Journalists, academics brainstorm on strategies to promote press freedom

JOURNALISTS, academics and other stakeholders in the media industry met on Friday and Saturday to proffer solutions to the shrinking spaces of journalistic freedom in Nigeria.

The two-day conference held at the New Chelsea Hotel in Abuja was to commemorate World Press Freedom Day marked yearly on May 3.

This year’s event brought journalists and key stakeholders in the media together to reflect on the existing laws that restrain journalists from holding government accountable and set the agenda towards achieving press freedom in the country.

At the opening of the conference organised by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, PTCIJ, in partnership with Rule of Law and Anti-corruption, ROLAC, and the British Council, journalists were urged to focus on a knowledge-based reporting that seeks to tell truth.

Speaking at the event, Head of European Union Delegation to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ketil Karlsen, described world press freedom as the index for improving the democratic process in every country.

“The Freedom of Information Act has been viewed by many within and outside Nigeria with high hopes. I really look forward to the full implementation of the law,” he said.

He also encouraged journalists to engage in investigative journalism, stating it could help to keep political leaders on their toes while promising that the EU would continue to provide support for journalists financially and politically.

In a panel discussion on Friday, titled “The Nigerian Media, Constraining Laws and Justiciability of Statute”, the panellists featured include renowned lawyer, Femi Falana; a lecturer from Mass Communication Department, University of Lagos,  Tayo Popoola; Secretary General of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Shuaib Liman, and a lecturer from Mass Communication Department Lagos State University, Lai Osho. Programme Manager at Paradigm Initiative, Adegoke Adeboye, moderated the session.

Femi Falana decried the selective silence of the media with regards to speaking up for the rights of free expression for every Nigerian.

“You can’t negotiate freedom. Journalists were killed, some were detained for years during the fight against the military era, but now we have democracy and this is the freedom we fought for, but we cannot have press freedom when the larger society is not free.

“A journalist was detained in an underground cell under this current democratic dispensation for three years but the media was silent. We can’t have press freedom in the country if the right to free expression for every Nigerian is not guaranteed,” he said.

Osho emphasised that media organisations should stop depending majorly on advertising to fund their operations, to broaden press freedom urging them to learn from the NEXT newspaper experience.

At the event, the PTCIJ launched the Press Attack Tracker website designed to keep track of attacks, violence and abuses targeted at journalists in the country.

    Also, speaking at the event Chioma Agwuegbo stated that the Nigerian media was not ready for online space and bloggers with little or no experience.

    “The media needs to be confident to speak about freedom of expression. Freedom comes with a lot of responsibilities and we need to warm up to it,” she said.

    During the event, several panel discussions provided perspectives on the strategies for expanding press freedom spaces in the country. The panellists were Chioma Agwuegbo, Austin Onuoha of African Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Oke Epia, OrderPaper, Tope Olaifa, Federal University, Abeokuta, Saheed Owonikoko, Adama University of Technology, Yola, amongst others.

    Guest speakers that graced the event include the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who was represented by Philip Aduda, the Senator representing the FCT; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; Femi Falana, and the Secretary-General of the NUJ, Shuaib Liman, amongst others.

    Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.

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