Need To Protect Journalists As Salem’s Death Is One Too Many

By Isaac Asabor
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There is no denying the fact that whenever most Nigerians are asked which people they think are performing the most dangerous jobs in the country that they may naively mention the Policemen, Military personnel that cut across the Army, Navy and Air force. They may even go ahead to mention the Aviators and even Security Guards among those in other professions or occupations. Probe them further on why they think so, they would buttress their views by saying that the Police in their daily activities engage criminals of different shades while the military are assigned to fight against kidnappers, bandits and Boko Haram among other crooks.

Against the foregoing backdrop, it can be said in this context that they are not wrong in their answers to the questions as the lives of those in the aforementioned professions are unarguably endangered, but one profession they hardly mention is Journalism. Not many Nigerians know that Journalism is a risky profession. It is a job that compels one to work in an environment that is replete with impatient and highly temperamental policemen and military officers and suspicious criminals. Woe betide the Journalists that allows criminally-minded individuals to identify him as a Journalist. This writer was almost killed after being identified at Mushin in Lagos in 2019. They said he was not at where they saw him for any reason other than to gather information about their nefarious activities, and was for that reason beaten black and blue.

Well, we may think that the job of news gathering is not risky enough like that of the firefighter, driver or perhaps fishermen, but few of us would believe that journalists face greater dangers for reporting the news.

In fact, being a journalist is not an easy job. It has never been seen as an effortless and unproblematic profession. Journalists go to extreme lengths to report on sensitive and controversial issues in the public interest. They may find themselves personally engaged with those concerned in the stories they cover and even risk their own wellbeingas they are being affected by the amount of stress and anxiety that are inherent with the job amidst non-payment or irregular payment of salaries and allowances.

At this juncture, it is expedient to say that the news that literally filled the media landscape on November 12, 2021was that a hit-and-run driver, Itoro Clement that killed Tordue Henry Salem, the Vanguard reporter that was declared missing since October 13, 2021. As gathered, Itoro confessed to have knocked him down, and this disclosure prompted me to bring this view into expression. In fact, Tordue’s death has once again brought to the fore the risk Journalists are faced with by each passing day.

According to the United Nations, “Journalism is one of the most dangerous professions in the world.” Journalists go out to the streets to explore and report what is happening. Unfortunately, in this profession, the stories covered may result in kidnapping, assault and even death, and gathering most of this stories entail visiting the scene of the news or simply the source of the news.

In fact, Nigerians will never forget how two journalists, Tayo Awotunsin and Krees Imobibie who were sent to their early graves in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, while reporting on the civil war that at a point in history occurred in Liberia.

Not only do Journalists go to war, they cover election campaigns even when it turned violent, and they are likely to be in the thick of it. Unfortunately, danger is often part of the job for reporters, but it is the responsibility of governments and those organizing elections to ensure that that danger is kept to a minimum but it has never been the case in this part of the world.

In some climes, any physical attack or interference with a journalist is likely to be a crime under the law but in Nigeria, lavish media mention of the incident takes the stage while those in authorities perfunctorily make statements or comment on the issue, and it will end there.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Journalists at some events have been punched by overzealous bouncers, threatened with knives by hoodlums, forcibly detained by obsessional security officials, kicked and spat at by many who hold them in contempt. Beyond physical assault, Journalists are being threatened online and offline, including death threats, rape threats and other threats to their families and homes. Added to the foregoing, most Journalists that have their telephone numbers or email displayed on the pages of their columns have at one time or the other experience either threatening strange calls or messages.

Against the foregoing backdrop, it is expedient in this context to urge the governments to accord Journalists modicum of respect and dignity as they are not carriers of “fake news” as most people erroneously think.

In fact, the governments; at the three tier level, should bring the undemocratic practice of haranguing and harassing Journalists to an end, even as they are perceived to be nosey parkers. Nigerians should always have it at the back of their minds when parleying with Journalists or encountering them that there is Section 22 of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution which stipulates that Journalists shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives to promote the rights of Nigerians and make government accountable to the people.

In fact, it is high time Nigerians stopped holding Journalists from the short end of the stick. Enough is enough!

Factually put, what appears obvious from several arrests, detentions, intimidation and outright killing of journalists is unarguably a proclivity to impunity and a contempt for the rule of law closely linked to the corrupt disposition of public officials which the journalists seek to expose.

To this end, it suffices to agree with international rights organizations, particularly the Amnesty International that have always sloganized that “Journalism is not a crime”, whenever they were literarily in the trenches for the sake of Journalists. There is no denying the fact that most of the organizations firmly believe that Freedom of expression has being under sustained as increasing attacks against journalists persist. In some parts of the world, the repression of the media is such that it has been described by some as the “death of journalism”.

Be that as it may, I am in this context appealing to the governments at all level to ensure that Journalists are adequately protected in the course of duty, particularly now that the death of Tordue Henry Salem’s Death can be described as one too many.

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