United State’s Consul General Lagos, Claire Pierangelo
IN view of recent developments in Nigeria, reporters, editors, media executives, and civil society representatives must remain vigilant to protect the right to freedom of expression and press freedom.
This charge was directed at members of the Nigerian press and civil society by United State’s Consul General Lagos, Claire Pierangelo in her remark when she hosted “Conversation on Press Freedom, Freedom of Expression and Civic Space in Nigeria” on Wednesday at her residence in Ikoyi, Lagos.
She said that to fulfill its highest civic purpose, the press must be both independent and unbiased, adding that without independence, a media outlet functions as a public relations mouthpiece for the government and other powerful interests.
“You will agree with me that a free press is a core pillar to a democracy. There’s a reason why the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely.
“I have been in Lagos as Consul General since 2019. I have spoken with hundreds, perhaps thousands of Nigerians about democracy, elections, and the history of Nigeria. These conversations have shaped my perception that Nigeria has a vibrant democracy and a relatively free press.
“However, some concerns remain about the freedom of journalists to do their job. We take note when legislation is introduced which could have significant consequences for the freedom of the press,” Pierangelo said.
The Consul General described Nigerian government’s ongoing suspension of Twitter and stated intent to introduce registration requirements for other social media platforms as “deeply worrisome”.
She said, “Banning or significantly restricting social media, including under threat of prosecution, undermines Nigerians’ human rights and fundamental freedoms. We are encouraged by the meetings between Twitter and government technical committee last week aimed at resolving the suspension.”
Continuing, Pierangelo said, “In the same breath, history is full of cautionary tales showing that when governments try to limit citizens’ right to talk about certain topics, important conversations are pushed into the shadows allowing individuals to express their opinions — no matter how much the government and other citizens may disagree with them. Rigorous debate promotes transparency and social stability.
“The United States, however, understands that with more freedom comes more responsibility. Advances in technology and increased reliance on social media platforms as sources of information make the accuracy and objectivity of your reporting crucial. More than ever before, good journalism relies on accurate, in-depth, and critical reporting of facts on matters of public concern or interest.
“One of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, put it well when he said, “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.” Jefferson also added, “[W]ere it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to putting human rights at the heart of our foreign policy and that includes press freedom and freedom of expression.”