By Sheriff Badmus
“As the (COVID-19) pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote; verified, scientific, fact-based news analysis.” – UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres
While journalism extends beyond printing, the main idea behind journalism ranges from revealing the truth regardless of whom it hurts, to timely dissemination of information to potential consumers who would see values vital to their decision making in such information. In celebrating World Press Freedom Day 2020, UNESCO will be launching a global campaign themed “Journalism without Fear or Favour”.
Africa’s Contribution to Edifice of Human Rights
Newspaper journalists in Africa during a UNESCO seminar in Windhoek, Namibia, from 29 April to 3 May 1991, came up with a statement of free press principles termed the declaration of Windhoek. On 20 December 1993, the UN General Assembly proclaimed the day of the declaration (3 May) as World Press Freedom Day. And since then, the anniversary of the declaration has been celebrated on 3 May of every year.
The terms of the declaration focus on making press independent from forces that will limit their efficiency; and being pluralistic enough to “reflect the widest possible range of opinion within the community.” In the President’s words, Lambert Messan, in 1995 of the UNESCO African group, “the Windhoek Declaration is the African contribution to the edifice of human rights.”
The Many Victories and Challenges of Nigerian Journalists
Reporter without boarders World Press Freedom index in its latest ranking released on 26 April 2020 placed Nigeria at 115 out of 180 countries. Explaining the weight of the rank, the organization described Nigeria as “one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often spied on, attacked, arbitrarily arrested or even killed.”
Like other media outlets in other countries, overcoming a myriad of problems especially controlling fake news continues to be a serious issue in the Nigerian media; and journalists sometimes find themselves at the centre of this.
Peeping through the websites and activities of reporting agencies like International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Premium Times, The Guardian Nigeria, Punchng, The Nations, SaharaReporters, Daily Trust, TVC, Channels and other main stream media in Nigeria would suggest a positive outlook and better future for Nigerian journalists.
The African Fact Checking Awards amidst multiple entries from 20 different countries in 2019 awarded two Nigerians as winners and runners-up of the working journalist category. While in West Africa Media Excellence Awards and PwC Media Excellence Awards in 2019, Nigerian journalists dominated the stands of eventual winners. And Currently, Fisayo Soyombo, a Nigerian Journalist is the only African on the International Journalist Award of the year 2020.
Expert Opinions on Challenges and Stepping Higher
Lekan Otufodunrin is an Ex-Managing Editor of The Nation and a Media Career Development Specialist. In his words “Journalism in Nigeria is going through all kinds of disruptions and this has altered the landscape.”
In a similar submission, Onifade Bello, an Information Scientist and Editor at The Transverse, was quizzed on the role of journalists and spread of useful information. “Aside from repressive efforts by the State to gag the media, human rights abuses from State security personnel, and the ‘brown envelope’ syndrome by a selected few, journalists also have to contain information disorder; misinformation, disinformation and fake news. This is not an easy task especially with the proliferation of ICTs which have led to information overload,’’ he said.
With the advent of digitalization, the need for transition is vital to the survival of the Nigerian Media. “There is an urgent need for the legacy traditional media in Nigeria to master the use of new media and acquire more new technologies for their operations,” Mr Lekan added
Reminiscing on the various challenges, Mr. Lekan identified dwindling revenue as a major factor limiting the reach of various organisations. “Some are barely managing to survive and can’t pay the salary of staffs. This has affected quality of reporting and the credibility of many organisations that have had to resort to unethical practices to stay afloat,” he said.
With the growth in new media which is perceived as a good development, “the quality of professionalism by some in that space is worrisome,” Mr Lekan added.
Meanwhile, Nigerian journalists have been commended for their unrelenting efforts in pursuing press freedom and their doggedness in ensuring transparency in governance and other socioeconomic areas.
“As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, I’d like to commend the courage of the media men and to spur them never to relent in their efforts to ensure we really do have a free press. Importantly, young journalists should be mentored by veterans in the media and be exposed to requisite skills that will equip them for the unceasing challenges that characterise their job,” Mr. Onifade concluded.