ABUJA—The federal government yesterday said it does not in anyway pose a threat to the media, and was not about to stifle press freedom or deny anyone his or her constitutionally-guaranteed rights.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who stated this during a courtesy visit to his office by the Executives of the Nigerian chapter of the International Press Institute, IPI, in Abuja, said the administration took the position not to interfere in the affairs of the media since assumption of office in 2015 and stuck to the promise.
Mohammed said the Nigerian media had no reason to fear the government, adding that if anything, it was government that was at the mercy of the media.
According to him, Nigeria remains one of the very few countries in the world where a section of the media can refuse to recognize popular sovereignty.
He said: “Your visit today is a continuation of the cordial relationship that I mentioned earlier. As stated on the official website of the IPI, a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, its mission is to defend media freedom and support independent journalism wherever they are threatened.
“I presume that mission statement will also guide the operations of IPI Nigeria and, of course, the new executives who are here today.
“I want to say unequivocally that IPI Nigeria has nothing to fear on both fronts – that is, defending media freedom and supporting independent journalism. This is because Nigeria has one of
the most vibrant and free press in the world or how does one describe a situation in which a President who was duly elected by millions of Nigeria is willfully stripped of that title, President, and then cheekily cloaked in the garb of a dictator by playing up his military title?
“Despite that abuse of press freedom, those doing that have continued to practice their profession without hindrance.
”Ours must also be one of the few countries in the world where a reputable medium will report fake news and, when called out, will not retract or apologize.
”That’s why I am delighted that serious organizations like IPI are taking the issues of not just press freedom but also ethics and fake news, among others, very seriously,” he told the visitors.”
While commending the media organizations that had set up platforms to fact-check stories that circulate in the media space, the Minister urged the new IPI leadership to take a holistic look at key issues confronting newsrooms today and undermining press freedom..
He specifically listed issues concerning ethics, regulation, sustainability, credibility and fake news as some of the major issues confronting the nation at the moment.
“I commend the President of IPI Nigeria for that bold statement and I do hope he and his team will work on those issues. For example, on the issue of ethics, is it part of the ethics of journalism for a media organization to function like an opposition party, seeing nothing good in the government of the day and only reporting bad news?
”The last time I checked, the constitutionally-guaranteed role of the media here in Nigeria is that of a watchdog, not an opposition.
”Also, the issue of fake news needs to be taken seriously before it strips the media of its credibility. If people can no longer believe what they read, hear or watch on the various media platforms, then we are all in trouble.
”This is why we launched the national campaign against fake news and misinformation in 2018,” said the minister,” he said.
On the regulation of social media, he said: “Some people have misconstrued our efforts to ensure a responsible use of social media as an attempt to tamper with press freedom or threaten independent journalism.
“We do not harbour such intentions, and that is why we invited stakeholders, including the NUJ and the Nigerian Guild of Editors, to sit down with us to fashion a way forward in this regard.
“We have reached a robust agreement with Twitter, which will be extended to other social media platforms, as part of our efforts to ensure a responsible use of the social media,’ Mohammed said.
He further appealed to IPI Nigeria not to relent in its promise to take a holistic look at the issues of fake news, credibility and ethics, among others.
For him, this is one sure way to contribute to the fight against fake news and misinformation.