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Like Joseph Pulitzer, speaking truth to power, REMMY NWEKE writes that the recent court judgement in favour of a journalist, Stella Okoh-Esene, bolsters the revolution of press freedom in Nigeria and emancipation of journalism from shackles of increasing digital siege.

WPFD2022:

As the 2022 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) rounds off across the globe in this month since May 3, there were series of events to mark the evolution that has become WPFD with the theme: Journalism Under Digital Siege.”

In the Nigeria, there was symposium by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja. While in the city of Lagos, the United States (U.S.) Consulate General in Nigeria  joined forces with the Media Career Development Network (MCDN) to screen a document on “Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People.” Even as Media Rights Agenda (MRA), International Press Centre (IPC) demanded conducive environment for journalists among others.

What about May 3:

Every May 3, ITREALMS gathered, acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story.

For the speakers at a screening of the documentary on “Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People” including the founder and Executive Secretary of MCDN, Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin; 2010 Winner of the CNN/Multichoice African Journalist Award, Pelu Awofeso; Deputy Director, Voice Of Nigeria, Mrs. Ugonma Cokey; 2021 WSCIJ-Nigerian Investigative Journalist of the Year, Kunle Akinrinade; Moderator and TV Host at Plus TV Africa, Maryann-Duke Okon and Information Specialist at the Public Affairs Section, US Consulate General, Lagos, Mr. Temitayo Famutimi; it was a commendation galore on the virtues of the late accomplished publisher.

The screening held at the Ikeja American Corner, Courier Plus Compound (inside former Concord Newspaper premises), Airport Road, Ikeja, ITREALMS also gathered explored the remarkable man behind the prestigious Pulitzer Prizes, highlighting his life and accomplishments through a combination of archival footage, reenactments and interviews with authors, journalists and scholars.

Applause for Joseph Pulitzer:

They all applauded the courage exhibited by Joseph Pulitzer during his life time as a great publisher with some calling for the emulation of such traits among Nigerian journalists cum publishers of today so as to be consistent in the promotion of voiceless voices. They equally decried lack of enabling environment for the woes of Nigerian media, stressing that is very hard for media practitioners to practice their trade in a harsh economic environment, which has left some media organisations to close shops, whereas those functioning depend largely on advert patronage which often have some political undertones that should be watched carefully, aside the seemingly increase in politicization of media unions.

Thus bringing to the fore the recent judgement of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) sitting at Area 3, Garki-Abuja on Tuesday March 29, 2022, which delivered a landmark judgement on suit number NICN/ABJ/139/2021, in favour of Stella Okoh-Esene, the immediate past chairperson of the National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), FCT, Abuja, thereby nullifying Stella's suspension, affirms her certification, awards N.5m damages against NUJ, Anne Daniels et al election, in that order and granted three of the reliefs out of the prayers sought before the Court.

The court also reinstated her membership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and reaffirmed that her Advanced Diploma Certificate from Times Journalism Institute (TJI) Lagos, remained valid qualification to practice the profession, aside her 20-year experience on the job.

The suit, which originated before the National President of NICN, Justice B.B. Kanyip, was between the claimant, Stella Okoh-Esene and five defendants namely the chapter NAWOJ; NUJ; Chairman, NUJ; Chairman, Credentials Committee (2020 Elections) at NAWOJ FCT chapter; and Anna K. Daniels, a candidate in the said election, in that order and granted three of the reliefs out of the prayers sought before the Court.

Stella Okoh-Esene, a Certified Journalist says court:
The judgement according to the Certified True Copy obtained by the Lawyer to Stella Okoh-Esene, Barrister Kanu Oko Agabi and available to ITREALMS the court re-instated Okoh-Esene after her unlawful suspension from the Union as a result of her approaching the court to ventilate her position, eventually awarded the sum of Five Hundred Thousand (N500,000.00 only) as damages against NAWOJ and NUJ.

Reacting to the judgement, Stella Okoh-Esene applauded the court and its leadership describing it as great achievement capable of correcting many wrongs in NUJ activities in the country. She re-affirmed belief, trust and commitment in the popular understanding that the Judiciary remains the hope of common people especially in Nigeria.

