Editors’ Guild calls for release of journalists in detention, review of NBC code

• Condemns attempts muzzle media.

In commemoration of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), on Monday condemned in strong terms, what it described as attempts muzzling the media, urging governments at all levels in Nigeria to value information as a public good and treat the conveyors of information as partners, instead of seeing them as enemies.

NGE in a statement signed by its president, Mustapha Isah and its General Secretary, Mary Atolagbe, stated that the media is a partner and critical stakeholder in the national project, having played a major role in the struggle for independence and enthronement of democracy and cannot, therefore, suddenly transform to agents of destruction of the institutions it helped to build.

NGE stated that information as a public good is the wheel that drives democracy and its attendant virtues including openness, free speech and other forms of civil liberties, adding that the harassment of the media by the National Broadcasting Commission, the police, DSS and other state actors should stop.

“The Guild calls for a review of the National Broadcasting Code and all other media statutes, to bring them in tune with democracy and the promotion of free speech. The Body of Editors urges the Nigerian government to, at all times, strive to protect the media. It is only then that ‘Information as a Public Good’ would become relevant. Stop the detention, impunity, harassment and killing of journalists. Our product (Information) is a public good,” NGE said.

The Guild further aligns with the UN and other world bodies in calling for the release of all journalists in detention on the ground that Nigeria, and indeed the world, needs a free press to promote democracy, effectively report the pandemic and other issues threatening human existence, including insecurity while it commended the Federal and State governments as well as all relevant health institutions and personnel for their spirited efforts at containing the Covid-19 pandemic.

NGE further celebrated journalists across the world for keeping faith with the tenets of the profession despite numerous challenges, especially journalists in the frontline of Covid-19 pandemic coverage as well as those charged with the responsibility of reporting crime and security, at a time when the nation is struggling to contain the scourge of insecurity.

Further, the Guild urged media owners, the private sector and the government, to provide special protection for journalists, as most of them are often neglected and exposed to sundry challenge, that not only impair their ability to discharge their duties, but also imperil their lives, culminating, in some cases, to untimely deaths.

The World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference and it was inaugurated to act as a reminder to governments, of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom while it also places a responsibility on media professionals to reflect on and adhere to the principles of best practices that promote professionalism, ethical reporting and public-spirited advocacy.

The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day is “Information as a Public Good,” and it highlights the necessity of governments, state actors and the private sector to recognize the value of information as a critical element in leadership and service delivery. It specifically places a great deal of responsibility on governments across the world to accord respect to journalists, the conveyors and disseminators of information, as partners in development, and not as enemies of the state.

According to NGE, journalists across the world face grave challenges and dangers in the discharge of their duties. “Some have paid the supreme price while others have been harassed and jailed for doing their lawful duty. This is because most governments still perceive journalists as intruders into the public space. The International Federation of Journalists, the largest global body of journalists from over 140 countries says 66 journalists were murdered in 2020. More than 1,000 journalists have died from Covid-19 in 73 countries since the start of the pandemic.

“The Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, reports that 274 journalists were jailed in 2020 for doing their job of treating information as a public good. In Nigeria, several journalists have suffered harassment, some detained arbitrarily while some were murdered in cold blood by unknown assailants. In 2020, alone, no fewer than 60 journalists in Nigeria faced life and career-threatening challenges in the form of intimidation, arrest and detention.

“Three journalists were killed within the same period, one by security forces during a protest in Abuja and two by unknown gunmen in Adamawa and Nasarawa states. Aside from attacks on journalists, their offices were not spared. Several media outlets were attacked and torched by an irate mob during the #ENDSARS protests, with four media outlets fined for their coverage of the protests while others were fined for airing dissenting opinions,” NGE reiterated.

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