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Akinfeleye… when distinguished scholar joined World Journalism Education Council

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Prof. Akinfeleye

The journalism and mass communication scholar at the University of Lagos, Professor Ralph A. Akinfeleye has been elected into the prestigious Council of the World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) to represent Africa for the next three years. The election was the climax of the fifth World Journalism Education Congress held at the Université Paris-Dauphine/PSL, in France, from July 9 to 11, 2019. The congress reunited more than 600 participants, professors, researchers, professionals, and representatives of journalism schools from 70 countries. About 200 peer-reviewed papers were presented during the three days event. Nigeria was represented at the global meet by Prof. Akinfeleye and Dr. Fassy Yusuf who teaches at the Department of Mass Department, University of Lagos.

Created in 2007 as an exclusive forum devoted to the teaching of journalism, the election of Akinfeleye into the council of the congress is in recognition of his invaluable contribution to journalism education especially in Nigeria. For decades, the eminent scholar has remained a consistent advocate of continuous training for journalists as a condition to offer excellent services for the growth of the society.

This point is evident in his inaugural lecture delivered on May 14, 2003 as he said, “the kind of journalism training is as important as the journalists themselves because the type of training received is reflective of the kind of journalistic performance. How should a journalist be trained? Should there be any conflict between the government and the media institutions about training and education of Nigerian journalists? Should the government in a developing country such as Nigeria own or be allowed to ‘monopolise’ the training and education of journalists? Should the education and training of Nigerian journalists be controlled by foreign or local private capital, or by public corporation or even directly by individuals? How can the training and education of Nigerian journalists be conducted most effectively so as to reflect the prevailing socio-economic, socio-cultural and political ideological philosophies, Nigerian and/or African cultural particularities and cultural peculiarities?”

Based on his experience as a journalist and media educator, Akinfeleye, for a long time, has been canvassing the need for reform in the training and education of Nigerian journalists. He is of the opinion that “the education of the Nigerian journalists should begin from the secondary school level. His argument is that if in Nigeria, “we can teach algebra, trigonometry, Macbeth, history of the British Empire, British Constitution, Latin, French and the like at the secondary school level, I do not see why journalism should not be taught at the secondary level in Nigeria.” He believes that an earlier journalism exposure will certainly help in the quality of work by such Nigerian journalist.

Journalism training and education in Nigeria, he has consistently warned, “is enslaved at the non-university level by tyranny of rigid and narrow curricular, unreasonable tasks, demands and contradictory philosophical foundations.” For years, he said, academic crime was committed against the profession of journalism as he therefore mobilized a congregation of Nigerian journalists and journalism educators not only to remedy the situation, but also to design and execute curricular of relevance for journalists of 21st century.

According to Akinfeleye, it is certainly not enough for a journalist to know how to write or edit the news, he/she, among other things, should first be taught how to gather the news. This is because, he explained, gathering the news is an art, while reporting the news is a process as journalists by acquiring relevant qualitative and systematic journalism education and training that is consistent with dynamic changes in the society, especially technological advancements.

The recent outcome of his timeless efforts on journalism education is the unbundling of the study of mass communication into different disciplines. Akinfeleye spearheaded that campaign that involved all the eggheads in the field of communication in the Ivory Towers. For two years, a total of 76 eminent scholars worked on developing new curriculum that is relevant to global trend and international benchmark. The document has enjoyed partial approval of the National Universities Commission (NUC), as the final approval is being awaited. “Our presentation is an aggregation of the views of university lecturers, 76 altogether. We worked on the document that was prepared for two years. It is a draft proposal to revise undergraduate programmes being offered for the award of the first degree in communication and media studies in the country. The effort was supported by a grant given by Mc Arthur Foundation and coordinated by Bayero University, Kano (BUK) under the chairmanship of Prof Umar Pate. The exercise also involved the industry practitioners, regulators such as NUC, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Nigerian Press Council (NPC), Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Nigerian Communication Commission NCC and others including Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ). There were also professional groups such as Nigerian Guild of Editors, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON)… Proposed were seven courses, no university is obliged to start all the seven at once, but the proposal is to be approached with consideration for ways and means. Two is the minimum you can start with. The seven independent degree-awarding departments which the proposed curriculum seeks to establish are: Journalism and Media Studies; Public Relations; Advertising; Broadcasting, Film and Multimedia Studies, Development Communication Studies as well as Information and Media Studies,” Akinfeleye recalled last Tuesday during a chat over his latest electoral feat.

