This week, Abuja and Nigeria have been hosting some of the top journalists, media practitioners and communication scholars of the world at the 2018 World Congress of the International Press Institute, IPI, whose slogan is ‘Defending Press Freedom Since 1950’.
This Column is doubly proud because the Chairman of IPI Nigeria, and Convener of the Congress, is Mallam Kabir Yusuf, Chairman of Media Trust Publications (publishers of this newspaper which hosts IPI Nigeria). The Congress ends tomorrow Sunday, and those interested can follow proceedings on www.ipiworldcongress.com.
Under the theme “Why Good Journalism Matters: Quality Journalism for Strong Societies”, the 2018 Congress marks the first time IPI has held its flagship global press freedom event in West Africa, and event which aims to affirm the indispensable role of quality media in building strong societies, showcasing investigative stories and projects that bring positive change to individuals and communities in Africa and around the world.
In his keynote address to declare open the Congress on Thursday eveing, President Muhammadu Buhari underscored the importance of quality journalism to building strong societies by restating the theme “Good journalism promotes good governance”. He sought to draw a distinction between quality journalism and what he described as hate speech and “fake news”, adding “In a world where the borderline between hate speech and free speech has become blurred, good journalism matters. In an environment where fake news dwarfs investigative reporting, good journalism matters.”
President Buhari urged participants to give depth to the topic during their discussions and conclusions. “Our country has a rich history of robust relationship with the IPI; prominent Nigerian journalists and media operators were and continue to be in the leadership of the international body. But perhaps the most significant symbol of this special relationship is the Nigeria Institute of Journalism, Ogba, Ikeja, Lagos established by IPI in 1963. It is our pride that your vision of a professional journalism training institution in Nigeria has taken firm root,” he stated, adding that it was a reflection of the IPI’s assessment of Nigeria as a safe country that it gave the nation the hosting rights for the congress. “As you have seen since your arrival, you made a wise and right choice.”
Others who spoke at the opening ceremony included IPI Executive Board Chair John Yearwood, IPI Executive Board Vice Chair Dawn Thomas (who described the decision to host IPI’s 2018 Congress in Nigeria in part as an acknowledgement of the country’s historical importance to the IPI’s community), and IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi (who noted that the Abuja Congress opened amid a “sense that independent journalism is under attack” around the world.) The hosts, IPI Nigeria, and the Local Organising Committee also welcomed the international delegates from more than 40 countries.
The International Press Institute (IPI) is a Vienna, Austria-based global network of editors, journalists and media executives who share a common dedication to quality, independent journalism and is dedicated to furthering and safeguarding press freedom, protecting freedom of opinion and expression, promoting the free flow of news and information, and improving the practices of journalism.
The IPI helps to promote the conditions that allow journalism to fulfill its public function, the most important of which is the media’s ability to operate free from interference and without fear of retaliation. The Institute’s mission is to defend media freedom and the free flow of news wherever they are threatened.
Supported by a professional secretariat in Vienna, IPI works by conducting direct advocacy with governments; raising awareness on violations of media freedom through news coverage, research and analysis; leading programmes and campaigns to further change; offering platforms for cooperation, networking and skills exchange among our members; promoting high-quality, independent journalism through the development of best practices at the global level; and providing opportunities for dialogue among diverse journalistic communities, in line with IPI’s founding principles.
At present, the IPI is running projects and campaigns all over the world on many issues confronting journalists and journalism practice. One of these is ‘Journalist Safety and Impunity’ where the Institute campaigns against violent acts against journalists and impunity for those who commit the violent acts – seen as two of the biggest threats to media freedom in our world today. Dozens of journalists are murdered each year, with most of these crimes going unpunished. IPI is at the forefront of the battle to ensure a safe working environment for the world’s press.
Another campaign, ‘Digital Attacks on Journalists’ (codenamed OnTheLine) is IPI’s digital media initiative which seeks to expose and counter a range of threats to the free flow of news online, including the online harassment of journalists, oppressive legal and regulatory frameworks, and technical interference. IPI has a secure reporting platform that offers a safe way for journalists to report online attacks.
IPI also campaigns for media laws that protect journalism’s watchdog role and for laws that meet international standards through its ‘Media Laws Database’. It also has what it calls ‘Death Watch’ where it systematically tallies the number of journalists believed to have died worldwide as a direct result of their job – those targeted because of their reporting and those who lost their lives while on assignment. The figures are harrowing, it says – over 1,500 killed since IPI records began, and 110 in 2015 alone.
Then there’s fake news. President Buhari had alluded to it in his address – as well as two hate speech – two issues of particular concern, especially in Nigeria and the developing world. The IPI admits that so-called ‘fake news’ presents an acute challenge for media outlets and policymakers worldwide.
On the one hand, it says, the spreading of false information via print, broadcast and electronic means to mislead, confuse and sensationalise has made it increasingly difficult for the public to decide whom and what to trust, as the tide of disinformation threatens to drown out quality reporting based on facts and journalistic inquiry; while on the other hand, raising concerns about ‘fake news’ can also backfire, with politicians employing the term to delegitimise critics and governments – even well-meaning ones – contemplating legislation to counter disinformation that have potentially serious consequences for freedom of expression.
Yesterday Friday, second day of the Congress, started with a town-hall-style discussion on “Why Good Journalism Matters”, featuring leading editors and media executives from the BBC, The Associated Press, Al Jazeera, The Philippines’s Rappler and South Africa’s Mail & Guardian. The Friday afternoon session was dedicated to the Africa Media Forum, which saw leading African journalists, editors, academics and tech representatives debate the future of press freedom and independent journalism in Africa.
Today, Saturday, one of the highlights of activities shall be an interactive session with Ghana’s Anas Aremeyaw Anas, the Tiger Eye undercover investigative journalist who has exposed corruption in his country’s judiciary and, lately, in its football administration.
Nigeria is still yearning for its ‘Anas’, although the BBC Africa’s recent ‘Sweet Sweet Codeine’ documentary really rattled the Nigerian establishment which had hitherto remained complacent about drugs abuse in the country.
Once again, to all IPI delegates, welcome to Nigeria.