•As Amnesty Int’l expresses worry over intimidation
By our correspondents
The Federal Government has rejected a recent survey by Reporters Without Borders, which alleged that Nigeria’s press freedom rating has been on sustained decline since 2015.
Government conveyed its rejection of the survey through Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who described it as inaccurate.
In a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day, the minister said despite “the inaccurate and fake news saturating the media space, the Federal Government has not put a single journalist behind bars as a result of his or her professional conduct.”
He described the recent incident which involved the Punch Correspondent covering the State House, Olelakan Odutayo, as an aberration and added that the speed with which the order barring him from the State House was reversed lent credence to the fact that the present government is not out to muzzle the press.
The minister recalled that the accreditation of the current Chairman of the State House Press Corps, Ubale Musa, which was withdrawn by the previous administration, was immediately restored upon the assumption of office by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, in order to give the media unhindered access to the seat of power.
He pledged the administration’s readiness to always create a conducive environment for the media to thrive.
Regardless, Amnesty International has raised concerns over the growing rate at which Nigerian journalists are intimidated.
In its statement to mark the Day, yesterday, the international human rights organisation tasked the federal government to protect the right to freedom of expression of the media practitioners and other Nigerians.
The group condemned what it described as a growing intolerance of press freedom, which it said manifests in the arrest of journalists and intimidation of bloggers, as well as excessive use of force in cracking down on peaceful protests by Nigerians.
“These recent draconian trends are sending the wrong signal and forcing journalists to live in perpetual fear for daring to investigate and report on issues of major public interest. In a human-rights respecting society, no one should have the power to harass and intimidate individuals for expressing an opinion,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, President of Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), Mrs. Funmi Egbemode has called on government to provide rescue funds for the media industry as the fourth estate of realms.
She made the call yesterday during celebration of the World Press Day, organised by US Mission, in conjunction with Lagos State Television.
Egbemode said: “The press protects everybody, but who takes care of the press?” The press helps other industries to flourish, but, when infringed by economic conditions, it does not have anything to revive it. If the Aviation ministry gets rescue funds, why not the press. Some of the issues that the Freedom of Information Act should address includes the economic strength of the media.”
Egbemode noted that the media in Nigeria is not totally free, despite FOI Act “when our economic freedom is impaired.”
Also, Borno State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) warned government officials and public over the infiltration of social media and unprofessional persons into journalism practice in the state, using the security and humanitarian challenges in the state as a cover up.
NUJ State Chairman, BabaSheikh Haruna, in a statement to mark the International Press Freedom Day in Maiduguri, yesterday, said the activities of unprofessional persons disseminating unverified information and violating journalism ethics through the social media was worrisome.
In his message to mark the World Press Freedom Day, Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-rufai denied speculations that he is clamping down on journalists in the State.
Speaking through his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Samuel Aruwan, El-rufai said it was unfortunate that people attributed arrest of journalists by security operatives on criminal charges to mean his government was not comfortable with media report.
He cited instances where security operatives picked up journalists for reporting falsehood that was capable of setting the state on fire.
Similarly, Edo Governor, Godwin Obaseki assured practising journalists in the state of “a conducive environment in order to carry out their constitutional duty of informing, educating and entertaining the public in the state.”
He gave the assurance while receiving journalist who took a peaceful march to government house to mark the World Press Freedom Day celebration in Benin City yesterday.
The governor, who was represented by his Chief of Staff, Mr. Taiwo Akerele, said the state government has provided a very friendly atmosphere for journalism to thrive compared to other states in the country.
Edo State Commissioner of Police, Haliru Gwandu, while felicitating with journalists said his men and the press have enjoyed a mutual benefit, noting that the press, as the bridge builder of the society, will be given the adequate protection needed to function in the state.
Commissioner for Information in Delta State, Mr. Patrick Ukah urged journalists to always uphold their professional code of ethics.
Ukah, who gave the advice in a press statement issued yesterday in Asaba, said when journalists learn to work according to the ethics of the profession, they would enjoy the protection of the Constitution, which, according to him, is strong enough to defend them.
The commissioner expressed joy that journalists enjoy freedom in the course of carrying out their jobs in the state, stating that the administration of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa had always maintained a cordial working relationship with the Press.
Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) delegation to Nigeria has identified freedom of journalists as key to national development and security of the citizen thereof.
They described press as the eye through which the citizens watch their leaders, thus, holding them accountable as contained in section 22, chapter two of the 1999 Nigerian constitution.
EU Head of Political, Press and Information in Nigeria, Pauline Torehall, who spoke at the 2017 World Press Freedom day in Abuja yesterday recognised the precarious condition with which journalists work and the risks therein, but maintained that the EU is committed to any course that would protect and promote freedom of journalists.
Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mrs. Oti Ovrawah, in her remarks, encouraged media stakeholders to create an enabling environment for media professionals in order to benefit from their tasks as gatekeepers and watchdogs of the society.
She said: “We have to strengthen free and quality journalism because original, critical and well researched journalism is needed in Nigeria today more than ever before to enable the media effectively contribute to the peaceful building efforts of the government.”