The focus of WJEC on journalism is borne out of the realization that many congresses and symposium are dedicated mainly to mass communication with little or no attention paid to journalism and journalism education. This mission of the congress is to help improve the teaching of journalism by providing an international forum for professionals and by issuing recommendations.

And major outcome of Paris gathering is the Declaration on Freedom of Journalism Education. It underscores the belief of WJEC in the strong link between the quality of journalism education and the quality of information people to which they are entitled to as the body argues that “there cannot be an environment of quality information without quality journalism.”

Reiterating that journalism education has a fundamental role to play towards more inclusive societies and the United Nations’ 2030 development agenda, the body insists that quality journalism depends greatly on proper journalism education and training.

The consensus at the Paris meet is that Declaration on Freedom of Journalism Education will help participants to make their authorities understand the specificity of journalism education from the academic and from the resources point of view, while strengthening the WJEC as a global network of journalism educators.

The declaration reads further thus:
Reinforcing the Declaration of Principles developed at the first meeting of the World Journalism Education Congress in Singapore in 2007 which advocated for journalism education as a distinct field with its own body of knowledge and theory, closely allied with the practice of journalism and deserving respect within both the academic and professional communities;

Noting that journalism, as an academic discipline, plays a significant role in society including progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals;

Acknowledging that in an age of disinformation, misinformation and threat to press freedom, the role of independent journalism is more important than ever;

Observing that resources allocated to journalism education are an investment in long-term institutional capacity to help guarantee strong, independent and quality journalism;

Responding to the key role that journalism education can play in this historical period:
Resolution was therefore reached on the following principles for journalism educators and trainers, academic as well as professional:

Maintain strong and independent governance of journalism schools and journalism departments, which should have a faculty level of power and decision-making, and have recognized academic autonomy from external actors;

Preserve journalism education as a distinctive stream compared to other fields of mass and strategic communication;

Mobilize the necessary funding for excellence in curricula and extracurricular outreach as required for the quality functioning of a journalism school;

Maintain a balance between academic knowledge and the technical skills of the journalism craft;
Recognize gender equality in and through journalism education as a cross-cutting priority;
Promote diversity as a key factor in journalism education: diversity among students, diversity among staff, diversity among topics taught;

Encvourage a critical spirit for journalism education research, including in experiments and innovations concerning pedagogies, journalistic practices and media business models.

Specifically, members of the WJEC call on journalism educators and trainers and their institutions and organizations to advocate for adherence to the Declaration.

Not only that, they want leaders in higher education and training NGOs to take the principles into their practice; national departments of education, media industries, private businesses and donors, including international donors, to ensure sufficient funding for journalism education while respecting its independence; and that UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication should support the Declaration and bring it to the attention of UNESCO member states.

France hosted the congress for the first time. The Paris-Dauphine Journalism School, the Institut organized the event in collaboration with the Réseau Théophraste of Francophones journalism schools and the Conférence des Ecoles de Journalisme (CEJ).

During the Congress the Paris Declaration on Freedom of Journalism Education was signed by Joe Foote, Founder and President of the World Journalism Education Council and Pascal Guénée, the director of IPJ Dauphine-PSL in the company of Isabelle Huault, the President of the Université Paris-Dauphine/PSL and Marie-Christine Lemardeley, the deputy Mayor of Paris.

Previous conferences were held in Singapore, South Africa, Belgium and New Zealand. The next one will be held in China in 2023.


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