executive Council and Swearing in of the new State Exco of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP.
‘And when I probed further I was told that it is because some media persons attached to government house contracted the virus at a point. Who should we really blame? This is a global pandemic ravaging the world and the media are members of the society.
‘The leadership of Correspondents’ Chapel, Akwa Ibom State council therefore strongly condemns this development and would not tolerate the further act of stigmatisation and humiliation.
‘We knew we were taking risks, but we felt obligated to our duties to our various organizations and the state. And if this act of stigmatisation continues we would be left with no other option than to boycott state government activities.’
The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr Ekerete Udoh, however, said that it was not true that journalists were barred from covering the swearing-in ceremonies of both the State PDP Exco and the reconstituted State EXCO, respectively.
‘If you had any difficulties at all, you should have contacted me. Please, discountenance any such notion. Journalists are welcome at all times to the Government House, my office remains wide open to my colleagues at all times, and you can attest to this.yourself,’ he stated.