Address by HMIC, Alh. Lai Mohammed on The Occasion of The Presentation Of The UNESCO World Report on Freedom of Expression 2021/2022, at The Regional Forum For West Africa

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, while inaugurating the Post-Covid-19 Initiatives Committee for the Creative Industry virtually from his office in Abuja on Tuesday



It is my pleasure to be a part of this West Africa Regional Forum on the presentation of the 2021/2022 Report on the Global Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development.

Let me commend the UNESCO Regional office for organising this forum to present this all important report that seeks to strengthen our media space. As we all know, issues surrounding freedom of expression and safety of journalists are topical and dear to democracy.

May I also appreciate UNESCO for its efforts at promoting an enabling environment for the entrenchment of freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. The report being presented today will further provide our leaders, media administrators, practitioners and indeed various stakeholders in the information sector insights into the successes achieved and the multidimensional challenges to freedom of expression and media development, within the context of our various legal frameworks.

It is a well known fact that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right enshrined in our various statutes and legal mechanisms. And it is also a key feature of democracy across the world. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights captures this succinctly.

Over the years, countries have made efforts to liberalise the media landscape by making it conducive for practitioners through adoption of laws in this regard. We have also seen the glaring need to protect journalists, as well as build their capacities to conform to the ever-changing standards of practice, especially with emerging technologies and particularly social media. UNESCO has provided leadership in this regard.

As a country, Nigeria has always championed the observance of rights of freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. However, we have always insisted that this right that we all enjoy, especially as media practitioners, comes with a huge responsibility; a responsibility that says we must be circumspect in the use of information at our disposal to avoid misinformation, fake news and hate speech which, if not well managed, could lead to serious disaffection and chaos in the society.

I make bold to state here that Nigeria has a vibrant, pluralistic and free press, and this would not have been possible without an enabling environment.

I reiterated this point when I received the executive members of the Nigerian chapter of the International Press Institute (IPI) at my office in Abuja recently. At that meeting, I restated the commitment of the present Administration, led by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, that under our watch, the media will never be seen as a threat, but as key partners in progress of our dear country.

At this juncture, please permit me to say that in Nigeria, we have made the freedom of expression not just a guiding principle but also a key priority, just like the safety of our media practitioners.

Since my assumption of office, I have made it a point of duty to regularly engage with several stakeholders in the media space, with a view to strengthening the information sector and building the capacities of our media practitioners for better service delivery. I have met with journalists under the various umbrella unions, media owners and executives, online media practitioners and bloggers, among others, in this regard.

As a Ministry, we have organised seminars, workshops and symposia for media stakeholders. A key workshop organised in collaboration with UNESCO in 2018 was on Conflict Reporting and Safety of Journalists. We have also been celebrating World Press Freedom Day yearly by organising symposia, the last time being in 2021 when we held a symposium themed Journalism as a public good.

This month, we are organising, in collaboration with UNESCO and other partners, a workshop in celebration of World Press Freedom Day, after the global celebrations. We remain resolute in our determination to continue to provide the enabling environment for media practitioners to thrive within the ambits of our laws.

It is instructive to note once more that the freedom of expression we enjoy comes with huge responsibility. It is sad that some of our compatriots in the journalism profession take advantage of this freedom to engage in misinformation and hate speech and to spread fake news. That was why we launched a national campaign against fake news and hate speech in 2018, a campaign that has brought the issue to the front burner of national discourse.

I want to urge journalists within the West African subregion to join hands with our various governments to curb the activities of such journalists who taint the image and good works of those of us who desire to uphold the ethos and professionalism of this very important profession

As a step towards the realization of this, I call on journalists and media houses to set up a fact- checking desk, so as to arrest the prevalence of misinformation, fake news and hate speech in our society.

I wish to commend UNESCO and its partners for putting up this report. Let me assure you that we as a country will study the report and the recommendations contained therein with the seriousness it deserves.

In conclusion, I wish to inform you that Nigeria will be hosting the 2022 Global Media and Information Literacy Week, the first country within our subregion to host this event. I hereby solicit the support of all relevant stakeholders for the success of this global event.

I thank you for listening and I wish us fruitful deliberations.