The U.S. Embassy in Abuja hosted a panel of discussants on World Press Freedom Day to evaluate press freedom issues in Nigeria. Discussions at the event centered on the theme, “Protecting Press Freedom from Censorship and Surveillance.”
U.S. Ambassador James F. Entwistle, giving opening remarks, said that a free press is a core value of the United States because it is essential for democracy, noting that an independent media helps satisfy the public’s need to know about events affecting their lives. He emphasized that “through a free media, people let their governments know their opinion on policies and actions.” He also said that dialogue between the government and the governed is most effective in an environment where all feel free and safe to express their views.
Commenting on the Nigerian media scenario, Ambassador Entwistle said the country has a relatively free and vibrant press, but some concerns remain about the freedom of journalists to do their job. He cited instances recorded in the Freedom House report in which a Nigerian Reuter’s correspondent was arrested in February 2015, an incident which international and local observers believed was part of the former administration’s efforts to obstruct international media from covering the general elections.
The Ambassador also cited the most recent efforts to gag freedom of speech. “In December 2015, we witnessed a public outcry to the Senate’s bill on the ‘Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions’ that many saw as an attempt to restrict social media. We are pleased to hear from the current administration that the Presidency does not support this bill,” Ambassador Entwistle said.
Azu Ishiekwene, publisher of The Interview and a seasoned journalist shared his experience about press freedom and journalism in Nigeria. Dayo Aiyetan of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting discussed the challenges of investigative reporting in the digital age. Lastly, Femi Longe, co-founder of Co-Creation Hub Nigeria, gave insights on press freedom, the incredible influence of the internet to freedom of speech, and persistent efforts by government to control this influence.
On April 25, 2016, the U.S. Department of State launched the fifth annual “Free the Press” campaign. This campaign highlights threats to journalists and calls on all governments to protect the universal human right to freedom of expression. It also honors journalists and media outlets that have been censored, attacked, threatened, killed, or oppressed because of their reporting. The United States continuously works to advance media freedom around the world through bilateral engagement, public diplomacy, and multilateral diplomacy.