By Gbenga Gbelee
As the world celebrates the 2017 Press Freedom Day, Stakeholders in the Nigerian media industry have advocated a framework which would guarantee the rights to information and freedom of expression of media practitioners.
Speaking today at the World Press Freedom day programme which held under the auspices of the Public Affairs Section of the United States’ Mission Nigeria, the US Consul General; Mr. John Bray particularly emphasised the place of balance, fairness, accuracy and objectivity in news gathering and reportage.
In his keynote address which centred on the theme of the 2017 World Press Freedom Day celebration “Critical minds for critical times; Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies”,
Mr. Bray reaffirmed the United States’ government’s support for Press Freedom, a stance which he said was first demonstrated with the passing of the Freedom of Information Act in July 1966, its enactment in 1967 and its constant review over the years.
Mr. Bray placed on record that on May 17, 2010, the immediate past U.S President; Mr. Barrack Obama again signed the Freedom of the Press Act, named after a reporter with the Wall Streets, Daniel Pearl who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan four months after the September 11 attacks in the United States.
The US Consul General buttressed the need for thorough researches and critical review of facts in any story for the sake of personal credibility and reliability of the news platform.
He also described Press freedom as a necessity and not a luxury saying “a free press is at the absolute core of equitable development because if you cannot enfranchise the poor people, if they do not have a right to expression, if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring about change”.
Earlier in an opening remark, the President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mrs Funke Egbemode raised concerns over the extent and genuineness of Press freedom in Nigeria.
She also frowned at what she called deliberate stifling of the media and infringement over the economic freedom of the media by some powerful influences and harped on the need for all stakeholders in the media to critically look into issues affecting the economic viability of the industry as against the present situation where the media is seen as a mere service provider rather than a profit driven and an economically viable entity.
Resources persons at the event which held at the Combo hall of LTV 8, Lateef Jakande way, Agidingbi, lagos included the Nigeria Editor of Africa Check, Mr David Ajikobi who spoke on “The role of fact checking in holding government accountable” during which he advocated a policy which would make facts checking an essential part of news gathering and reportage.
A Law lecturer with the Nigeria Institute of Journalism, Oluyomi Lords spoke on “Media law and ethics in the digital age”, he called for amendment of the Nigerian constitution so as to review aspects limiting and incapacitating the media in the discharge of its roles as a watchdog of the society.
Mr Simon Kolawole, Publisher of The Cable shared his thoughts on the theme “The making of a multi-skilled journalist in the digital age” during which he underscored the imperativeness of participatory governance through digital technology for democratic growth and National development.
Other speakers included Mr Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher of Premium Times who spoke on “Gatekeeping in the digital age”, he described journalism as a call to truthfulness, accuracy and loyalty to the masses.
Remarks by the Chairman, Centre of Excellence in multimedia and cinematography,Mass Communication department of the University of Lagos, Professor Ralph Akinfeleye was the icing on the cake of all the keynote deliveries, Prof Akinfeleye who spoke as a Mass Communication teacher and tutor noted that Democracy would only be a mirage once free press is found wanting.
While calling for self re-examination and promotion of Journalism with conscience among media practitioners, Prof. Akinfeleye advocated the need for thorough reform of media rules and entrenchment of media ethics so as to flush out those he called “information traffickers” and ensureprofessionalism as well as excellence in media practice.
The 2017 World Press Freedom Day featured a debate competition during which students of MassCommunication from the University of Lagos argued in favour of the Gatekeeper (the Editor) being responsible for the content of a news story and edged out their counterparts from Federal College of Technology, Yaba who argued in favour of the reporter.
Contestants from the University of Lagos however emerged as the first runners up in the final bout of the debate competition against their counterparts from the Lagos State University who had also earlier triumphed over students from the Nigeria Institute of Journalism.
Both teams argued for and against Government regulation of the content of news stories respectively.