Saturday, July 13, 2024

Freedom Of Speech: Dissent, An Integral Part Of Democracy

In 2019, the Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF) said it observed that “public officers and influential individuals were increasingly intolerant of critical reporting and fair comments by journalists.”

Several media outlets were also penalised on occasion for comments which were labeled anti-government.

Reporters Without Borders (French: Reporters sans frontières (RSF) says fifty journalists and media workers were killed in connection with their work in 2020, the majority in countries not at war.

According to RSF, the figure shows an increase in the targeting of reporters investigating organised crime, corruption or environmental issues, the watchdog said. The total number of journalists killed in 2020 was lower than the 53 reported in 2019, although RSF said fewer journalists worked in the field this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the first part of the report, published in December, RSF said it was concerned that measures imposed by governments to fight the pandemic had contributed to a “significant peak in violations of press freedom”.

It listed 387 jailed journalists, which it called “a historically high number”. Fourteen of those had been arrested in connection with their coverage of the coronavirus crisis, it said.

On Monday Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who sent dispatches from Wuhan during the chaotic initial stages of the outbreak, was jailed for four years for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

This war on the media is becoming more of a pandemic than anything else and is very much at play in Nigeria as well.

With the so-called fake news campaign and other plots to totally control and stifle the influence of the media, several journalists and media outlets have gotten their fingers burned.

In what civil society groups described as a gag on the media, the Federal Government recently charged journalists, including Jones Abiri and Omoyele Sowore, with treason and terrorism for engaging in social activism and practising Journalism. 

The governors of Cross River, Kaduna and Kano States also followed this trend by charging Agba Jalingo, Chidi Odinkalu and Nazir Ahmad respectively with offences of terrorism, cybercrime and criminal defamation. This happened in a society that should be practicing democracy, what is the colour nigeria’s democracy?

The draconian Social Media and Hate Speech Bills are further attempts to silence any form of opposition to anti-people policies. Several attempts have been made to pass these legislations which would end up eroding all forms of free speech by mainstream and social media.

Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution and several international instruments acceded to by Nigeria guarantee the right to press freedom as the media exercise their statutory duties.  Citizens also have the right to be informed in an unbiased manner.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), also guarantee the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media. Dissent is an integral part of democracy and should not be snuffed out in the guise of any emergency situation. Issues of defamation can be dealt with on a case to case basis without truncating citizens’ right to expression of opinions. It must be pointed out emphatically, now more than ever before that the right to free speech and press freedom should not be sacrificed on the altar of docility.


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