By G9ija

The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr Umana Okon Umana, has urged journalists to exercise their constitutional freedom with a sense of duty and responsibility.

Mr. Umana gave this charge at a ceremony marking World Press Freedom Day, organised by the Akwa Ibom State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) held in Uyo on Monday.

The Minister, who was represented by his media aide, Mr. Iboro Otongaran, pointed out that while “a free press is the oxygen for a free society, freedom must be exercised within the law. We must balance rights and responsibility”.

He observed that this year’s theme, “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a Driver for All Other Human Rights” shows that in the UN’s consideration, all other fundamental rights are given force by the right to freedom of the press and of expression, underscoring the weight of the responsibility on the shoulder of the journalist.

“The question is, How well has he (journalist) handled this responsibility? He queried.

The Minister also noted that “every freedom carries with it the duty of responsible behaviour. How responsibly have Nigerian journalists used the freedom provided for them in Chapter 4, section 39 of the 1999 Constitution as amended?

“A cursory look at the media shows that much of media practice has not demonstrated the level of responsibility that is commensurate with the freedom guaranteed in the Constitution, and duly upheld by the Government, even with the Freedom of Information Act.

“The new media (also called social media) is the member of the media family that is most guilty of this irresponsible conduct. The reason for this aberration is obvious.

“Most online publications are not manned by professionals, besides the lack of regulation for that segment of the media. However, it is hoped that the application of legal liability to libelous, seditious, and obscene publications in online media would whip errant online media platforms into line.”

He, however, paid glowing tribute to the Nigerian press, saying “the media, on balance, has acquitted itself well with regard to providing the information and enlightenment that empowers the polity, energises the markets and strengthens the cultural environment” but insisted that there is much room for improvement.