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JOURNALISTS PUSH FOR LEGAL REFORMS TO SAFEGUARD FREE EXPRESSION

Journalists, editors and other media professionals from Nigeria have called on their government to pass a long-delayed access to information bill and revoke repressive laws that inhibit press freedom and freedom of expression.

At a workshop organised recently in Lagos by Media Rights Agenda and the World Bank Institute (WBI), some 50 participants adopted a statement that urged President Olusegun Obasanjo to pass the Freedom of Information Bill, which has been pending before parliament since 1999.

"Media practitioners require access to information to be able to effectively discharge the responsibility imposed on them by Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution to uphold the accountability of the Government to the people.

However, various legal provisions and institutional practices of public bodies impede access to information for media practitioners and other citizens alike," the statement read.

The participants also called for a repeal of Nigeria's laws affecting free speech and the media, saying the current "legal, institutional and regulatory frameworks for media practice inhibit media freedom and freedom of expression."

They cited the President's power to approve broadcast licences as an example of how the media's independence could be vulnerable to political manipulation.

Entitled "Media Institutions and Capacity in Nigeria", the workshop was held on 18-20 October 2005 and examined the state of Nigeria's mass media industry. Participants discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the media sector, and discussed possible strategies to create strong, effective and independent media institutions.

Other issues discussed included the role of media in governance and development, the use of new media technologies, and the need for effective media oversight and strong regulations to protect freedom of expression and press freedom.

The final statement includes several recommendations for reforms, which can be viewed here:
http://mediarightsagenda.org/wbimra.html
Visit these links:

- MRA's Freedom of Information Campaign: http://mediarightsagenda.org/foi.html
- World Bank Institute: www.worldbank.org/wbi
- Model Freedom of Information Law: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/standards/modelfoilaw.pdf
- The Public's Right to Know: Principles on Freedom of Information Legislation:
http://www.article19.org/pdfs/standards/righttoknow.pdf
- CPJ Report on Press Freedom in Nigeria: http://www.cpj.org/attacks04/africa04/nigeria.html
- IPI Report on Nigeria: http://www.freemedia.at/wpfr/Africa/nigeria.htm

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