The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), yesterday called for the release of journalists who are still in detention across the country, urging media owners, the private sector and the government, to provide special protection for journalists, as most of them are often neglected and exposed to sundry challenges.
According to the guild, these challenges do not only impair the ability of journalists to discharge their duties, but also imperil their lives, culminating, in some cases, in untimely deaths.
A statement jointly signed by the NGE President, Mr. Mustapha Isah, and General Secretary, Mrs. Mary Atolagbe, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, noted that journalists across the world face grave challenges while some have paid the supreme price because most governments still perceive journalists as intruders into the public space.
Quoting data from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the largest global body of journalists from over 140 countries, the NGE stated that 66 journalists were murdered in 2020 alone while more than 1,000 journalists have died from covid-19 in 73 countries since the start of the pandemic.
Also referencing the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the organisation disclosed that 274 journalists were jailed in 2020 for doing their job of treating information as a public good.
"In Nigeria, several journalists have suffered harassment, some detained arbitrarily while some were murdered in cold blood by unknown assailants.
"In 2020, alone, no fewer than 60 journalists in Nigeria faced life and career-threatening challenges in the form of intimidation, arrest and detention. Three journalists were killed within the same period, one by security forces during a protest in Abuja and two by unknown gunmen in Adamawa and Nasarawa states.
"Attacks on journalists, their offices were not spared. Several media outlets were attacked and torched by irate mob during the #ENDSARS protests, with four media outlets fined for their coverage of the protests while others were fined for airing dissenting opinions. The guild condemns very strongly these attempts at muzzling the media," NGE stated.
The guild urged governments at all levels in Nigeria to value information as a public good and treat the conveyors of information as partners, instead of seeing them as enemies.
Describing the media as a partner and a critical stakeholder in the national project, the guild noted that journalists played a major role in the struggle for independence and enthronement of democracy.
It noted that the harassment of the media by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) the police, Department of State Service (DSS) and other state actors should stop forthwith.
NGE further called for a review of the national broadcasting code and all other media statutes, to bring them in tune with democracy and the promotion of free speech.
The body of editors urged the Nigerian government to, at all times, strive to protect the media, stressing that is only then that 'Information as a Public Good' would become relevant.
"The guild aligns with the UN and other world bodies in calling for the release of all journalists in detention. Nigeria, and indeed the world, needs a free press to promote democracy, effectively report the pandemic and other issues threatening human existence, including insecurity," it said.
The NGE particularly celebrated journalists in the frontline of Covid-19 pandemic coverage as well as those charged with the responsibility of reporting crime and security, at a time when the nation is struggling to contain the scourge of insecurity.
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO's General Conference.
The day was inaugurated to act as a reminder to governments, of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and places a responsibility on media professionals to reflect on, and adhere to the principles of best practices that promote professionalism, ethical reporting and public-spirited advocacy.