Group of journalists from the print, electronic and bloggers recently gathered in Lagos to dissert and proffered solutions to the problems confronting the growth and risk they face in doing their jobs.
The one-day training was organised by Spaces for Change with the theme: “Legal Clinic for at Risk Journalists, Bloggers and Media Organisation in Nigeria come across in the discharge of their duties.” The Executive Director of Spaces for Change, Mrs. Victoria Ibezim Ohaeri said the Closing Spaces Database, a digital database that tracks and documents governmental restrictions on the civic space in Nigeria and West Africa, has documented over 100 incidents of crackdowns on press freedoms in Nigeria.
According to her, attacks on journalists and the media rank the highest of all the categories of restrictions listed on the database, with the modes of attack ranging from physical assault, arrests and detention, forced disappearances, sanctions, fines and withdrawal of operating licenses of media institutions.
She said in light of the above, the clinic would respond to the risks journalists face by deepening their understanding of the applicable laws and regulations relating to press and internet freedoms, opportunities and resources available to them to enhance their personal safety and protection while meeting their journalistic obligations more ethically.
“Journalists are finding it difficult in Nigeria lately, incident tracking and closing on the database showed that the crackdown on the civic space, particularly affected journalists more than any other civic actors in the country.
So it had been became important to empower journalists and give them the resources they need to protect themselves and work more professionally in line with the existing regulations. “Part of the paper presented talked about what happens if journalists are arrested, injured, assaulted or threatened and where such a person gets legal representation.
If one is in danger he or she needs to run away from the country or if such a person is in hidden where can such journalists found resources for protection and asylum in another country those the kind of thing we package to educate the journalists in line with how one can keep it save and the resources without putting ones in the trouble.
“With the look of things journalists are unhappy, it was a general training we have journalists across the country and from different beats ranging from crime reporting, politics and judiciary, everyone are in attendance from every part of the country and the crackdown on the civic space is affecting the journalist more than civic actors in the society, so it has become important we empower journalists with the resources and tool that they need to protect themselves and work more professionally in line with the existing regulations.
“The training also teaches journalists what to do whenever they are in trouble, whenever do a story that’s favourable to the government or private individuals in the society.
Also, if journalists need financial assistance whenever he or she sustains injuries in cause of duty those are the area will want to inform the journalists through the training and beyond how the law functions and how journalists can keep themselves safe and keep their cyber space and tools safe, those are some of the risks journalists face in the course of carrying out their duties.”
She added: “I am happy with the level of acceptance and the journalists are also happy with the training. Maybe some of the journalists had been looking for available opportunities like this before now, I believe Space for Change came at the appropriate time.”
Mr. Chinoso Uba, a reporter with Osisa 96.1 FM radio station Owerri, Imo State, described the training as educative and timing. Uba said he had learnt a lot of things as an investigative journalist and promise to put them to use.
He said: “The training have equipped me as a person and taught me so many thanks I don’t really understand before and it’s also showed that journalists are an endangered species. Journalists in Nigeria, and especially in my state, we at serious risk; because the government did not see us as partners in progress.
The governor is seeing us working against his government. “While those who are doing their jobs are being threatened, of course there is nothing we can do rather than to do our job as a journalists.
There is a wide gap between the government and the people – I mean communications gap. The people believe that they are not telling them the truth the way thing are and because of that there is erosion of believe in the government and government also believe the people should also believe in anything they say I think that’s where the problem started from.
“If the government also wants to win the confidence of the people back to their side they should do what the people want, paying their salaries. We as a journalists are not whenever we write in favour of the people popular with the government.
On many instances I have been threatened by the government agents for writing in favour of the people, recently a correspondent with a newspaper was beaten by government agents for writing about sweepers who have not received salary for over four months, protesting.
“Does the government want us to fold our arms and watch and not report such? “That’s what we are going through, even Biafra agitators are also threatening journalists, when we write from government’s angle they say that we are writing for government – we are not safe.”
Also, Abubakar Abdurrahman from Yola, Adamawa State, a blogger cum human rights activist, said the training was informative and educative and gives insight to right activist faces in the civic space. Abdulraheem said such training should be coming time to time to refresh the memory of journalists about their work and civil rights’ movement in the society.
“From the look of things, journalists are supposed to be protected, because they are the fourth realm of the estate but the reverse is the case today, many journalists have been killed, injured in the line of their duties. With the dictatorial nature of those in government they see journalists as a threat to their own existence, which is very unfortunate.”
A retired Commissioner of Police, Frank Odita also presented a paper on libel and sedition and how journalists fall into the traps.
He taught journalists how to report crime and police stories and also avoid libel and how journalists should protect themselves when covering wars or are in crisis-prone areas. He said: “Journalists are always a target, be it editor or reporters.
A journalist should also know what he wants while doing is job. Journalists should always speak the truth no matter what the situation is.”