•NGE demands protection for journalists against COVID-19
•IPC seeks safe working environment for media workers
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
As Nigeria, yesterday joined the rest of the world to mark the World Press Freedom Day, WPFD, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari, said yesterday that Nigeria had an unhealthy dose of disinformation, fake news, hate news, disseminated by people who use media platforms, particularly the digital variant.
This came as the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, demanded special protection for journalists in the frontline in the nation’s battle against the rampaging coronavirus pandemic.
Similarly, the International Press Centre, IPC, Lagos, reminded the government and other stakeholders, especially the legislature, the judiciary, the security agencies and media associations of the critical role they need to play for the survival of press freedom.
The President in his message, he said: “We cannot overemphasize the role of the media in keeping people informed and educated on the pernicious virus, which has no friend or foe. It simply seeks to mow down anyone and everyone in its path, and public awareness is very important, lest we become like sitting ducks. The media are doing this quite effectively.”
He commended the role the Nigerian media have played thus far, and charged that they continue, “till we get to safe harbour when the world and our country are finally free of this greatest health challenge in recent history.”
Reflecting on the theme of World Press Freedom Day 2020, ‘Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation,’ President Buhari “opines that Nigeria has a very unhealthy dose of disinformation, fake news, hate news, purveyed by people who use media platforms, particularly the digital variant.”
“They don’t mean well for us, and no country can afford to close its eyes to the evil disinformation can cause. In a plural polity like ours, it has the potential to rupture relationships, sow seeds of discord, and set on the path of destabilisation.
“When fake and hate news are added unabashedly, it can only signpost doom. I urge the Press to use the occasion of World Press Freedom Day to see how this can be vigorously tackled.”
Nigeria Guild of Editors
On its part, NGE in a statement by its President and Social and Publicity Secretary, Mustapha Isah and Ken Ugbechie, respectively. urged media owners to provide special protective equipment for these journalists, in order for them not to be infected.
The guild congratulated all journalists in the country and across the world, especially those in the frontline covering the COVID-19 pandemic.
It said: “Journalists across the world have had to face daunting challenges and dangers in the discharge of their duties with some having to pay the supreme price, while others have been harassed and jailed.
”For instance, the Press Emblem Campaign, PEC, a non-governmental organisation, says 55 journalists across 23 countries have died from COVID-19 infection between March and April 2020.
”This is aside the six journalists killed by state actors this year alone across the globe, and about 250 more languishings in different prisons and detention centres. The body of editors, therefore, demands the immediate release of all detained journalists in Nigeria and all over the world.
“While we commiserate with the families and friends of our departed colleagues, the Guild urges all journalists to abide by the basic protocol of the World Health Organisation (WHO), namely: maintaining physical distancing, washing of hands regularly, wearing of masks, among others. In addition to observing these protocols, the Guild urges journalists to use their various media platforms to enlighten the public on the need to observe these protocols and any other precautionary measures.
”The Guild aligns with the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in calling on journalists to act professionally as ‘antidote’ to the pandemic of misinformation and fake news, bordering on harmful health advice and conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 crisis.
”The NGE insists that, as journalists, we must not at any time abuse the right to press freedom to disseminate false and unverified stories on COVID-19 pandemic or any other subject matter.”
Also, in a statement, IPC noted that the right to freedom of expression and the rights of the press to freely publish, editorialize, critique and inform without fear is a fundamental principle of thriving democracies, and economies of successful governments which must be upheld in Nigeria.“IPC’s Executive Director, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, in the statement, noted that the government and related institutional stakeholders owed it a duty to respect and uphold press freedom, while reaffirming the crucial roles of journalists and media practitioners, especially as the Coronavirus pandemic ravages the world.
He noted the associated crisis of the pandemic have brought to fore the vital roles of the Journalism profession, as purveyors of information, providing scientific and health education to the anxious on the pandemic, alongside deflating misinformation, which in turn save lives.“Arogundade also observed that the challenges of the pandemic cut across all borders, hence the Nigerian government must not make media practice difficult, especially as the media must continually be able to provide information to the public without fear and intimidation.
Also, Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan, in a statement by his Special Adviser, Media, Ola Awoniyi, said that Nigerian journalists, in particular, should be proud of the frontline roles they play in nation-building and entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria.
Lawan assured the stakeholders in the Journalism profession in Nigeria that they had a pillar of support in the ninth National Assembly for the advancement and practise of their noble profession.
He said the theme of this year’s celebration: “Journalism without fear or favour” was quite relevant in the light of the challenges facing the profession and the entire world.
Lawan said the advent of the social media posed a challenge to the traditional media but noted that this could be turned into an advantage by sticking to their training and the ethics of the profession.
“For the world to win the battle against COVID-19, journalists too must not only be appreciated as frontline workers but must also have access to relevant information to enlighten the people on how to surmount the emergency,” Lawan said.