By Benchris Njoku
The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) has called on governments at all levels to take decisive steps in ensuring the protection of media workers to strengthen and maintain press freedom.
Mr Victor Udu, the Chairman of NUJ, Cross River Council, made the call in a statement to mark the World Press Freedom Day 2020 in Calabar, on Sunday.
He said the appeal was imperative in the face of the uncertainty created by Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The World Press Freedom Day is observed annually on the 3rd of May with the aim of celebrating the fundamental principles of press freedom, evaluating this freedom around the world and defending the media from attacks on their independence.
It also serves as an opportunity to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
The theme for this year’s celebration is: “Journalism without fear or favour”.
Udu described the theme as apt particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world and thereby creating new challenges to journalists as front-liners in the battle against the virus.
“We recognise the uncertainty created by the pandemic and urge governments to take decisive steps to not only protect the health professionals, but the media workers too to strengthen and maintain Press Freedom.
“To help put an end to this pandemic, journalists must join hands with government and others to promote media campaigns and sensitisation, and ensure that reports on the COVID-19 cases are reliable and factual.
“Today, we like the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) celebrate those who stand up for freedom of information and for an independent press.
“We condemn interference through harassment, killing, imprisonment and all other forms of maltreatment meted out on journalists in other to gag them,” he said.
The chairman who commended Gov. Ben Ayade of Cross River, however urged him to improve the working environment of government owned media outfits in the state.
Similarly, Mr Fidelis Duker, the Chief Executive Officer, Fad Media Group, said press freedom in Nigeria was still lacking to a large extent, adding that in the last 21 years, the nation had not seen a clear cut departure from what was witnessed in the military era.
Duker said the nation has had cases of journalists who were attacked by those who feel they were reporting beyond the scope of what they should report.
“Recently in Ebonyi, a couple of journalists were barred from the Government House and the state for reporting issues that the state government felt was not in their favour.
“Although, there is the Freedom of Information Law (FOI) which was passed by the previous administration and allows the journalist access to information, but what happens after you access the information.
“We still have people who become aggrieved after a journalist publishes a factual report and they begin to look for illegal options like attacking and assaulting the journalist,” he regretted.
He added that for effective press freedom, journalists especially those in Africa must be properly paid with benefits and insurance, given access to information and allowed to practice without fear or favour. (NAN)