A human rights activist, Femi Falana, on Monday said journalists should have their facts at hand so that if they are prosecuted, lawyers would be able to defend them in court.
The senior advocate represented by Samuel Ogala, a lawyer from his chamber, gave the advice during a workshop for legal support to journalists.
The workshop was organised by Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)
“As a journalist, you must have your facts at hand so that at the end of the day, if you are to be prosecuted, lawyers would be able to defend you.
“As lawyers, we all need to make a lot of sacrifices so that at the end of the day, the person you are representing wound gain freedom,” Mr Falana said.
One of the facilitators, Country Director, Amnesty International, Osai Ojigho, after her presentation on Press Freedoms within the African Regional System, urged lawyers to look at their strategies and tactics and work with private firms for the provision of pro-bono services, find or join public interest networks, among others.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the organiser of the workshop, Stephanie Adams, a PTCIJ Program Officer, Media Freedom, said, currently the project has 25 lawyers who have experience in rights issues, press freedom and freedom of expression cases.
She said the workshop and induction was designed to set the agenda for the coalition “whose primary deliverables will be to offer legal advice to journalists as well as bloggers who find themselves in situations where their constitutionally guaranteed rights are being outrightly violated”.
Ms Adams said this is the pilot phase but hopes that at the end, it will lead to an increase of coalition members.
She also said the expected outcome of the training is for more journalists and media organisations to pursue the legal option in demanding their rights to work as journalists as well as an attempt to set legal precedents that will impact on legal cases on press freedom in the future.
According to her, there is a need for the decision to expand the Press Freedom Project of the PTCIJ to include legal aid.
She said this is driven by the fact that effective advocacy for press freedom must include demanding the enforcement of these rights from the justice system.
“The legal option must be exercised in demanding for a free press and a lot of journalists and even media organisations cannot afford to pursue this option because of the cost of litigation. The support from the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) allows us to include this long-needed intervention in our programming.”
She further said the coalition formed at the end of the training would work to provide legal advice and initiation and/or support of ongoing cases as well as review and push for amendment or outright repeal of oppressive press laws.
“An overarching objective is the development of a Nigerian Charter on Press Freedom,” she added.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, participants expressed willingness to take up the challenge and fight for press freedom.
One of the participants, Glitter Luka, said the workshop was enlightening, as a lot of things “she does not know affects her as a lawyer, she found out affects everyone”.
Ms Luka said “I got to find out that the oppression of the press or anything related to press freedom if it is not allowed, it is infringement not only on the right of the journalist but an infringement on my right as a human. My right to know, my right to disseminate information and my right to freely get access.”
Another participant, Emeka Nwadioke, a legal practitioner, said “the programme was very enlightening, it has been an eye-opener in several respects.
Case subject of press freedom is very fundamental to any person and we cannot afford a situation were journalists are threatened and their freedom jeopardised or not guaranteed.”
Mr Nwadioke added that the workshop also sharpened their skills as lawyers, and that “they could only get better with what they have learnt from the workshop.”
Jessica Odudu said she learnt an important cause that as lawyers, “we should use international instruments more.”