World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference, to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom.
Since then, every 3rd of May, has been set aside to commemorate the Day, which is also an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day. The proliferation of independent media in many countries and the rise of digital technologies have enabled the free flow of information, However, media freedom, safety of journalists and freedom of expression are increasingly under attack.
For instance, Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as “Shawkan”, has spent nearly three years in jail after photographing the violent response of security forces to a sit-in protest in Cairo.
Journalists like Baba Wame, Rodrigue Tongue and Félix Ebolé Bola were threatened of facing prison terms after refusing to disclose their sources for a story on allegations of collaboration between security forces and an armed group from Central African Republic.
Nigeria is not left out as several journalists have also been harassed, intimidated and even killed in the course of carrying out their duty. For instance, Haruna-Magami a popular radio host in Zamfara state, last year was abducted by unknown gun men for attempting to uncover a corruption case.
A reporter with PUNCH Newspapers in Ogun State, Dauda Olatunji, and two other journalists were harassed and beaten by unionists enforcing a strike in the State. Zakariya Isa, a reporter for Nigerian Television Authority in Borno State, was killed by Boko Haram insurgents who claimed he was spying on them for the Nigerian security authorities.
These are just few examples that has made Nigeria to be ranked 129 of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index 2022. The increased concentration of the media industry into the hands of a few, the financial collapse of scores of independent news organizations, and an increase of national laws and regulations that stifle journalists are further threatening freedom of expression in the country.
Therefore, the theme for this year celebration, “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights” is to highlight the basic truth for the society to know that their freedom depends on press freedom. This means that freedom of the press is the foundation of democracy and justice, as it gives citizens the facts to shape opinions and speak truth to power.
The right to freedom of expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a prerequisite and a driver to the enjoyment of all other human rights.
This year’s Special 30th anniversary celebration of World Press Freedom Day is a global call to nations to ensure that laws and guidelines are put in place to ensure that journalists are protected, devoid of intimidation and harassment.
As Nigeria enters the final decade to meet all countries’ ambitions for the Sustainable Development Goals and to fulfill the commitments made by every Member State of the United Nations, World Press Freedom Day should serve as a reminder for the country to recognize the patriotism of journalists and accord them the desired support to duly practice as the fourth estate of realm, for a vibrant and productive democracy.
Writing by Nehemiah Anini; Editing by Oluwaseyi Ajibade