“The freedom of the human mind is recognised in the right to free speech and free press”
(Calvin Coolidge, 1872- 1933)
As the world marks the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, it is a moment that calls for collective sober reflection on the nature of progress (or otherwise) made thus far by all stakeholders in advancing press freedom and freedom of expression generally across the world.
It is also an auspicious day to highlight the very essential role that freedom of expression plays in the continual process to build a just and equitable global community.
It is quite saddening to note, however, that since the day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993, and with all the technological advances that have been recorded with regard to information dissemination and advocacy for human rights, the world is still grappling with a worrisome scale of international disregard for press freedom, freedom of expression, and safety of journalists.
The multifaceted crises that continue to assail the world, in the shape of wars, violence, terrorism, gross socioeconomic inequities, environmental upheavals, etc, have been worsened by palpable distortions in the way information systems are being run and superintendent in many climes. Respect for freedom of expression and other human rights are now at an all time low.
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) identifies with the very opportune theme of this year’s commemoration of World Press Freedom Day – Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a Driver for all other human rights.
In the face of all the aforementioned crises, and in a world where journalists continue to live like endangered species, and where freedom of expression faces fresh potent threats on a daily basis, there is no better time than now to invoke Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the right to freedom of expression) in order to confront these threats directly, and reposition freedom of expression as the sine qua non of all other human rights. The theme underscores the critical role that media freedom plays in shaping a future that values and respects human rights.
We recognise that freedom of expression is not an isolated right but is interconnected with other human rights, including the right to access information, the right to freedom of association, the right to life, among others. When these rights are given adequate protection, they create a robust environment that enables people to hold those in power accountable, and to participate fully in their communities and in their own governance.
In recent years, we have witnessed a disturbing upsurge in threats to press freedom in Nigeria, with governments at national and sub national levels cracking down on journalists, media workers, media houses, and citizen journalists; actions that not only undermine free speech, but threaten the foundations of democracy and human rights. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent, non-profit organisation that promotes press freedom worldwide reports that 24 journalists were killed in Nigeria between 1999 and 2023.
During the 2019 general elections, the International Press Centre (IPC) through its Executive Director, Lanre Arogundade disclosed that 250 journalists were attacked. Another report from the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) in its press freedom project revealed that 160 journalists were attacked between 2018 and 2020.
Furthermore, the International Press Centre (IPC) in a report by Lanre Arogundade entitled ‘Journalism Under Digital Siege’ to mark this event last year, revealed that 149 journalists between 2021 and 2022 suffered attacks perpetrated by state government and their agencies, Department of State Services, Rapid Response Squad of the Nigeria Police, State Police Commands, Nigeria Police Intelligence Team, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), hoodlums and private organisations.
Efforts of rights groups to reverse the trend notwithstanding, attacks on journalists continued unabated. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that during the March 18 2023 Governorship and State House of Assembly elections, 28 journalists across Nigeria were harassed, beaten and denied access in the course of their work. And more disturbing is the ignoble role of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) which has in the last few years turned itself into the appendage of politicians with the sole intent to gag the media and stifle freedom of the press through imposition of arbitrary fines on broadcast stations.
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) is appalled by the habitual and unbridled high handedness that is on full display by government officials towards free dissemination of information. As a group, we are well aware of what constitutes hate speech and fake news, and the dangerous ramifications of allowing them to take root and fester in any society. But we are also quite uneasy about the ease with which the powers-that-be slap those labels on information and other news items which they consider inimical to their interests. This has been the pattern for a while; one which attained full dictatorial dimensions last year when the federal government shut down Twitter, the micro blogging platform, for several months, snuffing out free expression and enterprise to the chagrin of the entire world.
On this World Press Freedom Day 2023, we reiterate our commitment to the protection of press freedom, the defence of journalists and media workers, and the promotion of a future of rights where all people can exercise their right to freedom of expression without fear of reprisal. In that light we call for the investigation and prosecution of those indicted over the molestation of journalists during the 2023 general elections.
We urge the Federal and State governments to welcome and respect the fourth estate of the realm as a veritable partner in nation building which must be given needed latitude to fulfil its societal mandate. We also decry the sheer rascality of arresting and clamping journalists into detention, and ask for the immediate release of all in that category, and expedited trials for those who have been charged for any offences.
It is also a time to remind journalists and citizens of their expected roles in managing and disseminating information at their disposal. This is the 21st century and Nigeria cannot afford to be continuously named amongst societies that undermine the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of her citizens, especially the right to free speech.