By Michael Effiong
The Consul-General of the United States Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, Claire Pierangelo has stated that banning or restriction of social media is a threat to press freedom and freedom of expression.
Speaking at an event tagged “A Conversation On Press Freedom, Freedom of Expression and Civic Space” hosted by the Embassy, Pierangelo noted that a free press is a core pillar for any democracy which is reason the First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely.
She stated that the Biden-Harris administration is committed to putting human rights at the heart of its foreign policy, adding “We believe that media freedom and freedom of expression are vital to a thriving democracy”.
In her words: “I have been in Lagos as Consul General since 2019. I have spoken with hundreds, perhaps thousands of Nigerians about democracy, elections, and the history of Nigeria. These conversations have shaped my perception that Nigeria has a vibrant democracy and a relatively free press.
“However, some concerns remain about the freedom of journalists to do their job. We take note when legislation is introduced which could have significant consequences for the freedom of the press.
“In addition, Nigerian government’s ongoing suspension of Twitter and stated intent to introduce registration requirements for other social media platforms is deeply worrisome. Banning or significantly restricting social media, including under threat of prosecution, undermines Nigerians’ human rights and fundamental freedoms. We are encouraged by the meetings between Twitter and government technical committee last week aimed at resolving the suspension.
According to her, history is full of cautionary tales showing that when governments try to limit citizens’ right to talk about certain topics, important conversations are pushed into the shadows. She urged government to allow individuals express their opinions — no matter how much the government and other citizens may disagree with them.
In her words: “Rigorous debate promotes transparency and social stability”
The Consul-General stated that in view of the prevailing circumstances in Nigeria, media professionals need to be vigilant as well as act with the highest level of integrity and responsibility.
“The United States, however, understands that with more freedom comes more responsibility. Advances in technology and increased reliance on social media platforms as sources of information make the accuracy and objectivity of your reporting crucial. More than ever before, good journalism relies on accurate, in-depth, and critical reporting of facts on matters of public concern or interest”. She stated.
In his key note paper, Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director of International Press Centre revealed that the Nigerian Press has been under severe attack from the present government as well as what he termed “legal and legislative coups”
Arogundade painted the grim picture of the media in Nigerian thus “we document incidents of attacks on journalists and the media including arson and killing – and they are numerous.Reporters San Frontiers (otherwise called Reporters Without Borders) rated Nigeria 115 out of 180 countries in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index”
He went on to highlight cases of impunity of state actors against the media and civil society activists.
He concluded “ The summary of the above is that there is virtually no rule of law in existence anymore with criminals, kidnappers and terrorists getting away with murder while innocent citizens, civil society actors, journalists are charged with treason, terrorism, etc.
The conversation was taken a notch higher by a panel comprising Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, Managing Director of Arise TV; Fisayo Soyombo, Founder, Foundation for Investigative Journalism and Jiti Ogunye, Principal Counsel of Jiti Ogunye Chambers while Mike Okwoche. Senior Anchor TVC was the moderator.
The panel examined the legal and professional implications of gagging the media and the Nigerian populace while also providing insights into what should be proper conduct by today’s journalists.
In his remarks, Mr. Mustapha Isah, President, Nigeria Guild of Editors brought to fore the barrage of attacks on the media in recent times, giving the instances of the new National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Nigerian Press Council bills. He noted that the Nigeria Press Organisation (made up of media owners and practitioners) will fight these obnoxious bills and ensure they do not see the light of the day.
There were also contribution from an audience of seasoned professionals which included Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye. In deed, it was a very intellectually-stimulating session.