Legal practitioners have called on the Federal Government to take urgent steps to domesticate relevant regional and international instruments and standards on the safety of journalists in order to give impetus to compliance and enforcement processes at the national level as a way of ending impunity for crimes against journalists.
They also urged the government to live up to its international treaty obligation to guarantee the safety of journalists and other media practitioners, including by preventing attacks on them whenever possible and ensuring that all attacks on journalists and other media workers are investigated and that the perpetrators of the attack are prosecuted and punished.
These were some of the recommendations made by legal practitioners who participated in a two-day Litigation workshop on Safety of Journalists held in Abuja organized by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) with support from the Global Media Defence Fund (GMDF) through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The participants urged media organizations in Nigeria to undertake periodic and regular safety training for their journalists and other workers to ensure that they are able to carry out their work safely and professionally, adding that the organizations should also kit journalists and workers with the appropriate equipment, including protective gear, where necessary, to prevent or minimize their exposure to various hazards that they may confront as they carry out their work.
In a press statement signed by Idowu Adewale, MRA’s Communication Officers, the participants “advised lawyers and civil society organizations to liaise with relevant organizations, institutions, and agencies, such as the National Judicial Institute (NJI), the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) as well as the heads of various courts in organizing sensitization programmes and activities for judicial officers on the safety of journalists so that judges are appropriately informed about the importance of the safety of journalists and their role in the process.”
The participants suggested that lawyers litigating cases touching on the safety of journalists and other media workers should prepare their written addresses or briefs of argument with the objective of enlightening and sensitizing the judge handling such matters about the issue of the safety of journalists, adding that they should also prepare diligently for their cases and familiarize themselves sufficiently about the issue in order to adequately respond to questions or queries that the judges may raise.
In order to ensure speedy adjudication, the participants pointed that for cases touching on the safety of journalists in Nigeria as well as to ensure that judges handling such matters have the requisite knowledge and expertise, the heads of various courts in the country should designate judges to hear cases on the safety of journalists.
Besides, they said, as part of efforts by Nigeria to meet its obligations under regional and international instruments to prevent attacks against journalists and ensure accountability for any such crimes, “Practice Directions” should be issued to guide the hearing and determination of such cases in order to improve the effectiveness of judicial mechanisms in addressing the challenge of crimes against journalists.
The participants said it was a shocking irony that attacks on the media, particularly the killing of journalists, have escalated during the period of civilian democracy with the result that attacks on journalists have risen far above the levels recorded during the period of military regimes in Nigeria, pointing out that it means that the democratic environment has become far more hostile and dangerous for journalists than the period of military rule.
They pointed out that if journalists are frequently intimidated into distorting the information that they provide to the society or if they are too afraid to report truthfully and accurately because of constant attacks, legal practitioners and the entire society will be worse for it because most, if not all members of the public make serious and sometimes life-changing economic, political, professional and other decisions based on the information that they receive through journalists and the media.
In the light of this, the participants noted, lawyers have a self-interest in ensuring that journalists and the media have a conducive and enabling environment to practice their profession so that they can continue to provide members of the public with news and information that is reasonably accurate and reliable and that in turn enables the lawyers and other members of the public to make good and informed decisions.