The Federal Government has rejected the 2021 annual World Press Freedom Index that characterized Nigeria as a country not conducive to the practice of journalism, saying Nigerian press remains among the most vibrant and freest in the world.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, announced this on Tuesday in Abuja when he received the executive members of the Nigerian chapter of the International Press Institute (IPI) on a courtesy visit to his office.
The President of IPI Nigeria, Mr. Muskilu Mojeed, who led the executive members on the visit, had cited the World Press Freedom Index as an example of the country’s low rating in the area of press freedom.
But Lai Mohammed said “I disagree with your assessment of press freedom under this government. Honestly, at times when I read what the media write here about Nigeria, I begin to wonder whether I live in the same country that they are writing about.
“I disagree vehemently with the assessment because it is unfounded and has no scientific basis. I have been the Minister (of Information and Culture) since 2015 so I know the state of press freedom in Nigeria,” the Minister said.
He clarified that some people have misconstrued government’s efforts to ensure a responsible use of social media as an attempt to tamper with press freedom or threaten independent journalism, emphasizing that the government does not harbor such intentions.
Alhaji Mohammed reiterated that the present government is not a threat to the media, and that it is not about to stifle press freedom or deny anyone his or her constitutionally-guaranteed rights.
“After all, this must be one of the very few countries in the world where a section of the media can refuse to recognize popular sovereignty, or how does one describe a situation in which a President who was duly elected by millions of Nigeria is willfully stripped of that title, President, and then cheekily cloaked in the garb of a dictator by playing up his military title? Despite that abuse of press freedom, those doing that have continued to practice their profession without hindrance.
“Ours must also be one of the few countries in the world where a reputable medium will report fake news and, when called out, will not retract or apologize,” he said.
The Minister enjoined the media to always stick to their constitutional watchdog role, and not to constitute themselves into a political opposition.
He also charged IPI Nigeria to take seriously the issues of ethics, credibility and fake news, among others, in relation to the practice of journalism in the country.
”For example, on the issue of ethics, is it part of the ethics of journalism for a media organization to function like an opposition party, seeing nothing good in the government of the day and only reporting bad news?” Alhaji Mohammed queried.
He called for a sustained engagement between the government and the IPI in order to share views on how to enhance the practice of journalism in the country.
In his remarks, the President of IPI Nigeria, Mr. Mojeed, said the visit was part of a series of engagements with governmental and non-governmental organizations to enhance independent journalism and operating environment for journalists and media organizations in Nigeria.