The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Tuesday described journalists as the oxygen of democracy, agents of change and development.
The Executive Secretary of the commission, Mr Tony Ojukwu, SAN, said this in a statement in Abuja in celebration of the World Press Freedom Day.
Reports have it that the event started since May 3, 1993.
It was designed to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and assess the state of press freedom around the world.
It also aims to defend the media against the attacks on its independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives while performing their duty.
In addition, to remind journalists of the need to adhere to their professional ethics, defend democracy, justice, equity and fairness.
Ojukwu said that the press is a critical agent for the protection of democracy and development, and must be supported.
He added that this will enable them to effectively discharge their constitutional duties as the watchdog of the society.
“The society see the journalists as the oxygen of democracy and agents of change and development.
“Their constitutional duty is enshrined in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, ‘to hold the goverment accountable to the people’ distinguishes them as those who perform essential duty to the nation.
“Nigerian journalists fought very hard to achieve our democratic status and deserve a better deal unlike the current situation where many of them struggle with poor conditions of service,” he said.
According to Ojukwu, journalists face other challenges, including censorship, harassment, intimidation and in some cases, assassinations.
He said at this time when Nigeria is at the crossroad of challenge of justice, equity and fairness to stabilise our democracy, the press is needed.
“The press must defend democracy by its commitment to holding our governments accountable to the truth always no matter the difficulties of the times.
“It must remain the conscience of the nation, telling the truth at times like this, to save our democracy.
“This year’s theme, ‘Journalism under digital siege’, is apt as it seeks to bring to the fore, the impact of the digital era on the freedom of the press,
the security of journalists and access to information and privacy,” he said.
Ojukwu stated that it is incontestable that the advent of the internet with the attendant boost in digital communication has benefited humanity in various ways.
He added at the same time it has threatened our right to privacy, since virtually nothing is hidden from the internet radar.
“It is on this note that I commend UNESCO for championing the proposed World Press Freedom Day Global Conference scheduled to hold between May 2 and 5, 2022, in Punta Del Este, Uruguay.
“The conference would be a forum for key players in the internet related companies, legal experts, journalists, etc, to discuss the challenges of digital communications, the impact on press freedom and the way forward,” Ojukwu said.
“The commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day is not an opportunity to witch-hunt any person or Institution, but is a period to reminisce the fundamental principles of press freedom,” he said.
He added it is a period to guage the state of press freedom globally and defend the media from attacks on their independence.
Ojukwu also said it was a time to pay tribute to journalists who are either human rights defenders in custody or captivity or have lost their lives in the line of duty.
He urged the law enforcement agencies, as a matter of necessity, intensify their investigations to unravel the circumstances surrounding the death Tordue Salem in Abuja, in 2021, among others.
Salem was a Vanguard newspaper journalist.