By Benedicta Akpede
To mark its Photojournalism Festival, the French Embassy at the Institut Francais in Abuja, on the 13th of September 2022, organised a breakfast debate on Press Freedom in Nigeria. The debate aimed to address the challenges faced by journalists in Nigeria.
The four (4) man panel was moderated by Ms Cecelia Oluwafisayo Aransiola, Amnesty International. The panellists included Ms Busola Ajibola, Deputy Director, Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development, Mr Sumner Sambo, Deputy Director, Arise News and Sodiq Adelakun, Nigerian award-winning Photojournalist.
Over the years, despite the clamour for free press and expression, citizen’s rights have been violated over time, and it is essential to note that when press freedom is violated, the citizen’s right to the freedom of information is also violated, explained Ms Ajibola.
She further explained that the limitation of press freedom has a vital effect on the growth of any country and its economy because when journalists are harassed or molested, the people are deprived of certain rights and policies.
Citing the economic, social and security crisis in Nigeria, the panel agreed that the media has a significant role to play in fostering peacebuilding despite the chaos in the country, especially in the case of insurgency.
In this, Mr Sumner sternly advised the media to avoid glamorizing non-state actors and terrorists. This, in his words, “would give them more prestige and edge to perpetrate more evil.”
Additionally, Ms Ajibola explained that journalism is a calling and the “reason we are here peacefully without running away is that we have peace here.”
Mr Sumner further explained the supremacy of the state, stating that “no matter how powerful the terrorists claim to be, the state is more powerful because the state derives its authority from the people.”
Citing how powerful the media is, Mr Sumner explained that the terrorists do not derive their power from the people but through the media. According to Mr Sumner, the media obliges them (terrorists) with such power, so they (media) need to understand when non-state actors are trying to push out fear to the people.
“Fear is the greatest weapon that terrorists use to send messages, and what do they use to send these messages? It is the media. So they are using you to send a message to some people. Some of us make the mistake that it is the government they want to attack but NO! They are sending the message through you to the people that they are more powerful than the government, and this incites fear,” he said.
Despite the fact that the media is guilty of glamorizing terrorism, the line of reportage can sometimes be very dangerous. As opposed to the general belief in the media space that “no news story is worth your life,” Mr Adelakun posited that “a good story that would liberate people is worth my life.”
He recalled a story he did on the abduction of school children in Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger and Katsina States, which led to the release of some of the children. Stories like that, according to him, are liberating stories.
Mr Adelakun, an award-winning photojournalist, explained that there are sacrifices some journalists make to break a piece. Due to the nature of his job, he removes his name from his reports as that is the sacrifice he has to pay for his safety.
“I do that many times in New York Times and other magazines that carry my work because bearing in mind that my interest is for the story, not my name,” Mr Adelakun said.
Despite all the clamp down on the freedom of the press, the panel agreed that it was also crucial that the media plays its role in its liberation.
Mr Sumner strongly urged media organisations to scrutiny deploy accuracy and verification processes before passing out information.
Acknowledging the easy accessibility of information via new media, Ms Ajibola explained that the only thing that makes journalism different from the new media is the verification process, and the media should endeavour to make it a core of their practice.
“Everything can parade as media, but not everything can parade as journalism,” Ms Ajibola said.