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As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to celebrate the 2020 World Press Freedom Day amidst the challenges posed by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Mr. Tony Ojukwu has commended the efforts of Nigerian journalists in creating awareness and disseminating information on the COVID-19 Pandemic. This is despite the personal risks of exposure to the infection as well as violations of their human rights to freedom of press, health and life from state and non-state actors.
Mr. Ojukwu who gave this commendation in Abuja, urged journalists to continue to exercise wise discretion in disseminating accurate information about the pandemic to avoid unnecessary panic that could result in devastating effects on the populace.
While noting that Journalists deserve more protection in all ramifications during the course of their duties, the Chief Executive Officer of the Commission said the “media plays a crucial role in the promotion of human rights in the society as they make people aware of their rights, expose violations, and focus attention on people and issues in need of human rights protection without discrimination, ensuring that no one is left behind.”
For highlighting the impact of the COVID-19 crises on poor and vulnerable populations, Mr Ojukwu on behalf of the Commission praised the media for their frontline advocacy roles: “We give kudos to the media for defending the rights of the vulnerable, highlighting the need for intervention in the situation of the rural poor, women and girls, persons with disabilities, internally displaced persons and the daily paid workers who form the majority of the Nigerian society.”
In line with the theme of the 2020 commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day – “Journalism without fear and favour,” Mr. Ojukwu urged media practitioners in Nigeria to remain steadfast in promoting and protecting human rights, ensuring that government and security institutions are accountable to the people during the COVID-19 operations and beyond.
Mr. Ojukwu also called on governments at national and state levels and all non-state actors to respect the rights of journalists in accordance with sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. According to him: “It is only through the guarantee of press freedom and protection of the rights of journalists that we can truly claim to be a democratic society.”
In an age of unprecedented increase in online and other forms of news media, the human rights Chief enjoined journalists and media practitioners to practice their profession with responsibility by respecting the rights of other citizens. In this regard, he urged them to avoid hate speech, fake news, misinformation and defamation which are all capable of inciting violence, promote fear and violate the human rights of others in a peaceful and egalitarian society.
The Executive Secretary acknowledged the media for supporting the Commission in its mandate, as well as to paid tribute to Journalists who lost their lives or suffered one form of human rights violation or the other during the course of their duties, saying the Commission stands by them.
Mr. Ojukwu called on government and media owners to use the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic to improve the climate for the practice of journalism in Nigeria, including training, protection, compensation and the deployment of modern tools to ensure that the Nigerian media continues to be relevant in the growth of Nigeria’s democracy and in the defence of human rights during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
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