Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August 2014, 14:37 GMT

Freedom of the Press 2009 - Nigeria

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 1 May 2009
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2009 - Nigeria, 1 May 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b274200c.html [accessed 21 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 15 (of 30)
Political Environment: 22 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 17 (of 30)
Total Score: 54 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Covers events that took place between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2008.

Media freedom suffered a setback in 2008 when a freedom of information (FOI) bill, pending in the parliament since 1999, failed to pass out of committee despite strong support from domestic and international media groups. Although the 1999 constitution guarantees freedom of expression, of the press, and of assembly, the state often uses arbitrary actions and extralegal measures to suppress political criticism and expression in the media, and a culture of impunity for crimes against the media persists. Libel remains a criminal offense, and under Nigerian law the burden of proof still rests with the defendant. Criminal prosecution also continues to be used against journalists covering sensitive issues such as official corruption, separatist movements, and communal violence. In addition, Sharia (Islamic law) statutes in 12 northern states impose severe penalties for alleged press offenses. In 2007, both houses of the National Assembly passed the long-awaited FOI bill – which among other provisions would criminalize the destruction or falsification of any official record by any officer, government administrator, or public institution – but outgoing president Olusegun Obasanjo declined to sign the bill into law. In April 2008, the resubmitted bill was rejected by a committee in the House of Representatives. Under the current legal framework, access to information remains restricted by laws like the 1962 Official Secrets Act and the Sedition Law.

Various security agencies used arbitrary detention and extrajudicial measures in attempts to muffle political activism and restrict press coverage that was perceived as critical or was related to sensitive issues such as official corruption, violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta, or the president's health. In January, security agents in Akwa Ibom state detained and pressed sedition charges against a local newspaper distributor and a newspaper chairman in connection with a story alleging that the state governor had ties to corrupt individuals. In April, security forces arrested four U.S. filmmakers and one Nigerian who were shooting a documentary on the Niger Delta region. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the film crew spent a week in custody without being charged. In August, freelance U.S. filmmaker Andrew Berends and his Nigerian translator, Samuel George, were detained by state security agents in Port Harcourt. Berends was released after three days, but was forced to undergo 10 days of questioning before being deported; George was held for five days and interrogated for another three weeks, CPJ reported. Separately, the State Security Service (SSS), an elite corps under the president's direct command – continued to retaliate against critical coverage of the federal government. SSS agents in September temporarily closed the Lagos and Abuja offices of the privately owned Channels TV station and detained at least four staff members after the station mistakenly aired a fabricated report that President Umaru Yar'Adua might step down for health reasons. In November, the SSS detained the publisher of the newspaper Leadership, Sam Nda-Isaiah, and questioned him for two days regarding a report alleging that the president was critically ill. A presidential directive instructed the police to arrest Nda-Isaiah along with two editors and a former associate editor at the paper for alleged "defamation of character and injurious falsehood" over the story. The journalists were released on bail pending trial, which was postponed until 2009.

Two Nigerian journalists were murdered in 2008 for reasons that remained unclear at year's end. In August, Paul Abayomi Ogundeji, a board member of the private daily ThisDay, was shot to death in a suburb of Lagos. Two Nigerian papers reported that he was shot by a uniformed police officer, according to the U.S. State Department. In October, Eiphraim Audu, a senior radio journalist with the Nasarawa State Broadcasting Service, was assassinated by unidentified gunmen near his home in Lafia. Investigations into both murders were still pending at year's end. Physical violence against journalists remained a common occurrence, particularly for those covering public protests, political rallies, or abuses of power by security forces. In March, Dave Amusa, the Rivers State correspondent for the National Mirror, was beaten by police while attempting to enter the Independent Electoral Commission offices in Port Harcourt to report on council poll results. In August, security forces assaulted a Channels TV cameraman who sought to take pictures of a raid on the Abuja residence of a Niger Delta militant leader. Police officers in Lagos reportedly beat three print journalists who were covering a political rally by the opposition Action Congress party in September.

There are more than 100 national and local publications, the most influential of which are privately owned. The press is vibrant and vocally critical of unpopular state policies. The broadcast industry has been liberalized since 1992, and hundreds of licenses have been granted by the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), although many licensees continue to experience financial difficulties, limiting their viability. Radio tends to be the main source of information for Nigerians, while television is used mostly in urban areas and by the affluent. Private television stations are restricted by the requirement that 60 percent of their programming be produced locally. In December, the NBC chief executive stated that starting in 2009, all prime-time news broadcasts by local stations would have to be 100 percent local content. An NBC ban from 2004 on the live broadcast of foreign programs, including news, on domestic services remained in force. Foreign broadcasters, particularly the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation, are important sources of news in the country.

There were no reports that the government restricted access to the internet or monitored e-mail, although online news sites that are critical of the government have occasionally experienced disruptions, possibly because of authorities' attempts to impair service. In October, SSS operatives detained two U.S.-based bloggers upon their arrival at Nigerian airports. Their detentions may have stemmed from articles speculating on the president's health, or from reports on corruption among Nigerian politicians; one blogger was reportedly accused of "threatening national security." Both were released from custody, but the SSS continued to hold their passports and prevent them from leaving the country at year's end.

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