The clamp-down on media by the state has created a greater sense of insecurity among journalists in Nigeria. This was one of the highlights from the 2019 African Media Barometer launched by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Nigeria. The African Media Barometer (AMB), an in-depth description and measurement system for national media environments on the African continent, is a self-assessment exercise based on home-grown criteria derived from African Protocols and Declarations such as the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (2002) by the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The instrument was jointly developed by Fesmedia Africa, the media project of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Africa, and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in 2004. The report held that though the enactment of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act was pivotal to the evolution of the Nigerian media landscape, its implementation faces resistance from some authorities, especially those in the defence forces. It stressed that while journalists still come under pressure to give up their sources, the protection of journalistic sources is increasingly recognised as a fundamental principle in a democratic society.
The 2019 AMB Nigeria found that while the government uses its advertising power to influence editorial content as some state houses keep lists of friendly and hostile media, the size of the advertising market is too small to sustain the industry.
On broadcasting, it observed that broadcasting legislation has produced a conducive environment for three-tier (public, commercial and community) broadcasting, though the licensing processes were riddled with political interference revealing that the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission which regulates the sector is seen as lacking independence from government and political forces.
The four-yearly report noted that the plan to criminalise hate speech in Nigeria is seen as a disguised attempt to clamp down on the right to freedom of expression.
In his welcome address, the Resident Representative of the FES Nigeria, Mr. Ulrich Thum, said the African Media Barometer identifies and analyses the shortcomings and best practices in the legal as well as practical media environment using a variety of African documents as a benchmark adding that the AMB can serve as a tool to lobby for media reform. He invited all participants to spread the document and to use it for their media and advocacy work, striving for a better, freer, and more inclusive Media landscape. He stressed that such an environment ideally allows the media and journalists – side by side with an independent Legislature, Executive and Judiciary - to act as an independent fourth pillar of society.
Speaking during the launch, the reviewer, Prof. Umar Pate, said the AMB has continuously documented the dynamic story of the media in recent times with the 2019 edition significantly highlighting the progress of the media in imbibing evolving media technologies and emerging challenges that impinge on the credibility, sustainability and safety of the media in the country.
Prof. Pate who praised the consistent release of the AMB as a very commendable effort said it is clear that media organizations have to wake up and promote investigative journalism, mainstream fact checking actions and adopt self-sustaining economic mechanisms to safeguard their survival, safety of staff and guard editorial independence.
In their remarks, the discussants of the AMB review, Ms. Aderonke Ige, a Humanitarian Lawyer and Martins Oloja, a seasoned editor of the Guardian Newspaper, summarized that “beyond legal limitations, citizens and journalists in Nigeria are still unable to exercise freedom of expression without fear no thanks too to culture of intimidation through harassment by public authorities. Criminal libel, cyber stalking among other restrictive laws are still in place despite FOIA since 2011”. They continued that the AMB is conclusive that the Government still does not respect regional and international instruments that guarantee these rights at issue.
The discussants however pointed to some positive developments in the sector saying that the quantitative expansion of the broadcasting sector, particularly community broadcasting as a result of digitisation, brings greater opportunities for the expansion of the value chain in broadcasting and content diversity. “The growth of people power and the role of the media in amplifying this is improving the conditions for democratisation”, they added.
The launch, which was moderated by the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda, Edetean Ojo, featured media experts, civil society organizations, youths, and other stakeholders.