ICJC 2020: Veteran journalists discuss press freedom in Nigeria

By Kareem Shamsudeen

L-R: Ajala Samuel, Sunday Oguntola, Joke Fekumo and Iretomiwa Dele

At the International Campus Journalists Conference hosted by the Association of Campus Journalists, Obafemi Awolowo University, veteran journalists condemned cases of journalists’ intimidation, victimization, and oppression in Nigeria, most of which became rampant under the leadership of President Buhari, while sharing measures that will guarantee the protection of journalists.

The conference which held on Saturday 1st February, 2020 featured a panelists’ session of veteran journalists, moderated by Ajala Samuel and Miss Iretomiwa Dele, where issues relating to press freedom in the country were discussed. Mr. Sunday Oguntola, an Online Editor at The Nation Newspaper, and Mrs. Joke Fekumo, Senior Legal Adviser at Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), who served as the panelists, decried the increasing trend in President Buhari’s administration of suppressing the activities of the media with its several and desperate attempts to illegally detain and silence journalists.

Mr. Sunday Oguntola, however, said there is no government in the world that would totally attune to the activities of the media, of which Nigeria is no exception. But the unpleasant cases of journalists’ illegal detainment, torture, and attempt to limit media activities by the Nigerian government have put the citizens on their toes to clamour for press freedom in Nigeria.

He stated: “There is no government anywhere in the world that will promote press freedom. Government is into the business of killing news, hiding news and spinning news in their favour. Every successive government in Nigeria have striven to threaten the media.”  He further said even democratically elected government in the federation, who should understand the need for press freedom, still try to channel the media to their favour.

Much as he condemned the oppression of journalists, he equally lamented on the fake news trend by unprofessional journalists which disrupts national interest, giving the government an excuse to attack journalists. “Fake news is a big, big challenge,” he stated.

He then advised the journalists to adhere strictly to the ethics of journalism, urging them to distant themselves from spreading fake news which would paint a negative image of the media activities. He also added that journalists should be absolutely sure of the information they obtain before publishing them. “If you have your facts, there is no need for threat to the national security,” he said.

In similar manner, Mrs Joke Fekumo told campus journalists present at the conference that: “Before you report any story, make sure your story is reliable.” She said SERAP  has taken upon itself the task of protecting journalists who are victimized by the government through filing law suits, press releases and advocacy whenever cases like that occur.

Furthermore, she frowned at the attacks on campus journalists who she said are the future of journalism. She, however, advised that campus journalists should also embrace the ethics of journalism and avoid partisanship. “You must make sure you avoid the path of libel,” she advised.

She also mentioned that journalists can investigate a story incognito with the use of smart devices, in a bid not to put themselves in danger. In every case however, she said they should ensure the credibility of their stories and should be patient enough not to mislead the readers with wrong information. “At times, in covering a story, you need patience, doggedness,” she said.

Even with the fact that journalists are becoming endangered species in Nigeria, Mrs Joke expressed optimism in the continued existence and independence of the media. “There’s a future for journalism,” she stated.

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