Press Freedom, Democracy and Good Governance

Press Freedom, Democracy and Good Governance

By Patrick Albert

Let me begin, as we gather to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day, by evoking the wise thoughts of a former President of America, Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) that “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost”.

Jefferson’s concerns voiced out on January 28, 1786 was to resonate in 1991, exactly 205 years after, as the World through the United Nations (UN) General Assembly decided that deliberate measures should be taken to protect the Media. The 1991 adoption of the recommendation of the 26th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference led to the proclamation of the World Press Freedom Day in 1993, to be marked yearly.

Accordingly, this year – 2019, offers us the 26th edition of this worthwhile annual event aimed at highlighting the fundamental principles of Press freedom; previewing the state of Press freedom throughout the world; protecting the Media from unwarranted attacks on its freedom as well as to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in their lines of duty.

On this note, let me, on behalf of the State Executive Council (SEC) of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Akwa Ibom State Council, formally welcome His Excellency, the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Moses F. Ekpo, MFR, the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Barr. Mike Igini, Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Sir Charles Udoh, all guests, media executives and our dear colleagues to this epochal event.

What is more, World Press Freedom Day comes to remind authorities of various countries of the World of Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which states that everyone “has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

It is quite interesting that the theme for 2019 programme, as declared by the UN through UNESCO is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation.” The thrust of the theme is to discuss current challenges faced by media in elections, along with the Media’s potentials in supporting peace and reconciliation processes.

UNESCO, as the United Nations agency with the specific mandate to promote and protect Press freedom worldwide as well as “the free flow of ideas by word and image, works to foster a free, independent and pluralistic media and the safety of journalists.”

Happily, our Keynote speaker, Barr. Mike Igini, a gentleman with rich multifaceted background – lawyer, academician, civic right activist, democrat, and administrator will surely take us through the whole gamut of the theme to feed us intellectually. Two discussants – Barr. Inibehe Effiong and Dr. Udeme Nana are on hand to add some spices towards an eventful programme.

Without equivocation, democracy as a people-centred form of Government must anchor on free press so as to afford ample opportunities for opinions towards public policies and programmes and also for the Media to play its watchdog role effectively.

As aptly captured by the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay in his message on this year’s World Press Freedom Day, “Press freedom is the cornerstone of democratic societies.” Azoulay further adds that, “All States, all nations, are strengthened by information, debate and the exchange of opinions.” According to him, “At a time of growing discourse of mistrust and delegitimization of the press and journalism, it is essential that we guarantee freedom of opinion through the free exchange of ideas and information based on factual truths.”

Evidently, where opinions are allowed to count, liberty and development is obvious. I agree with Sir Tom Stoppard, a Czech-born British playwright and screenwriter who said, “I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.” In this regard, journalism must therefore operate without encumbrances. Our statute books are in concert to this reality. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution in Chapter II, under the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, section 22, empowers the Press to hold public officers accountable to the people.

The constitution states thus, “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.” Again, a further strength is drawn from the Freedom of Information Act 2011. The FOI Act states in Section 1(1) thus, “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other Act, law or regulation, the right of any person to access or request information, whether or not contained in any written form, which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution howsoever described, is established.”

However, press freedom cannot be without safeguards. There is huge responsibility on the part of practitioners, which demands adherence to ethical demands as contained in the code of Ethics for journalists and laws of the land. As a responsible professional body, the Nigeria Union of Journalists, has consistently kept members on toes on the need for decorum through training and retraining. Also, by the provision of NUJ constitution, we have Ethics and Disciplinary Committee to arbitrate on complaints bordering on professional misdemeanor and acts of indiscipline by members.

Globally, the media have not been without challenges. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), says that 1340 Journalists have been killed between 1992 and 2019. Other levels of harassment, imprisonment and suppression of facts are also widespread. We believe that as global attentions continue to beam on the sector, desirable successes will be attained to ensure a virile press and freedom.

Finally, in line with the content of the global celebration, which is hosted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from Wednesday – Friday, May 1-3, 2019, we will recognise three personalities at today’s event for their various contributions to media uplift and development. They are Elder Aniekan Umanah, former Commissioner for Information and Communications and Member-Elect, Abak/Ika/Etim Ekpo Federal Constituency, Rt. Hon. Frank Archibong, Chairman of Eket Local government Council and Chairman, Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) and Mr. Tony Ukpong a dogged journalist.

Once again, we thank our guests for honouring our invitations. We appreciate our members for keeping the flag flying as responsible media practitioners. God bless us all.

-Being text of a address of welcome by Elder Patrick Albert, chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Akwa Ibom State Council on the occasion of the 2019 World Press Freedom Day at the NUJ Press Centre, Information Drive, off IBB Way, Uyo, on Thursday, May 2, 2019.

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