Today, 3rd May is the 2020 edition of World Press Freedom Day.
Interestingly, this year’s theme: Journalism without Fear or Favour, is apt and telling especially given the circumstances of the times we find ourselves —the Covid-19 pandemic.
To put the above statements in context, in Nigeria nay Africa and the world over the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus Disease 2019, COVID-19 in Wuhan, China in December 2019, ushered a new dimension of disinformation, conspiracy theories and inimical health advice amongst others.
For instance, in Cross River a sub-national entity in the south-southern geopolitical zone of Nigeria, the state government was reported to have misinformed the public on the level of preparedness of the state for any incident of Covid-19: particularly, the State Commissioner for Health while fielding question on a live radio talk show, said the state’s Covid-19 Isolation Centre was fully equipped with 5 ventilators, 25 bed spaces and a handful of other contributions from the state government, only for the management of the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, UCTH, a federal medical facility where the isolation centre is domiciled, to deny the information alleging that there was only a 4 bed space facility etc. The same state government said that Cross River had 105 physicians on government payroll whereas there are just 33 according to the Nigerian Medical Association, this is worst figure in entire country.
Similarly, in Akwa Ibom another sub-national entity in the south of the country, the state government was reported to be covering up actual case of the Covid-19 pandemic in the state even sacking the state epidemiologist for insisting on testing everyone who was eligible for testing according to Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC guidelines. Fundamentally, the pandemic has revealed the horrible status of public health institutions across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
But, journalism constitute a veritable tool to correct the challenge of misinformation particularly during the pandemic because it has constituted itself into a formidable institution considering its emphasis on verification and factuality.
In living out its essence, journalism as practiced by bloggers and citizen journalist under that aegis of Online Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria, OMPAN have been misunderstood, vilified and persecuted by public officers under the payroll of the Cross River State Government and a section of the the public as well unfortunately. A case in point is a recent campaign of calumny led by the media aide to the Right Honourable Speaker of the 9th Cross River State House of Assembly, CRSHA.
Ironically, while publishers, editors and correspondents of virtual news outfits have public officers to contend with one hand, they still have mainstream journalists to struggle with the other hand, thereby making the job more demanding than necessary. In fact, the former are profoundly constrained to report with fear and favour to the detriment of free press and the advancement of journalism in the state nay the country. To the latter, I am using this medium to extend the olive branch of complementation —we need your experience and professionalism much as you are glaringly in need of our expertise and advantage. We cannot act in exclusion of each other. Let us walk hand in gloves to stand up to misinformation and disinformation.
To my colleagues out there, I use the opportunity of this high day to charge you to the highest standards of truthfulness, objectivity, impartiality, public accountability, fairness and accuracy. To the public, be rest assured that despite the challenges on all sides, online media practitioners at OMPAN will live up in practice to the highest standards of journalism —without Fear or Favour.
Online Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria, Cross River, (OMPAN CRS)
Sunday, 3rd May 2020.