Statement from the Media for Democracy Partners in Nigeria
The Media For Democracy (MFD) Partners in Nigeria, comprising the International Press Centre (IPC), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Independent Journalism Centre (IJC) and Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER) have on the occasion of this year’s World Press Freedom Day made the following observation about the state of the freedom of expression and access to information in Nigeria.
The Media For Democracy (MFD)group in Nigeria said it found it appropriate as the whole world marks World Press Freedom Day to comment on the following areas of concern that have left many Nigerians with in dismay about the status of our experiment in democratic rule.
Attacks on Journalists
Several journalists in recent times have come under severe attacks by both the federal and states governments and other government officials that there are fears that the dark days of military rule may have crept in on us without our being conscious of it. It is on note that the level of intolerance being shown to journalists as they perform their legitimate businesses is increasing by the day. The level of contempt that they are treated with as they are being barred from state houses, right from Aso Rock, office of the president and the various states government secretariats never reflect the sacrifices the media made in their being at the vanguard of the fight for democratic rule in the country. The attacks on the media in recent times have now moved from mere ban from government offices and threats to include physical assaults.
The following are the most recent examples:
• Two female journalists, Ebere Nwoji of Champion newspapers and Uche Nwachukwu of the Federal Radio Corporation were beaten in Imo State, South East Nigeria by security men attached to the state’s deputy governor while performing their legitimate duties. An apology was though offered later.
• A photojournalist with Vanguard newspapers, Dare Fasube was beaten and his camera smashed by the driver to the Governor of Ekiti State, South West Nigeria while Fasube was covering a public event. An apology was though offered later.
• The National Broadcasting Commission threatened to close down any radio or television station that fails to pay licence or renewal fees, though the said fees are being contested because they are considered unreasonably exorbitant.
The National Broadcasting Commission’s directives on religious broadcast and relay of news from the International media have also raised serious concern about the government’s observation of the basics of human rights, which are also guaranteed by the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The MFD partners find it both a national embarrassment and horrific that the commission has decided, without wide consultation with the people of Nigeria to unilaterally decide on banning certain categories of religious programmes on television and the relay of foreign news broadcast. Apart from abridging the rights of Nigerians to be informed and educated, the broadcast commission in its directive has also raised the threat of religious crisis which several organisations – local and international – have been working hard at reducing in the country.
Such directive is also a direct attack on the rights of the media houses to perform their duties as given to them in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It equally attacks the rights of the media houses to do legitimate businesses.
Freedom of Information bill
The Media for Democracy partners also use this instance of World Press Freedom Day to reiterate the Freedom of Information Coalition’s statement in a memorandum to the House of Representatives Joint committee that “The need for the enactment of a legislation focused primarily on providing for the right of access to public records/information in Nigeria, can be justified on several fronts, the major points being that, the first and foremost, it is central to our collective desire as a nation to evolve a proper and active culture of participatory democracy, which we all agree is the preferred system of governance for our dear country.” We also hold strongly to the position of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in his report to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1995. He had stated in the report that “The right to seek or have access to information is one of the most essential elements of freedom of speech and expression. Freedom will be bereft of all effectiveness if the people have no access to information. Access to information is basic to the democratic way of life.”
The place of community broadcasting in socio economic development has severally been spelled out in the past. Both the National Broadcasting Commission and the Federal Government have also in the past acknowledged this fact. We hereby demand that the government and NBC show greater commitment to the full commencement and promotion of community radio in Nigeria that the average Nigerian may have greater access to developmental information as well as make contribution into how he or she is governed.
Right of expression
Statements credited to the federal government officials and security agencies over the planned May 3, 2004 rally by the Conference of Nigerian Political parties are also source of serious concern to all believers in freedom of expression. Of particular worry is the yet to be denied reports that the federal government has mobilised forces to crush the rally if it still holds.
Such plan shows utter insensitiveness, especially when the rally is holding on the very day the whole world will be celebration press freedom day which is also a day for celebration of freedom of expression.
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For MFD Partners