The Evangelist News Edition, May 4, 2023. By Adeze Ojukwu
Do you know that last year, 86 journalists were killed last year, mainly outside war zones, while hundreds more were attacked or imprisoned, worldwide, according to the United Nations(UN)?
This vicious trajectory explains why, the UN said “2022 was the deadliest year for the profession, globally.” This is not just stunning and inhuman, but frightening.
Hence, this year’s World Press Freedom Day(WPFD), annually observed on May 3, was marked, with deep introspection and debates on how to halt this dangerous curve.
Nigeria, as usual joined the global celebration, despite its despicable attacks on journalists and media organizations. Gory details of how media practitioners are beaten and harassed, by government agents and security officials have assumed astronomical levels.
Indeed, many journalists across the country work, under much trepidation, due to persistent harassments and death threats.
The case of a journalist in Ebonyi State is quite recent. The reporter took and posted pictures of kids, who were eating leftover food just after, Ebonyi state government launched a multimillion naira airport. The cost of the grandiose commissioning ceremony was equally mind-blowing.
Yet the state, is perhaps the poorest and most educationally disadvantaged in the South-East.
What was the offense of the journalist? He vividly captured the irony and hypocrisy of poor children eating left-overs, amidst the stupendous display of opulence at the event.
The picture went viral after he posted it online, and it attracted negative comments about the government, which was gloating over its supposed achievement.
The government could not tolerate, what it perceived, as a negative image of the state. It was hugely embarrassed. As expected, it reacted vehemently and wielded the big stick.
This type of highhandedness is typical of Nigerian politicians and state functionaries. They love the media, when it dances to their tune, but unleash their fangs against them, when they criticize, some of their heinous activities.
This is the general trend in Nigeria and other authoritarian states, where state power is deployed, maximally to muzzle the press and the masses.
The out-going administration is notorious for disobeying court orders, undermining democratic tenets and financial rascality, as well as nepotistic appointments.
Consequently, the nation has been pushed to the precipice. The culmination of this lawlessness is the escalation of anarchy, social schism, political imbroglio, extreme poverty, underdevelopment and financial disaster.
The deliberate and brazen failure to defer to the constitutional role of the media across, society, as flagrantly exhibited by federal and state governments is quite unjustifiable and disastrous. This folly is, part of what has plunged the nation into its current mire.
The media, as the fourth estate of the realm, is critical to democracy and its. No society can truly advance, without the media, in its various duties as information channels, development agents and watchdogs. Some of these issues came to the fore on Wednesday, at this year’s WPFD.
In a statement, UNESCO said the theme for this edition is “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression, as a driver for all other human right, signifying the enabling element of freedom of expression to enjoy and protect all other human rights.”
This anniversary, held at UN headquarters, in New York, featured an array of activities. “Partners from the media, academia, and civil society held discussions on how to promote press freedom across the globe.”
In his video message, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said ‘freedom of the press is the foundation of democracy and justice. It gives all of us the facts we need to shape opinions and speak truth to power. But in every corner of the world, freedom of the press is under attack.’
Freedom of press, he lamented, is under attack worldwide, particularly in dictatorial governments.
“Disinformation, hate speech and deadly attacks against journalists are threatening freedom of the press worldwide,” Guterres said while, calling “for greater solidarity with the people who bring us the news.”
According to him, the date is annually celebrated, in line with the 1993 UN General Assembly(UNGA) resolution.
He noted that the “focus of this 30th commemoration is on the connection between press freedom and overall human rights.”
Delivering her opening remarks, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UN cultural agency UNESCO, which advocates for the protection of journalists, said “2022 was the deadliest year for the profession.”
“Last year, 86 journalists were killed, mainly outside war zones. Oftentimes, they were at home with their family. Hundreds more were attacked or imprisoned.”
She said “the level of impunity for these crimes sends a chilling message because the security of journalists is not a matter just for journalists or international organizations. It is a matter for society as a whole.”
Furthermore, reporters are also coming under attack in cyberspace. A 2021 report revealed that three out of four women journalists have been the victim of online harassment, prompting UNESCO to issue recommendations for digital platforms to step up protection.
Ms. Azoulay noted that these challenges are happening at the exact moment when journalists are needed more than ever, as the advent of the digital era has changed the entire information landscape.
“Although the Internet has opened new channels for information and expression, it has also provided fertile ground for those seeking to sow disinformation and conspiracy theories,” she added.
Resolving these thorny contentions, will involve creating and enforcing appropriate guidelines, especially in Nigeria and other jurisdictions, where the press, is far from being free.
•Ojukwu is a journalist, author and Fellow of Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship, a US sponsored Fulbright programme. She is an advocate for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGS). Please kindly send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org