The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 of every year to be World Press Freedom Day or just World Press Day, observed to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In December 1993, the UN General Assembly proclaimed World Press Freedom Day, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference.
The World Press Freedom Day 2022 theme “Journalism under digital siege”, focuses on digital challenges in relation to media and press freedom.
World Press Freedom Day celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
In a statement issued by Lagos NUJ Chairman Mr.Adeleye Ajayi and signed by the Secretary, Mr. Tunde Olalere, freedom of the press or freedom of the media is the fundamental principle that communication and expression through various media, including printed and electronic media, especially published materials, should be considered a right to be exercised freely.
Press freedom has been defined as the right of the press to hold governments to account.
It also includes the right of citizens to be informed by the media on public interest matters so that citizens can perform their role in society.
A free press is generally regarded as an emblem of a free society.
Press freedom and freedom of expression are the trademarks of democracy but they are also viewed as the benchmarks for measuring the political health of a country.
A press that is forced to abandon its public interest obligation does not contribute to the growth of democracy.
When journalists are restrained from performing their roles, they fail to serve as watchdogs of their society.
The 1999 constitution guarantees the right of every Nigerian to freedom of speech and expression.
Section 39 (1) states that every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive; impart information without interference.
On April 26, 2020, the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index ranked Nigeria 115th out of 180 countries surveys.
In 2021, Nigeria was ranked 120 on the World Press Freedom Index, a drop of five spots from its ranking in 2020.
This calls for an improvement in press freedom.
Suppressing the freedom of the press is attempting to quash the public’s right to know.
The National Broadcasting Commission last year cautioned against reporting the security situation in Nigeria, saying that reporting such issues had a tendency to ignite more violence.
NBC invoked fines against some media organizations for reporting on protests.
Following the Twitter ban last year, NBC directed all social media platforms and online broadcasting service providers operating in Nigeria to apply for a broadcast licence.
You will recall the rising opposition against the two controversial bills, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act Amendment bills, until they were suspended.
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association (NPAN) vehemently spoke against the bills.
On the whole, media workers and their rights must be respected and protected.
Those who feel aggrieved over media reports should use appropriate means to seek redress and not resort to attack.
Government should assist in enhancing media freedom and public interest journalism in Nigeria.
We urge government and security agencies to partner with the media in ensuring political and economic advancement of the nation.
Remember it was the press and other nationalists that struggled for the independence of the country.
Journalists cannot afford to relent in the advocacy for complete freedom of the press as an important body that ensures transparency and accountability in governance.
We will conclude by saying that press freedom must be respected and upheld.
UNESCO’s yearly commemoration of World Press Freedom Day is a reminder to all countries of the importance of press freedom to social, economic, political and cultural development.
Democratisation and socio-economic development of Nigeria and Africa as a whole cannot take place in an empty space.
It is important to note that the press is an active contributor to the climate of democracy in Africa.
Nigerian journalists cannot uphold their professional obligations, if they are unable to operate in an environment in which they are free to report news.