Pro-bono assistance and strategic litigations for a conducive legal environment for journalism in Nigeria

UNESCO: Could you please present yourself and introduce how you become committed to promoting media freedom?

Edetaen Ojo: My name is Edetaen Ojo, I am the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), an NGO based in Lagos, Nigeria. I am also currently the Chair of the Steering Committee of AFEX, the African Freedom of Expression Exchange, which a network of some of the most prominent freedom of expression organizations in Africa and has its secretariat in Accra, Ghana. From 2009 to 2013, I also served as Council member and Convenor (Chair) of IFEX, the global network of freedom of expression organizations which has its secretariat in Toronto, Canada. I am also a member of the Board of International Media Support (IMS), an international NGO based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In terms of how I became involved in promoting media freedom, I worked as a journalist in Nigeria about three decades ago, during a period of military rule when there were severe restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom in the country. The highly restrictive political environment made my work and the work that my colleagues did both difficult and dangerous. In addition to working under a very restrictive legal environment, I witnessed abuses and violation of the media rights of friends and colleagues, ranging from killings, arrests and detention, involuntary disappearances, physical assaults, torture, and so on. These experiences sparked my interest in promoting and defending media freedom, which I initially began doing part-time, alongside my work as a practicing journalist. But scale of the problem led me to make a full transition from my work as a journalist to the NGO sector, promoting and defending freedom of expression and media freedom. I have been doing this now on a full-time basis for slightly over two decades.

UNESCO: What is the mission of the Organization you are working for?

Edetaen Ojo: The mission of Media Rights Agenda, is to promote and defend the right to freedom of expression, including media freedom and access to information, online and offline.

UNESCO: What will you do thanks to the grant by the Global Media Defence Fund?

Edetaen Ojo: Thanks to the grant by the Global Media Defence Fund, Media Rights Agenda will provide pro bono legal assistance and litigation support to journalists in Nigeria whose rights are threatened or violated both to vindicate their rights as well as to combat the culture of impunity for such attacks. We will also undertake strategic litigation to challenge repressive laws, unjust policies and administrative and other practices by government officials as well as other actors which inhibit the safe and free practice of journalism in Nigeria.

UNESCO: What will be the impact of this action?

Edetaen Ojo: Through our activities under the grant, we hope to bring about a more conducive social and legal environment for journalism practice in Nigeria. We hope to provide support and relief to at least twenty journalists and other media professionals or media organizations whose rights are threatened or violated as well as to strike down, using the judicial process, some of the most repressive laws and policies affecting media practice.

UNESCO: Any suggestions/recommendations you would like to make to UNESCO as administrator of the Global Media Defence Fund and to its donors?

Edetaen Ojo: Many of the issues that will be addressed under the Fund, both by Media Rights Agenda and other partners will be problems that have festered over long periods. While some quick wins may be possible under the various interventions being undertaken by the different partners to UNESCO under the Fund, for the most part, it will require sustained and relentless action to decisively resolve such problems. UNESCO and its donors should therefore give serious consideration to designing the grants to provide long-term or follow up support in deserving cases so that early gains are not reversed or the possibility of long-term results or sustainable outcomes lost.

Interview series : Stories of media defence put into action

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