Threats to Media Freedom and the Safety of Journalists in Nigeria

Threats to Media Freedom and the Safety of Journalists in Nigeria

Umaru A. Pate, Sharafa Dauda
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1298-2.ch013
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This chapter interrogates long-established and wide-sprung threats to media freedom and journalists' safety in Nigeria. The study used semi-structured interviews to explore field and newsroom experiences. The findings revealed the types of threats to media freedom and journalists' safety, non-existing safety frameworks, mitigation and protection measures, and recommendations on how to protect media organisations and journalists from threats. Consequently, the participants clamoured for constitutional provisions to protect journalists from threats; enforcement of existing and additional constitutional provisions and laws to deter violations against media freedom; establishing and empowering institutions to certify journalists; instituting policies for routine editorial staff training on conflict, safety, and sensitive reporting; and reviewing the NUJ Constitution to address contemporary media and journalism practices and issues, among others.
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The key function of the media is surveillance, and this beams its focus on prevailing conflicts that challenge media freedom and safety of journalists. Reporting such incidences may be unsatisfactory to the various actors. But to report conflict and other sensitive issues, journalists overstretch themselves to work at great personal and organisational risks. In the process, they are constantly facing multidimensional threats, including legal, financial, psychological, verbal and physical risks such as kidnap, arrest, detention, jail sentence, assault, arson, assassination, raids and the confiscation of gadgets and publications, and death threats to self and family. These are the critical issues that journalists face in many countries, especially in zones with social, ethnic and political stress, armed conflicts or disaster situations (Carlsson & Pöyhtäri, 2017). Such conditions obliterate media freedom, which gives news organisations the freedom to report without being subjected to oppressive restrictions. Likewise, media freedom (also press freedom, or free press), including the freedom to make mistakes, is often used as a counter-argument against those seeking some form of statutory regulation of the media. Some communicators even dismiss the whole idea of a free press: they say it is a self-serving myth and argue that in reality, freedom of the press exists only for those who are rich enough to own their own media empire. This is why some media proprietors treat the concept as a property right than a human right (Harcup, 2014).

Relatedly, any productive discussion of media or press freedom must take two other freedoms into account – freedom of speech and freedom of information. Freedom of speech, the oldest of the three, is grounded in a basic worldview regarding human relations with society and the state. It is considered a fundamental right that is essentially taken for granted (Himelboim & Limor, 2008). Freedom of speech is also a central component of and even a condition for press freedom (Hohenberg in Himelboim & Limor, 2008). However, freedom of information is the presumption that public information ought to be in the public domain, unless there are overriding reasons for secrecy. Such a presumption has been expressed to a greater or lesser extent in legislation in different countries and in campaigns by journalists, media organisations and concerned citizens (Harcup, 2014).

In Nigeria, the arguments on the relationship between media freedom, free speech and freedom of information is demonstrated, for example, in terms of legislation and practice on access to information through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011, which provides for the rights of access to records and information about public institutions, including exemptions in terms of international affairs and defence, law enforcement and investigation, personal information, third party information, professional or other privileges conferred by law. There are also provisions for denial of disclosures of records by public institutions, judicial activities and information by courts, burden of proof, order to disclose information, protection of public officers, classified documents, submission of reports, as well as complimentary procedures and interpretations (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2011). Observably, the FOI Act only provides legislation on freedom of information, but not journalists’ safety. Despite the constitutional lacuna in terms of context-specific training and safety nets for covering dangerous encounters; Nigerian journalists cover several conflict-stocked and tension soaked scenarios that arise from structural and systemic factors like political culture of populism, politics of desperation, winner takes all syndrome, and unequal distribution of national resources. All these have been found to sometimes lead to struggles for political and economic survival, endemic poverty and resultant acts of violent aggressions against the state and the people in forms of religious insurgency, farmer-herders’ conflicts, kidnappings and armed banditry for the perpetrators who often defend their criminality with claims of injustice, inequality, as well as extreme and abject poverty which pervades the country.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Freedom of Speech: The foci of press freedom that constitutes fundamental human rights, often taken for granted, but which guarantees freedom to speak, to be listened to and responded to, such that it engenders unfettered human relations within society.

Freedom of Information: The presumption that public information should be in public domain unless there are logically persuasive reasons why that information should be concealed.

Media Freedom: Is the freedom for news organisations and journalists to report without subjective oppression and restrictions, including holding government accountable to its responsibility to the people and vice versa.

Threats: Any form of danger to journalists or media organisations that could cause physical, verbal or psychological vulnerability, including threats to life and family, or harm to their equipment, including laws or absence thereof to protect journalists and media organisations.

Safety of Journalists: A condition where journalists are not threatened in any form (i.e., physically, psychologically, or verbally); where no harm comes to them as targets of violence or any forms of attacks, in such a way that they can safely and responsibly report events and issues in society.

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