By Patrick Albert
Today, we gladly join our colleagues, nay the entire global media community to mark the World Press Freedom Day as profoundly promoted by the United Nations (UN) through its agency, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
In the light of this, I stand on behalf of the State Working Committee (SWC) and the State Executive Council (SEC) of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Akwa Ibom State Council to welcome you all to this year’s celebration of World Press Freedom Day.
We are quite pleased that 24 years after the inauguration, to wit, proclamation of World Press Freedom Day by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1993, an action which resulted from a recommendation adopted at the 26th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991, the thrust of the declaration and its very significance on media practice, have continued to gain momentum towards achieving the desired objectives.
In furtherance of this, the aim of the World Press Freedom Day is to highlight the fundamental principles of Press freedom; preview the state of Press freedom throughout the world; protect the Media from unwarranted attacks on its intrinsic freedom; and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives while discharging their duties.
This event also serves to remind authorities of various countries of the World of Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which states clearly that everyone “has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Interestingly, the theme for 2017, as announced by the UN through UNESCO; the agency with the mandate to oversee the programme since inception, is “Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies.”
This year, the Government of Indonesia, and the Press Council of Indonesia is co-organizing the World Press Freedom Day’s main event and the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize Ceremony in Jakarta, Indonesia which started on Monday, May 1, and ends on May 4, 2017.
The international award ceremony is billed to hold today, Wednesday, May 3, 2017 and the prize winner is to be presented with the sum of US$25,000.
It will interest us to know that the prize is named in honour of Guillermo Cano Isaza, an assassinated Colombian journalist, and it is intended to reward a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, particularly when this has been carried out in the face of danger.
The prize also comes as a reward to dedicated journalists who have defied challenges to uphold freedom of expression and information, as a measure to give them world-wide recognition that they deserve for their courage.
The global theme for 2017 opens up discussion on current challenges facing us in the media, including the continuous trend worldwide of attacks against those who bring journalism to the public.
In his message, the UN Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres has echoed the fact that the media, being the voice to the voiceless, should be encouraged and protected, without being victimised.
This concern and the need for concerted action to protect media professionals are very necessary. Statistics by the New York City based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) show that 1236 Journalists have been killed since 1992. Beats covered by victims indicate casualty rate as follows: Business (4%), Corruption (20%), Crime (16%), Culture (11%), Human Rights (21%), Politics (46%), Sports (2%) and War (41%).
Also, the number of imprisoned journalists worldwide has been alarming. As at last year – 2016, number of journalists imprisoned worldwide rose to 259. Records show that most of these journalists were imprisoned in Turkey (81) and China (38) respectively.
In line with the theme of this year’s celebration, we have invited eminent resource persons to appraise us on the subject and other relevant issues germane to a healthy environment for journalists to practice and to also outline ingredients for satisfactory media reportage.
In essence, while we seek a congenial operative atmosphere, it is incumbent on us to maintain the “dos and don’ts” of the profession.
Let us at this point specially welcome His Excellency, Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State, His Excellency, Mr. Moses Ekpo MFR, Deputy Governor, Akwa Ibom State, the Chairman on the occasion, Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Ekong Sampson, Special Adviser, Bureau on Political, Legislative and Water Resources, the Chief Host, Mr Charles Udo, Commissioner, Ministry of Information and Strategy.
We also welcome the Keynote address presenter, who will take us through the whole gamut of the 2017 theme, Hon. (Barr) Uwemedimo Nwoko, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Akwa Ibom State, Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Ita Enang, Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters –Senate, who will speak on “Legislating for Media Freedom: Panacea to Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies” and Mr. Donald Awunah, Commissioner of Police, Akwa Ibom State Command, who will dissect the topic, “Media’s Role in Advancing Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies.”
We also wish at this point, to applaud the world body and its agencies for promoting not just a better awareness on the role of the Media to the Governments and Societies across the globe, but for the consistent efforts it has made to stimulate robustness in the Media through constant workshops/trainings and also outlining ways in which the Media can be well engaged to promote development and global peace.
It is well known that the media drive development in all spheres. We share in the thoughts one of the founding fathers of America, Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826), who became the third President of the United States (1801–1809) that “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
In essence, the state of development of every society is largely congruent to the thought pattern of its citizenry. As it is, one of the key invigorators of the thought pattern of the citizenry is the Press. The Press, as the market place of ideas, is expected to act as an enlightened agent to drive people thinking positively and to also leverage on the management and development of the State.
It is a truism as jointly stated by the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein that “quality journalism enables citizens to make informed decisions about their society’s development. It also works to expose injustice, corruption, and the abuse of power. For this, journalism must be able to thrive, in an enabling environment in which they can work independently and without undue interference and in conditions of safety.”
We know that free press places a huge responsibility on practitioners. This is why the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), as a responsible professional body, emphasises strict ethical compliance as enunciated in our Code of Ethics for journalists.
We are happy to say that today in Akwa Ibom, adverse activities of online writers and some local tabloids have reduced remarkably through in-house campaigns for ethical compliance and fact-based quality journalism.
We will sustain this through training and retraining of our members. In this regard, we seek the continuous support of Government, multinational firms, organisations and public spirited individuals in order for us to keep pace with training demands.
Needless to underscore the fact that journalism as a profession is intellectually demanding and takes lot of man-hours input. Unfortunately, the welfare of journalists is not as commensurate as it should be considering the work load of having to news-feed the world round-the-clock.
We further appeal to our amiable Governor to implement the payment of 22.5 percent Weigh-in allowance for journalists in its employ – Akwa Ibom Newspaper Corporation, publishers of The Pioneer, Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation – Radio and Television Services, and the Ministry of Information and Strategy – Information Directorate, as already being implemented by the Federal Government and many other States of the Federation.
We re-echo our appeal to the state government to give consideration to the appointment of qualified journalists who are in Government employ as Permanent Secretaries, and also for experienced media personnel to be appointed into relevant boards.
We commend Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel for his favourable disposition to the Press in the State. We appeal to the Governor to assist us in completing our on-going 2-storey office complex to enable us utilise the facility,
Finally, we again thank all our Guests for honouring our invitations and do appreciate our members and the Planning Committee for the May Day/World Press Freedom Day celebrations for the good work they have done.
God bless us all.
-Being an address of welcome by Elder Patrick Albert, Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Akwa Ibom State Council on the occasion of the 2017 World Press Freedom Day at the NUJ Press Centre, Information Drive, Off IBB Way, Uyo, on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.