“It is our conviction that the judgment is a win-win outcome for us, NAWOJ and even the NUJ as this will strengthen future power that members possess against the dictatorial tendencies of those at the helm of affairs of the Union,” she said.

As said by her, “I am also grateful to the Court for making a categorical pronouncement that my academic qualification (Advanced Diploma in Journalism by TJI) is not in doubt. The NUJ and NAWOJ wanted to rubbish me when the National Secretariat disqualified me. However, the Court has reversed that wrong notion putting to rest the nature of my certificates which were duly acquired from recognized institutions. It remains my choice whether or not I can contest in future elections.”

Upholding NUJ Constitution if ...
Maintaining that the requirements contained in the NUJ Constitution is not in doubt for contesting elections. Stella blamed NAWOJ members for allowing their men counterpart in the pen Union to maneuver their activities, stressing that such is not obtainable with female lawyers in their Association under the Nigeria Bar Association.

“There is no need for NAWOJ to be if the men will still be seen interfering and dictating what happens with the Association,” she bemoaned. Emphasising that as a democrat, she wished NAWOJ in FCT well and hope that the teeming members will accord the respect they gave her towards a unified association that will overcome more barriers ahead.

“I equally thank all those who stood by me by direct support to successfully overcome this feat in Court,” she said.

Speaking truth to power:

For the UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a video message to the General Assembly virtual event in observance of World Press Freedom Day:  “Journalism under Digital Siege”, in New York penultimate May 4, 2002, he summed it up that despite various kinds of censorship, threats, attacks, journalists and media workers speak truth to power.

WPFD, he said affords the shinning of a spotlight on the essential work of journalists and other media workers who seek transparency and accountability from those in power, often at great personal risk. Citing an instance with the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, “many media workers have been on the front lines, providing accurate, science-based reporting to inform decision makers and save lives.  At the same time, journalists who cover climate, biodiversity and pollution have succeeded in bringing global attention to this triple planetary crisis.

He noted with dismay that threats to the freedom of journalists and media workers are growing by the day; from global health to the climate crisis, corruption and human rights abuses, they face increased politicization of their work and attempts to silence them from many sides.


Journalism under digital siege:

Guterres pointed out that digital technology has democratized access to information, but lamented, it has also created serious challenges, such as the business models of many social media platforms are based not on increasing access to accurate reporting, but on increasing engagement — which often means provoking outrage and spreading lies.

Another instance is that media workers in war zones are threatened not only by bombs and bullets, but by the weapons of falsification and disinformation that accompany modern warfare, which means they may be attacked as the enemy, accused of espionage, detained or killed, simply for doing their jobs.

Digital technology, he also said makes censorship even easier, underlining that many journalists and editors around the world are at constant risk of their programmes and reports being taken offline.  Today, digital technology creates new channels for oppression and abuse with women journalists, particularly at risk of online harassment and violence.  Citing recent United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report, which indicated that nearly 3 in 4 women respondents had experienced online violence, whereas hacking and illegal surveillance also prevent journalists from doing their jobs.

Essential work of media:

“On World Press Freedom Day, we honour the essential work of the media in speaking truth to power, exposing lies and building strong, resilient institutions and societies.  We call on governments, media organizations and technology companies everywhere to support these crucial efforts,” Guterres submitted.

Noteworthy is that this year marks the 30th year after the World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO's General Conference. Since then, 3 May, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day.

The historic connection made between the freedom to seek, impart and receive information and the public good remains as relevant as it was at the time of its proclamation, thus serving as a reminder to governments at all levels of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom.

Stellar applause for Stella:

Additionally, it is a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence; and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Its on this note that the doggedness of Stella Okoh-Esene and her supporters came handy for commendation and in effort at rescuing the journalism profession in the face of digital siege and For that singular effort could only be stellar in its entirety, thereby using a stone to literarily kill two birds when evaluated in line with the judgement; upturning of her suspension and upholding her certification as alumnae of Times Journalism Institute (TJI), which uplifted the tenets of professional handbook, thus paving the way to free NUJ members from any undue controlling influence from any quarters, especially from the parent body.

Taking such courageous steps like Stella’s by professionals can only liberate the journalism space out of digital siege, the more. 

So, a stellar applause for Stella.

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