Roundtable Statement on Media and Religion Against the Background of Miss World Protests in Nigeria

Communiqué of a One-Day Roundtable on Media and Religion, organized on behalf of the Media-For-Democracy (MFD) Project by the International Press Center (IPC), Lagos, Nigeria on Monday, December 9, 2002

The one-day media roundtable on 'Media and Religion' was held on Monday, December 9, 2002, under the auspices of the press council ethics, regulation and professionalism dialogue series of the International Press Center (IPC) in conjunction with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and LO/TCO, Sweden). The Media-For-Democracy (MFD) group also supported it.

The roundtable was attended by reporters and editors from both the print and electronic media while the panelists included Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin, Coordinator of Journalists for Christ (JFC) and Angela Agoawike, Editor of Saturday Times. The Editor of Daily Times, Mr. Hakeem Bello was chairman of the roundtable.

The roundtable was convened against the background of protests by a group of Muslims over a report by a national newspaper that was believed to be blasphemous of the Holy Prophet Muhammed.

The roundtable critically examined the political, ethical, professional and social responsibility issues thrown up by reactions to the report by THISDAY, The Saturday Newspaper and the way forward for the Media vis-à-vis the coverage of religion.

The roundtable further resolved that:

1. Journalists and the media should report religion with greater sensitivity and attention to the views of adherents of the faiths. Journalists should read more literature on the religion and regularly avail themselves of the views of experts on religion in order not to treat religious issues superficially.

2. The Media has a crucial role to play in strengthening democracy by giving the people the opportunity to exercise their right of freedom of expression and therefore should be treated with greater tolerance by the larger society even when some believe it has erred on particular issues.

3. The fatwah on Miss Isioma Daniel, by the Kastina State Deputy-Governor is uncalled for and should be lifted or cancelled promptly.

4. There is a need to revisit the issue of the status of Nigeria and address the question whether Nigeria is a secular state or not.

5. Even though the Miss World contest is a private affair, the Federal Government of Nigeria got itself too involved in its organization thus giving a wrong impression that it was a government affair.

6. The protests that led to the cancellation of the staging of Miss World contest in Nigeria were more political than religious.

7. Government should take urgent steps to address the problems of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, etc as most of those who engage in arson, killings and other forms of destruction are usually the jobless and uneducated ones.

8. There is a need to encourage and promote diversity in the media so as to facilitate healthy internal debate and informed opinion on critical issues like religion, politics, ethnicity, social life and culture.

9. Government must take the protection of lives and property more seriously and take urgent steps to bring into trial the perpetrators of the Kaduna mayhem.

10. Members of the public who may have reservations about certain reports should desist from taking laws into their own hands. Aggrieved citizens should avail themselves of the opportunity provided by the law to seek redress through such institutions as the law courts, the Nigerian Press Council and the ethics committees of the Nigeria Union of Journalists.

Lanre Arogundade
IPC, Coordinator