THE United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) says democracy is a shadow of itself without press freedom.
Mr Philippe Delange, Officer-in-Charge of UNESCO Regional Office, Abuja said this at the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day organised by UNESCO, in collaboration with UN Information Centre (UNIC), on Friday in Abuja.
The 2023 World Press Freedom Day had the theme: ‘Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a Driver for all Other Human Rights.’
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that World Press Freedom Day was established by the UN General Assembly to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press.
NAN reports that the day is also to remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression.
The day also coincides with the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 30th anniversary of Vienna Conference Programme of Action on Human Rights.
Delange said: “Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of democratic society.
“Without a debate of ideas, without verified facts, without diversity of perspectives, democracy is a shadow of itself and World Press Freedom Day was established to remind us of this.
“For the international community, it is first and foremost a question of combating the impunity that still surround crimes of which journalists are victims, with nearly nine out of ten murders of journalists going unpunished.”
Delange also said the UN had the Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which UNESCO had been leading for ten years.
According to him, the action plan ensured that independent media can continue to exist.
“With the digital revolution, the information landscape and its modes of production and distribution have been radically disrupted, jeopardising the viability of independent professional media,” Delange said.
He, however, said that thirty years after the first World Press Freedom Day, a lot had happened and lots more needed to be done as well.
The O-i-C said it was an opportunity to renew commitment within international organisations to defending journalists and ensuring press freedom.
Mr Matthias Schmale, UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator, said having freedom of expression and seeking information fostered intellectual growth and contribute to social and political progress.
“A free press is essential, if we want truth, justice, and accountability to flourish,”he said.
He regretted that press freedom remained under threat in many parts of the world, while speech was being repressed both online and offline.
According to him, truth is undermined by disinformation and hate speech, while media workers face mounting threats, including women journalists living in fear of violence in many parts of the world.
He said the day reminded all that freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a prerequisite for the enjoyment of all other rights.
“We all have a responsibility to support and protect those who risk their lives speaking truth to power.
“UNESCO will continue to lead UN efforts to keep media professionals safe and help them seek justice.
“I call on government, CSOs and citizens to promote and protect press freedom.
“Together, we can shape a future of rights where journalists can tell the stories that needed to be told,” he said.
Mr Anthony Ojukwu, Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), said the commission was aware of several bills proposed at the National Assembly for the purpose of gagging the media.
Represented by Mrs Agharese Arese, Director, Corporate Affairs and External Linkages, Ojukwu said NHRC would continue to work with other stakeholders to ensure the right to freedom of expression.
He said the press was exercised within the ambit of the law.
“Whereas, the social and digital media have been criticised for encroaching on privacy rights and fuelled hate statements.
“We believe in the sufficiency of our laws for individuals affected to seek civil legal remedies.
“The NHRC is passionate about the protection of the rights of Nigerians which includes journalists,” he said.
Prof. Abiodun Adeniyi, Deputy Dean, Post Graduate Studies of Baze University, said freedom was priceless while it could be denied in diverse ways.
According to Adeniyi, freedom can be denied through regulations, intimidation, harassment, denial of rights which can be politically motivated or otherwise.
He said people could engage in peaceful protests, advocasies, dialogues to fight efforts targeted at gagging the media.
Adeniyi added that freedom of expression was an integral part of human rights and a viable democracy.
Mr John Attah, Programme Director, Human Rights Journalists Network Nigeria, called on stakeholders to protect journalists while they do their jobs.
Attah also said journalists should abide by the ethics of the profession, adding that citizen journalism was important to ensure media literacy.
The day was celebrated with a panel discussion that focused on freedom of expression as a human right, gender and women in media, among other sub-topics.