Press freedom in Nigeria during the Coronavirus Pandemic – Marietta Kosma

Press freedom or freedom of the media can be defined as the right to report news, freely communicate and express one’s ideas and opinions through various media forms without being censored by the government. It is an international human right that expression through printed or electronic media should be exercised freely.  

PRESS FREEDOM IN NIGERIA

Nigeria is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists – they can be spied on,  subjected to attack and arbitrary arrest, and sometimes even killed. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented ‘years-long pattern of violence, arrests, and harassment of the press by Nigerian security forces’. There are more than a hundred independent newspapers in Africa, such as Independent Nigeria and Politics Nigeria, but these newspapers may struggle to address political topics or financial issues due to this harassment. The police are often uncooperative when they are asked for information by journalists. What is even more troubling is that there is no punishment for those responsible for the problems faced by journalists. For example, in July 2019 and in January 2020, Reporters without Borders reported that two journalists were murdered simply for trying to cover protests in Nigeria, without any proper investigation to punish those accountable for the journalists’ deaths.

PRESS FREEDOM DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

The safety of journalists in Nigeria has been further compromised during the COVID-19 era in early 2020. New challenges arise for journalists as in the lockdown it is even more difficult for them to access the information they need. Journalists in Nigeria have been prosecuted because they exposed the shortcomings of the government coronavirus response. They are being assaulted or attacked at a greater rate now as they try to share information about the response with the public. For example, the police illegally detained journalist Saint Mienpamo Onitsha for several days in 2020 to force him reveal his sources. 

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO STOP THE OBSTRUCTION OF PRESS FREEDOM?

Nigerian lawmakers are reviewing existing laws in order to stop the government from blocking access to social media platforms. According to Article 19 – a british human rights organization – an independent panel is established in Nigeria ‘to investigate all the attacks against journalists as well as all cases of arrest and prosecution’. This law claims that every journalist that is held for doing his job shall be released immediately. During its last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2018, Nigeria ‘committed to protect and promote freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and to create a safe and favorable environment for human rights defenders, journalists and civil society’. However, three years later, this has not happened. Amnesty International is still concerned about the violence being used to force female journalists to reveal their sources. In addition, UNESCO has created programs to raise awareness about the struggles that journalists face during the coronavirus era. The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists has been reinforced to raise awareness about press freedom that has been neglected in the wider context of the human rights debate. 

WHY IS PRESS FREEDOM IMPORTANT?

It is important for the press to be free in order for a free society to exist: free press makes for a free society. Journalists in Nigeria are still harassed, tortured and even killed for simply doing their job. They cannot carry out their job without fearing for their life. Nigeria’s government should make the protection of journalists its priority so that they are protected from intimidation and harassment for carrying out their work. It is important to raise awareness about this to further make Nigeria a free and open society.

MARIETTA KOSMA

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