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Judiciary key in protecting freedom of expression – UNESCO

By Busayo Onijala

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) says the judiciary plays an essential role in protection of freedom of expression and access to information, particularly for journalists.

Ms Nuhu Yachat, Representative, UNESCO Regional Office in Nigeria, said this during a capacity building workshop on freedom of expression and safety of journalists for State High Court judges on Tuesday in Lagos.

The three-day workshop, organised by UNESCO, aims to provide a platform for the discussion of international and regional standards on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists as they affected Nigeria.

Yachat said journalists, when free to investigate, analyse and diffuse news, were essential for strengthening the implementation of policies and standards in the areas of good governance, democracy and human rights.

According to her, a free, independent and pluralistic media, working in safe conditions, can serve as a watchdog for democracy, ensuring the free flow of information and the exercise of the public’s right to information.

“UNESCO is the only UN agency with a specific mandate to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image.

“The agency works to foster free, independent and pluralistic media in print, broadcast and online and sees media development as a means of enhancing freedom of expression.

“Freedom of expression and safety of journalists as well as ending impunity for crimes and attacks committed against them are of importance to UNESCO’s objectives of ensuring that the rule of law and human rights are achieved,” she said.

The UNESCO representative said with the general elections fast approaching, the workshop was timely, stressing that the role of journalists became even more important in periods of elections.

This, she said, was because their reporting on candidates’ positions allowed citizens to make informed political choices.

Yachat added that judges played a vital role in ensuring safety of journalists in terms of protection against, prevention and prosecution of crimes and attacks against journalists.

“UNESCO hopes that this workshop will strengthen the rule of law and human rights in Nigeria by reinforcing the knowledge and capacities of our judges on public access to information, and the safety of journalists,” said Yachat.

Also, Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General of the federation and Minister of Justice, said freedom of the press constituted one of the essential pillars of a democratic society and the basic condition for its progress and development.

Malami, represented by Dr Umar Gwandu, Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, said as long as there was a right to life, the freedom of expression must be guaranteed and protected.

“It is essential to note that Nigeria operates a constitutional democracy that guarantees freedom of expression and we have veritable platforms that enable Nigerians exercise their inalienable fundamental right to unhindered ventilation of opinions,” said Malami.

He, however, said just like other rights, the right to freedom of expression was not absolute.

According to him, the government expects that the press and other citizens should not exercise their right to freedom of expression in such a manner as would jeopardise or threaten national security and cohesion.

“There are clearly spelt out exceptions and reasonably justifiable legal restrictions to this right, which should guide the citizens in their conduct and judicial actors in the process of adjudication.

“The courts, therefore, play a vital role in interpreting the parameters of this right.

“This is why this training workshop is important as it aims at equipping judicial actors with broader insight on the parameters of this right and the importance of protecting same in tandem with democratic norms,” Malami said. (NAN) (www.nannews.ng)

Edited by Salif Atojoko