1189 journalists killed in 24 years, more brutalized
- Editors, others brainstorm on safety of media practitioners
By Simeon Mpamugoh
MIFFED by the growing number of journalists that were killed across the country, the International Press Centre and Open Society Foundation recently organised a media roundtable with editors on the safety of journalists practising in Nigeria.
The event, which was also used to launch the Nigerian Journalists’ Safety Initiative (NJSI), has a goal of facilitating a free and safe environment for journalists and other media professionals in the country.
It was initiated against the background of the continuing violations of journalist’s rights through attacks, arrests, abductions as well as the imperative of ensuring higher safety consciousness.
In his address, Provost, Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Mr. Gbemiga Ogunleye in his address decried the growing attacks on journalists across the country, saying that practitioners had become vulnerable for reporting what many do not want to hear.
He said that the launch of the Safety Project and Media Roundtable on the safety of journalists was significant, noting that journalism ranked as the most important profession in the world.
The journalism teacher and former editor of The Punch, who chaired the event, observed that the doctor, teacher and the lawyer needed information not only about their profession but also about their lives to make informed decisions, adding that the journalist provided such information.
He said: “Doctors cannot report a strike that they are involved in, neither can they inform the world when they have successfully separated conjoined twins. And without information provided by the journalist, the teacher would be in the dark as to when his often-delayed salaries would be paid. So, if journalists perform these crucial functions in the society, the least they deserve is the protection of all of us.”
He emphasized the importance of the media and the role that journalists play in the society by citing the third president of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson, who stated that the role of the press in checking the excesses of government officials was so important that he preferred ‘newspapers without government’ to ‘government without newspapers’.
He stated that the necessity for the safety and protection of journalists couldn’t be overemphasized, adding that when journalists were intimidated, attacked or killed, not only their media, family or loved ones suffer, the nation equally suffers collateral damage.
“Acts of repression against journalists hit at the souls of freedom of expression, which includes to receive and seek information,” he informed.
Ogunleye disclosed that many civilized governments had recognized freedom of expression as a fundamental human rights and distinguishing features of a democratic society, adding that journalists who championed the rights as enshrined in Section 22 of the amended 1999 constitution deserved to be protected.
“Safety of journalists should go beyond government and security agencies to the employers of journalists,” he charged.
He called on the employers of journalists to ensure that practitioners under their employ were sent on hostile environment training before they were deployed to conflict zones, adding that insurance policy, bullet proof vests and adequate funds should also be part of the package.
He also spoke on the challenges of the online community. His words: “Because of the tremendous impact of the internet; online, citizen journalists and bloggers are increasingly being threatened. Yet we must give kudos to the internet, for, all the legs of the corpses buried in the dead of the night by corrupt leaders all over the world, are now being revealed in the day.”
West African Representative, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Peter Nkanga, who provided a global picture on the safety of journalists, noted that the responsibility of the journalist was to the people, citing Section 22 of the constitution which stated that “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free, to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.”
He observed that attacks on the press had reached historic heights, noting that journalists reporting on conflict situations were particularly vulnerable even as it records number of journalists killed or imprisoned around the world.
He cited research conducted by his organization, noting that nearly 1200 journalists had been killed worldwide since 1992. He blamed it on what he described as complete impunity in the murder, which remained almost at 100%. Those covering politics took the highest figures at 48 per cent, followed by war (38%), human rights, (21%), corruption (20%) and crime (15%).
He said: “At least, 199 journalists are being jailed worldwide, as at December 1, 2015 and no fewer than 452 journalists were forced into exile in the past five years due to work-related persecution and for processing information.
“Radio journalists are as much victims as television, print and Internet. Over 1189 journalists have been killed since 1992. Some of the deaths are still unresolved and some of the beats covered by victims include business, which takes four per cent of the death, corruption, 20 per cent, crime, 15 per cent, culture, 11 per cent, human rights, 21 per cent, politics, 47 per cent, sports two per cent and 38 per cent were killed through war.”
Nkanga listed some of the Nigerian journalists who had either been killed or attacked in the cause of carrying out their constitutional role of upholding the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people to include Bayo Ohu, news editor/political reporter, The Guardian, who was killed on September 20, 2009. He added that till date, the assailants or sponsors of the murder remain unknown. He said the three people charged with Ohu’s murder had been freed on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove the case.
Other victims, according to him, include Benedict Uwalaka, a photojournalist who was attacked on August 9, 2012 for covering the release of the remains of Dana plane crash victims to their families, and Yomi Olomofe, Publisher, Prime Magazine, who escaped murder on June 25, 2015 within the Customs premises at the Nigeria-Benin border at Seme over an alleged investigation of high-ranking Customs officer’s complicity in smuggling activities at the Seme Border.
He warned that investigative journalists were most at risk and called on media stakeholders to promote a free and safe environment for journalists and other media professionals.
While enjoining professional journalists to promote social justice and good governance, Nkanga said that specialisation was the surest way to remain a relevant professional journalist. He said data journalism and digital security training clinic should form part of the principles designed to improve safety, help journalists understand risks and improve their chances of protecting themselves and their sources.
While presenting the perspective of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), General Secretary of the guild, Victoria Ibanga urged journalists not to see any beat as more lucrative than the other, adding that every beat had the potential to make a journalist.
She said that the guild were concerned about safety of journalists, adding that journalists were an endangered species because governments were not at home with them. As a result, their safety was paramount, she said.
Representative of the Lagos State Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Mrs. Kehinde Ajayi, said some of the problems Nigerian journalists had were not peculiar to the country. She called for the teaching of digital security in the country’s higher institutions.
There was also a session where the NJSI team demonstrated ways that journalists could benefit from the initiative. She said they could send an alert with the hashtag #safety of journalist.ng to [email protected] They could also send a text message to 08162206474.