Over one thousand participants took part in the special anniversary of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, which held at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York City – the same place where May 3, was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day in 1993 last week.
With the theme, “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights,” media professionals insisted freedom of expression must be safeguarded, adding, it is pivotal to holding public office holders accountable and sustaining democratic culture.
In recent Nigeria history, it has been observed freedom of expression has been criminalised. Also, Amnesty International Nigeria has repeatedly insisted the right to freedom of expression of young Nigerians is under attack.
The organisation noted recently: “Nigerians face risk of arrests and detention simply for expressing critical opinions online. We must come together and say ‘no’ to criminalisation of freedom of expression online. Take action now.”
However, in an interview with The Guardian Newspapers, experts say that freedom of speech has been criminalised. Describing freedom of expression as fundamental human rights that enable individuals to air their views or opinions on issues, Professor of Communication, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Igbariam, Anambra State, Anghela Nwammuo, also agreed that when right is tampered with, it affects every other persons’ rights.
Journalists, she said, are watchdog of the society adding, if journalists are given one hundred per cent freedom of expression, a lot of issues will be exposed and they will hold public office holders accountable.
To her, the way journalists are treated shows how government views freedom of expression.
“Government will come after you if you want to express your view or opinion, because they don’t see it as one of the fundamental human rights. “We must continue to shout, but they will not allow for one hundred per cent freedom of expression, though I tell my students that you cannot get one hundred freedom of expression anywhere in the world. It is not attainable, even in developed climes. But what we are saying is let’s get between 50 to 70 per cent freedom of expression.”
Communication scholar and Vice Chancellor Federal University of Kashere, Gombe State, Umaru Pate, said you couldn’t criminalise freedom of expression and expect society to be free.
The communication scholar said media freedom is an enabler for other freedom, adding once the media is not free; certainly, when other freedom is breached nobody is there to talk
“We have to continue advocating. Nobody will give you freedom on a platter of gold the media constituency and other human rights must continue to push, if it means lobbying the legislature,” he insisted.
Media Rights Agenda (MRA) Programmes Director, Ayode Longe, said media freedom is a function of freedom of expression. Without media freedom, he noted the press could not report fairly, impartially and truthfully.
“It cannot even report the whole truth because it will be afraid of certain persons who wield influence and power. As a result, the people will not be adequately informed.”
To him, freedom of expression allows for enjoyment of all other rights, as when rights are abused with impunity, it is possible for the right to freedom of expression not to be guaranteed.
He further argued the right to life, privacy, political participation and dissent; as well as other rights are only possible when right to freedom of expression is guaranteed.
A virile opposition is only possible in a true democracy, without the guarantee of the right to freedom of expression; there can be no virile opposition. Access to information is an allied freedom of expression right and access to information ensures meaningful political participation, which is essential in a true democracy.
In conclusion, he noted that the rights to freedom of assembly and association could only also be enjoyed under an atmosphere that guarantees freedom of expression, “where the right to freedom of expression is not protected, there can be no enjoyment of the rights of freedom of assembly and association.”
Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ) President, Chris Isiguzo, frowned at the continued threats to journalists and the journalism profession, saying such attacks, constitute a threat to Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Expression and are a constant reminder that new threats for the media continue to manifest in various forms and these feed into the sense of impunity and encourage further violence against the media.
While regretting that such acts of impunity are being ignored by government officials who do not want any criticism of the government they serve under, Isiguzo stated the freedom of expression cannot be tempered with if Nigeria is to make any meaningful progress as a democratic nation.
He charged Journalists as the watchdog of the society and the “fourth estate of the realm” to strive more to stem the trend, encourage freedom of speech as guaranteed by the nation’s constitution and uphold the fundamental objectives contained in chapter II of the Constitution.
“They should always strive to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people”, he noted. The NUJ President lamented the global information crisis in which journalism is being overwhelmed by the narrow self-interests of political and corporate centres of power is being felt strongly in Nigeria where hate-speech, fake news and abusive exploitation of information technology are endangering pluralism and democracy, and that this crisis of propaganda, requires a practical and comprehensive response which puts ethics, self-regulation and good governance at the heart of journalism in the country.
IPC Executive Director, Lanre Arogundade, also announced the establishmen of a Centre for the Safety and Protection of Journalist (CSFPJ), as part of its unique activities to commemorate World Press Freedom Day.
National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Director General Mallam Balarabe Ilelah noted the theme for this year’s celebration further implied that government at all levels must promote an enabling environment for freedom of expression to thrive.
To him, citizens must also know that they have the right to express their views concerning certain anomalies in the society, but must be within the ambit of the law if there must be a prosperous society.
He suggested media practitioners must ensure that the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, as well as, all other extant laws relating to broadcasting, is prioritized at all times. knowing fully well, that the media has the power to make or mar the society,.
Ilelah further stressed the need to filter certain contents that could lead to the breakdown of law and order, or diminish our cultural values as a people. He said, “The NBC on this day, call on media personalities, journalists, and relevant stakeholders to re-examine how far they have performed their job as the fourth estate of the realm, and seek areas to dot the ‘I’s’ and cross the ‘T’s’. This is, to ensure that the laws and ethics of journalism are not trapped within the banks of armature and mediocrity.”