- How journalists can protect themselves from job hazards, by experts
By Tessy Igomu
DAILY, they come face to face with palpable danger, as they carry out their duties, as watchdogs of the society.
All over the world, journalists are at the centre of information dissemination. And in Nigeria, the danger they face, the nature of the violations of their rights, the institutions and persons responsible for such violations and the actions taken or not taken to promote the safety of journalists have been sources of concern.
This increasing vulnerability to attacks was the reason for a two-day capacity building workshop that focused on the safety of journalists in Nigeria. It was organised by the International Press Centre (IPC).
The two-day non-residential programme, which included a media roundtable-tweet conference and a training workshop, was held at the press hall of the IPC in Ogba, Lagos. The central theme of the workshop was, ‘Safety consciousness, safety methodologies and contemporary safety best practices in Journalism’. The event was supported by the Open Society Foundation and facilitated by legal, media and safety experts.
The workshop included sessions and presentations on international frameworks; standards and issues in the protection of journalists; tips on safety consciousness for the investigative journalist; experience from the field and newsroom; data, information and source protection as well as management as safety imperativesDirector of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, informed participants that the main objective of the workshop was to introduce print, broadcast and online journalists, especially investigative reporters, crime reporters, judiciary reporters, business reporters and conflict reporters to best practices in safety consciousness.
He explained that the overall goal was to facilitate a free and safe environment for journalists and other media professionals in Nigeria, adding that more than any other profession, journalists shape public opinion, perception, attitude, patriotism and create public awareness on national issues.
Arogundade noted that many journalists had, in the past, suffered in the hands of security agents during the performance of their legitimate duties, noting that findings showed lots of documented violations of the rights of journalists through assault, abduction, killing and destruction of their work tools. He lamented that journalists and media organisations in Nigeria had, for long, faced harrowing ordeals and had been operating in difficult environment.
The lead presentation, ‘The challenge of an enabling legal environment’, by Mr. Tomi Olagunju, a lawyer, shed light on laws that protect the rights of journalists in Nigeria. He stressed that part of journalists’ advocacy should include that laws that stand as legal landmines on journalism practice, be expunged from the Nigerian system.
Olagunju noted that those in authority still had more to hide despite the Freedom of Information Bill (BOI), maintaining that there were certain pieces of information that journalists couldn’t access despite being backed by the constitution to disseminate information. He also noted that the physical protection of journalists was still not guaranteed, even though newsmen were legally protected by the Nigerian law.
Olagunju, who stood in for Mr. Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, Managing Partner, Citipoint Chambers, noted that other professionals were not open to harassment like journalists. He, however, maintained that anybody beaten or harassed could seek redress, informing the participants that Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has a body of protective rights or generic protection for all Nigerians.
He noted that while Chapter 4, tagged: Fundamental Human Rights, had series of protective rights, Section 39, is explicit on ‘Freedom of Expression and the Press.’ But he noted that despite the protective rights, certain laws like that of sedition and defamation were tactically put in place by the colonial masters to favour them.
He said that as at 2015, journalists were still tried for sedition, despite the fact that Section 39 provided a covering for the press.
His words: “Section 39 overwrites most of these draconian laws. It gives protection to journalists to give information, if they are sure about the source. Once you have done your job based on the ethics of the profession, you have a ground to sue. It’s your right that is being violated. Section 22, which is on the ‘Obligation of the Mass Media’ to the public, is absolute. When threatened at any point in time, journalists should report to their organisation.”
Olagunju also raised concerns on Section 39 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011, noting that the authorities were yet to pay attention to what he described as a funny, retroactive section. The section, he stated, was full of landmines placed for journalists.
He urged media organisations and other affiliated agencies to look into laws that seek to criminalise the work of journalists.
Mr. Mohammed Fawehinmi, Lead Partner, Mohammed Fawehinmi & Co., while corroborating the observations raised by his colleague, stressed that Section 39 was very explicit about fundamental human rights, even as Section 22 made it clear about the press being free to uphold its obligation to the public.
Fawehinmi lamented what he described as a selfish trend among journalism practitioners –journalists don’t bother to investigate the death of fellow journalists.
“Nobody has been tried for attacking or harassing a journalist. It is not the duty of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and other journalism bodies to institute an action that the case of every journalist killed be investigated and the punishment to be meted out. Journalists have to utilise the law that protects them, if not it would be as dead as the paper it is written on. The laws are not sufficient for the protection of our journalists. You must learn to fight for your rights because in this case, only the strong can survive.
“The duty of the journalist is very wide. It is the duty of all journalists to ensure accountability of all agencies, which are offshoots of the government. In doing that, your security must be protected. Infringements on your rights, person or dignity should be professionally addressed. Be conscious or aware and know when threats are being made against you. Journalists should not be partisan; have the consciousness that you have the right to publish truthfully. Whenever threatened, speak out; tell your lawyer, editor, friends and family members.”
While speaking on ‘Security for Journalists Reporting in Hostile or Unsafe Environments; Digital Security in Journalism’, the Executive Director, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Mr. Dayo Aiyetan, noted that the world was becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists.
Reeling out alarming statistics of journalists that had been killed, kidnapped or incarcerated, among other humiliating acts, he advised that journalists should first research any assignment, do proper research before going into a hostile environment and carry out security assessment of such assignment.
“Only then can you be prepared when risky situations stare you in the face on the field. Always carry a means of identification. If you require extra accreditation for identification, get one. If you have health conditions that require medication, always have enough to last you for your trip,” he stated.
Aiyetan emphasised that media houses had the responsibility to provide basic protection, training and the wherewithal to their reporters when sending them into hostile or unsafe environments.
In his paper, ‘International Frameworks, Standards and Issues in the Protection of Journalists’, Peter Nkanga, West Africa Representative, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), disclosed that cyber attacks were the new addition to the endless list of threats that journalists face daily. He noted that investigative journalists were most at risk, adding that most journalists endangered themselves and their family members with information posted by them online. He advised journalists to be Internet savvy and learn to protect their information and sources.