Against the backdrop of the recent imposition of fines against some media houses by a federal agency, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu has urged politicians and public office holders not to gag the media, saying press freedom was important in a democracy.
The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) this week imposed N5 million fines on Trust TV owned by Daily Trust Group and Multichoice Nigeria Ltd each for airing a BBC report that it said: “glorified the activities of bandits and undermines national security.”
Free speech and democracy activists in Africa’s most populous country have raised the alarm over what they say are erosions to freedom of expression in recent years, including last year’s ban on social media platform Twitter.
However, in his speech at a workshop organised by the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), at Ikeja, Lagos State, Sanwo-Olu, who was the Special Guest of Honour to declare the workshop open, assured that his administration will continue to promote Press Freedom and good corporate governance as well as enabling environment for journalists in the state.
He also urged media practitioners to always regulate their activities in the digital space.
Governor Sanwo-Olu also canvassed good corporate governance and self-regulation of the digital space by media practitioners, noting that such would completely eradicate false and fake news.
“I stand with you (media practitioners) in solidarity; to say that, indeed, your profession is not just a noble one, but it’s the one that gives the general public an independent assessment; holding our governance and government accountable at all times. And so, we need to be very careful as politicians and public officers that we do not gag this profession (media) and do not unduly stifle free press.
“Our government understands and appreciates that press freedom is the way in which we can hold government accountable. But it is also the responsibility of all of us here to ensure that we understand the thin line; and also self-regulate our activities.
“ I cannot agree less with the President of the NGE that says that the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission should not only be independent, it should be equipped with men of impeccable character and integrity that can work like the Oxfam of this world and indeed sanction erring people but give freedom for all of you to do your work,” the governor stated.
Governor Sanwo-Olu while stressing the need for media practitioners to self-regulate themselves, urged them to work towards the complete eradication of fake and false news.
“Regarding my view about corporate governance, it is also to ensure that in the digital space we eradicate completely within the profession false news and fake news. People sometimes rush to post something without doing proper due diligence to verify what they are posting and ask themselves what damage would I do if they found out what I posted is not completely true.
“You must be a bit more circumspect and know that once information is out there, you cannot retrieve it. That in itself puts a lot of professional pressure on whoever that is posting any report,” he said.
Sanwo-Olu also seeks continuous support from the media for his administration. “I have enjoyed working with all of you and I am looking forward to enjoying more in the remaining part of my four years tenure. And if all of you feel so compelling during the election, I will also not mind being your governor again for another tenure,” he said.
Speaking earlier, the President of the NGE, Mustapha Issa, said the media would not succumb to pressure from the government to determine the people’s right to information.
He said the situation where the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) that reports to the Minister of Information would also be the one to unilaterally impose fines on broadcast stations for unfavourable reports was tantamount to gagging the media.
The NGE President, who urged media owners to embrace good corporate governance and accountability, said the role of scrutiny of the media should not be that of the government alone, adding that the media should not be threatened.
Issa said digital technology has provided room for journalists to become competitive and open sources of income.
Also speaking, a veteran journalist and the Chairman of the occasion, Lanre Idowu, said digitalization had brought more opportunities to journalism but has equally brought to the fore the need to uphold ethics, and quality content.
He said journalists must decide whether to embrace digital platforms or be out of business.