U.S. Consul General Expresses Concerns About Press Freedom In Nigeria - THE ENCOUNTER NEWS


Thursday, August 26, 2021

U.S. Consul General Expresses Concerns About Press Freedom In Nigeria

United States Consul General Claire Pierangelo has expressed concern about the introduction of new legislations that muzzle the press in Nigeria, urging journalists and activists to protect press freedom.

Speaking on Wednesday at a programme titled: “A Conversation on Press Freedom, Freedom of Expression and Civic Space in Nigeria” held at her official residence in Ikoyi, Lagos, Pierangelo said though Nigeria had a “vibrant democracy and a relatively free press”, the suspension of micro-blogging platform Twitter and new legislation to check social media use and prosecute offenders would encroach on human rights.

She said: “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.”

Pierangelo said the consequences of restricting free speech would relegate important issues to the background.

“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 allowing individuals to express their opinions — no matter how much the government and other citizens may disagree with them. Rigorous debate promotes transparency and social stability,” she said.

To keep the press free, Pierangelo said reporters, editors, media executives, and civil society representatives “must remain vigilant to protect the right to freedom of expression and press freedom.”

She said for the media to function well in its role as the fourth estate of the realm, it must be “both independent and unbiased” so it does not end up being a public relations tool in the government’s hands.

“Without independence, a media outlet functions as a public relations mouthpiece for the government and other powerful interests,” she said.

The U.S. Envoy advocated for responsible reporting and good journalism.

“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 said.

The programme featured a panel discussion on press freedom and the civic space moderated by TVC News Senior Anchor Mike Okwoche.

The panelists were Foundation for Investigative Journalism founder Fisayo Soyombo; Arise TV Managing Director Ms Ijeoma Nwogwugwu and Jiti Ogunye Chambers Principal Counsel Jiti Ogunye.

Soyombo said rather than restrict the press, the powers of the press should be expanded. Ogunye underscored the need for government agencies like the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) to follow the constitution and allow for a fair hearing before punishing perceived offenders. On her part, Nwogwugwu lamented that the civil space was shrinking because many were sponsored by politicians to fulfil personal goals.

Prominent journalists and media scholars at the event included Nigerian Guild of Editors President Mustapha Isah; Journalism Professor Ralph Akinfeleye; CEO, Media Careers Services, Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin; former Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Punch Editor, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, among others.

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