Miss World Protests - CREDO Calls on Nigerian government not to be Opportunist in Punishing Media for Previous Critical Reports, Cautions Against Self-censorship

(Press Statement)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 27, 2002

Following recent events in Nigeria related to the Miss World Pageant, which led to violent protests and the torching of the Kaduna offices of the national newspaper ThisDay, CREDO for Freedom of Expression and Associated Rights, extends its condolences to all those bereaved or injured.

Speaking on the developments, CREDO's Coordinator, Rotimi Sankore stated, "While we agree that journalists should be sensitive to and respectful of peoples religious beliefs, we are particularly concerned about statements and calls by government officials and public figures suggesting that further punitive action will be or should be taken against the writer, editor, publication and publisher of ThisDay for the error in an article linked to the protests."

"It is significant, that the management of ThisDay had of its own accord issued an unreserved apology for the article, which offended the beliefs of Muslims. In the world of journalism, there can be no greater 'punishment' than for a media house to admit an error, and apologise unreservedly for a report or comments aired on its pages or frequencies."

CREDO's Coordinator further emphasised that "In a democratic society, it is not the place of the government to punish the media for errors, or contents of news reports, features or opinion articles. Any redress sought must be through the judiciary, or through an independent ethics or complaints body not appointed by or dominated by the government. This is because aside from providing news and information and a platform for debate and exchange of ideas, the media also plays a vital role of sustaining democracy through holding the government to account. The media cannot play this role, if the government can arbitrarily arrogate to itself, power to punish the media.

"ThisDay has further clarified that it is not anti-Islam neither does it advocate anti-Islamic sentiments. Indeed it has a significant number of Muslims in senior management positions. It is wrong therefore for the government or public figures to speak of further punishment, or blame the transfer of the beauty pageant on a conspiracy by the international and Nigerian media as the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Professor Jerry Gana is reported to have done."

"Politicians must not be opportunist in taking advantage of the public mood to strike blows against media freedom in order to weaken the media's role in holding them accountable to the electorate, neither must the public by design or error provide the government with an opportunity to 'punish' the media and curtail media freedom. It is public knowledge, that ThisDay amongst other publications, has in the recent past, published reports and editorials that have been critical of government policy and actions."

Media reports, indicate that the Muslim leader Dr. Lateef Adegbite, Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) led by example when following the controversial publication, he wrote to the Editor of ThisDay requesting the management to tender an apology and retract the article or face legal action. Following the publication of an apology, he appealed to Muslims to accept the apology of ThisDay and lay the issue to rest.

It is regrettable that many lives have been needlessly lost over this incident. The government must ensure that as a mater of principle, all unlawful deaths are investigated and appropriate action taken.

"We urge the Nigerian public to always seek redress by peaceful means, and to recognise that it is often the same media they will turn to provide a platform for them to air their own views or to exercise their right to free expression. ThisDay for instance provides a platform every Friday for the promotion of Islamic values, and does the same on Sundays for Christian values."

"While we appreciate the need for the Nigerian media to review its editorial process in order to avoid or minimise publication of 'inflammable' content, we call on the media and ThisDay in particular not to create an atmosphere that will facilitate self censorship."

"We are specifically concerned by the contents of a personal letter of apology from the ThisDay publisher, Mr Nduka Obaigbana published in the paper, after the initial apology from the publications management."

"The letter, reveals that he recently 'removed' an Editor of the paper, for allowing 'unfounded allegations' against President Obasanjo to be published and may do so again in this case. We believe that the media cannot always get it right, and that action by publishers that seeks to reconcile them to governments by sacrificing journalists only serves to undermine editorial independence and media freedom. Democracy needs a critical media to survive. Nigeria's growing democracy will not survive without an independent media. Instead of lowering its standards at its moment of vulnerability through self-censorship, the media should strive improve its standards, and sustain its independence."

CREDO is an International human rights organisation based in Senegal and London and focusing on work in Africa. CREDO believes that freedom of expression and other strongly associated rights, are major platforms on which all civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights stand. CREDO further believes that “without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” everyone is entitled to these rights as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, The African Charter on Peoples and Human Rights and other similar documents. While maintaining an international perspective, CREDO's work focuses on themes in Africa related to: freedom of expression, media freedom, rights/access to information and information resources; freedom of association, assembly and related rights; and anti-discrimination issues e.g. discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, political persuasion etc.

For further information, contact:
Centre for Research Education & Development Of
- [CREDO]- Freedom of Expression & Associated Rights.
Tel: + 44 20 77875501
Fax:+ 44 20 77875502
E-mail: Media - media@credonet.org , General - info@credonet.org

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