Remarks by Ambassador James F. Entwistle World Press Freedom Day: Protecting Press Freedom from Censorship and Surveillance (May 3, 2016)

Abuja | May 3, 2016

(as prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon, everyone.  I am honored to join the fourth estate today.  Please allow me to use my favorite Nigerian expression: all protocols observed.

We gather here to celebrate an important freedom—the freedom of the press.  World Press Freedom Day received its inspiration from the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of principles put together by African journalists in 1991.  In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 as World Press Freedom Day.  On this day, we reaffirm the importance of a free press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The theme of World Press Freedom Day 2016 is: “Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms—This is Your Right!”  A key aspect of access to information is “Protecting Press Freedom from Censorship and Surveillance Overreach.”  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.  A diverse and independent press is crucial to holding governments accountable and sustaining democracy around the world.

A free press is a core value of the United States because it is essential for democracy.  Thomas Jefferson put it well when he said, “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it”.  Jefferson also added, “[W]ere it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

An independent media helps satisfy the public’s need to know about events affecting their lives.  Through a free media, people let their governments know their opinion on policies and actions.  Dialogue between the government and the governed is most effective in an environment where all feel free and safe to express their views.

Nigeria has a relatively free and vibrant press.  However, some concerns remain about the freedom of journalists to do their job.  The media helped keep the Nigerian government’s feet to the fire leading up to Nigeria’s most peaceful and credible elections.  Despite this positive outcome, you must remain vigilant to protect this freedom.  According to Freedom House, a Nigerian Reuter’s correspondent was arrested in February 2015.  The reporter allegedly engaged in espionage and planned to “send negative reports to the outside world.”  International and local observers believe this was part of the former administration’s efforts to obstruct international media from covering the general elections.  In March 2015, online newspaper Premium Times experienced a massive distributed denial of service attack making its portal temporarily unavailable and affecting coverage of the presidential election.  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.

A very special program is in store for everyone today.  Our distinguished panelists have taken time out of their extraordinarily busy schedules to join us and impart some valuable insights about censorship of the press.  Mr. Azu Ishiekwene, publisher of The Interview and a seasoned journalist, will share his experience about press freedom and journalism in Nigeria.  Mr. Dayo Aiyetan of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting will cover the challenges of investigative reporting in the digital age.  Mr. Femi Longe, co-founder of Co-Creation Hub Nigeria, will give us his impressions of internet governance and press freedom in Nigeria.  Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us.

I am also delighted to announce the launch of the Peace Journalism Network, a platform for journalists to share information, best practices, and examples of conflict reporting that will improve the quality of reporting on Boko Haram.

The United States, for its part, will continue to support the strengthening of Nigeria’s democratic institutions and the enforcement of basic human rights by promoting freedom of information and of the press.  I wish everyone a fruitful discussion.  Thank you.