As we observe the World Press Freedom Day 2020, we are facing an unprecedented global health pandemic that seems to overshadow the perennial violations and cowardly attacks journalists suffer on daily basis in the performance of their service to humanity.
Without doubt, the Coronavirus outbreak and spread across the world has added to the anxieties of journalists working in extremely volatile and treacherous environments. The entire world is in a lockdown by the virus that has so far claimed the lives of 280 of our people in the West African sub-region. A few journalists are amongst the over 11,500 cases documented in the region thus far.
In spite of the associated risks, ours is a mandate and challenge to inform our people, even at the peril of our lives. This is why the global theme of this year’s WPFD celebration is mobilizing us to do: “Journalism Without Fear or Favour”. We celebrate the bravery and professionalism of all of our colleagues who have remained true to their calling regardless of the attacks and threats.
Indeed, when politicians are at their usual posturing and feasting on the wounds of ordinary citizens, it is journalists who must come to the rescue of the people. Yes, your insistence on telling the truth and exposing their failings, makes you a target. But that is okay, in so far as the truth is your objective.
While resisting the powerful, journalists must also reject those involved in manipulating public opinion about the spread of the virus. There are those who are drumming all manner of disinformation, conspiracy theories, myths and prophecies about the disease; the media must help our people by giving them facts about the virus on traditional and especially, social media.
During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone combined, recorded 11,310 deaths, while 14 people died in Nigeria and Mali, bringing the total deaths to 11,324. We are all witnesses to the devastation caused by the disease and the effects it is still having on survivors.
I call on journalists everywhere across the sub-region to work overtime to help avert and limit the impact of Covid-19 on the people by confronting the lies and propaganda being spread. Our people need expert and timely information about the disease in order to fight the virus and stay safe. You can do it.
I also call on our political leaders to stop putting unnecessary roadblocks in the way of journalists who are themselves taking risk for the safely of the population. Pointless restrictions on the press and heavy-handed actions to get citizens obey to lockdown are helping to spread the virus.
In a recent speech on the Covid-19, World Health Organization Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus demanded unity against the virus. He said “The unity of your country will be very important to defeat this dangerous virus.” Adding, “It exploits the differences you have at the national level. If you want to be exploited and if you want to have many more body bags, then go ahead and politicize it.
My regards to you all and please endeavor to stay safe.