The United Kingdom-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) yesterday ranked Nigeria high among nations where killing of journalists is seen to be rampant.
Other countries that share the shame with Nigeria are Somalia, Pakistan, Brazil and Mexico.
CPJ, in a statement, lamented that unpunished, deadly violence continues to plague the press globally and has notably increased in Nigeria.
The Committee’s 2013 Impunity Index stressed that Nigeria is where journalists are murdered regularly and their killers go free.
“In countries where authorities fail to deliver justice in the killing of journalists, the result is more killings, while journalists try to survive by exercising self-censorship,” said CPJ executive director Joel Simon. “Nigeria’s entry on the index suggests that violence is beginning to limit coverage of crucial issues, posing a grave threat to the country’s democracy. The government must exert the necessary political will to solve these crimes.”
Nigeria appears on the index -- published to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3 -- for the first time. “With five unsolved murders since 2009,” said the CPJ, “Nigeria ranks 11th of the 12 worst countries for impunity.” Nigeria is one of two African countries on the list. The other is Somalia, where 12 journalists were murdered in 2012 alone despite relative calm in Mogadishu.
Deteriorating security accompanied by a lack of justice was also seen in Pakistan, where authorities have failed to prosecute a single suspect in the 23 journalist murders over the past decade. In Brazil, where provincial reporters have proved especially vulnerable, the impunity rating has risen despite the government’s stated commitment to justice.
Ten countries have appeared on the index every year since it was launched in 2008, highlighting the challenge of reversing entrenched impunity. In Pakistan and the Philippines combined, at least nine witnesses and people connected to journalist murder investigations have been killed or died in suspicious circumstances in the past 10 years, CPJ research shows.
“Governments that are committed to solving these cases must guarantee witness protection,” Simon said. “A U.N. plan to combat deadly anti-press violence provides a pivotal opportunity for governments to take decisive steps to deliver justice.”
A decade after the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq remains the worst nation on CPJ’s index, with more than 90 unresolved murders. CPJ found that journalist murders slowed there as well as in Sri Lanka, Mexico, and Afghanistan, but there are few successful prosecutions in any of these countries. Colombia has had modest success in solving murders.
Alarmingly, government and military officials are considered the leading suspects in 26 per cent of murder cases on the index.
The index calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population. It covers the period January 1, 2003, through December 31, 2012. Only nations with five or more unsolved cases are listed.
In 2012, CPJ launched “Speak Justice”, a digital campaign to garner citizen support in demanding justice for murdered journalists.
CPJ index not true reflection of journalists in Nigeria - Presidency
But the presidency has described the survey of the CPJ as not a true reflection of journalists in the country, saying that Nigerians should beware of reports that promotes sensationalism, rather than the truth.
When contacted yesterday night, Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, told LEADERSHIP that President Jonathan has shown determination, capacity and sincerity in ensuring the protection of lives and property of citizens in the country.
Abati further claimed that journalists had been practising their profession with the utmost freedom.
He added that press freedom was not an issue to contest in the country under the Jonathan administration as he claimed that there is no media repression in Nigeria. According to him, the federal government is committed to the promotion of the right to freedom of expression and of the press.
He said, “I think I read that report. The report is not dealing with government and media relations. It is referring to journalists caught in the cross fire of the Boko Haram activities in the North and it is in protest to the security challenges in the Northern part of the country.
“This cannot be a true reflection of the circumstances of journalists in the country. Even in places where there is violence, Journalists are practising their profession with freedom. In reality, journalists in Nigeria are free to practice their profession. The relationship between government and the media is cordial. It was this administration that signed the Freedom of Information (FoI) bill into law and this has also further expanded the scope of human freedom on all fronts.
“Even in the Northern part of the country where there are security challenges, this government headed by President Goodluck Jonathan has shown determination, capacity and sincerity in ensuring the protection of lives and property to all categories of Nigerians.
“Nigerians must beware of reports of this nature which promotes sensationalism, rather than the truth. Press freedom is certainly not an issue in Nigeria under this administration. There is no media repression in Nigeria. This government is committed to the promotion of the right to freedom of expression and of the press”.
There is nothing to celebrate - NUJ
As journalists all over the world celebrate World Press Freedom Day today, the chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abuja chapter, Comrade Chuks Ehirim, has condemned the way journalists are unjustly treated by the government and influential individuals in the course of doing their job, adding that there is nothing for journalists to celebrate on the World Press Freedom Day.
Ehirim, who spoke with LEADERSHIP, said he did not think it was proper to talk about journalists having press freedom in totality in Nigeria when compared to countries that allow freedom of association, freedom of speech and information like America, Britain, France and others. The Nigerian press is nowhere near them, but there is more press freedom now than during the military regime, he said.
According to the NUJ chairman, it is expected that, in a democratic regime that has taken Nigerians through almost f14 years, the level of press freedom journalists enjoy should have been far higher than what it is. Today, in Nigeria, journalists are still being arrested, detained and molested without trial, either by government security agents or highly placed individuals, he stated.
Ehirim said: “Journalists are still being killed unnecessarily in Nigeria. Worst of all, a greater majority of journalists working in Nigeria are not paid. What can be more enslaving than that you worked for a long period of time, like six to 12 months, without your legitimate pay? It is a crime of the highest order on the part of media employers who refuse to pay them their salaries.
These things constitute serious assault on press freedom and we have been pleading with these media organisations in Nigeria, especially those of them who make huge profits from adverts, government patronage and even from political appointments.
“Although we are happy that, today, the world will be celebrating Press Freedom Day, but I think that Nigeria will be aside, because there is nothing to celebrate here. You do not celebrate when you are hungry.
The government of Nigeria must have a change of heart in the way journalists are treated. We must realise one fact: that we are running a democratic government. Under a military regime, we can say it is normal -- that is the way the military operates, because the military did not solicit for our support; they made their way into power.
“But these are elected political officeholders, so they must know that people must always mirror what they are doing. They must not think that because they are in authority, they can do anything without anybody putting them in check. They should know that if not for the fight that the media waged in this country against the military, many of them would not be occupying the seat that they are occupying today.
Many journalists got killed, many went into self-exile, many were detained. So many -- because of the hazard of the profession -- stopped practising, because you are in the profession you are not making money, you do not have rest of mind, because you are liable to be arrested any time, you can be picked up and beaten while doing your job.”
He lamented that the media industry has been hijacked by those who have no business in it, because many media professionals could not bear the suffering and they have abandoned the job, adding that the government must realise that journalists are doing the job assigned to them by the constitution and they should not therefore be seen as enemies.
“Nigerian journalists are more patriotic than our political leaders, because when the press fought the military, most of them who are in power today were errand boys of the military, and because of that mentality of military dictatorship that they acquired from their masters, that is what has been guiding them up until now. But journalists should always be seen as friends and not enemies,” he said.