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At workshop, journalists tackle regulation, unethical practices


Participants at a two-day workshop on “Ethical Journalism: An Indispensable Asset For Media Integrity” organised by the Nigerian Press Council in Akure

Freedom of the press is under attack around the world, and everywhere journalistic ethics are being scrutinised as never before. Press freedom and journalistic ethics are such crucial topics in today’s media landscape.

In an attempt to interrogate this radically changing media climate, a two-day workshop was recently organised by the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) in Akure, Ondo State, for media professionals in Southwest geopolitical zone.

The workshop, with the theme: ‘Ethical Journalism: An Indispensable Asset for Media Integrity’ brought together about 60 journalists drawn from Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Osun states to consider restrictions and barriers to press freedom as well the role of ethics in these challenging times.

The need to uphold these ethical codes of journalism in order to boost the integrity of the Nigerian media formed the kernel of discussions at the workshop.

With resource persons drawn from the academia and other professions, paper presenters ex-rayed the journalism code of ethics and the level of compliance by media professionals.

Dr. Qasim Akinreti, current chairman of Nigerian Union of Journalists, Lagos State Council, discussed ‘Professionalism and Nigerian Media – A Professional Self-Assessment’. Dr. Raphael Abimbola of the Department of Mass Communication, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State discussed ‘Fake News Versus Media Integrity’. Bisi Olawunmi treated ‘Code of Ethics: A tool for responsible and objective reporting’, while Felix Talabi looked at ‘Political Violence, National Security and the Nigerian Media: Need for synergy’.

According to Akinreti, “a media professional must have attained the highest professional education and training for his practice. A profession, therefore, is the vocation or occupation that requires advanced education and training as well as intellectual skills.”

He urged journalists to prepare for high media integrity through functional, clearly defined educational standards, licensing and enforcement of performance standards.

“Competence, continuous training, relevant educational body of knowledge, standards of evolution and improvement programmes are essential in this direction,’’ Akinreti argued.

Since journalism required a high degree of public trust, the NUJ chairman said it was morally imperative for every journalist and every news medium to observe the highest professional and ethical standards.

“In the exercise of these duties, a journalist should always have much regard for the public interest. Truth is the cornerstone of journalism, and every journalist should strive diligently to ascertain the truth of every event,’’ he said.

He suggested that a black book for media professionals should be opened. “Naming and shaming of erring journalists should be encouraged.’’

According to him, industry regulation, especially for the print media in the areas of enforcing discipline, reprimand and naming and shaming techniques by the NPC, in collaboration with the NUJ, Nigerian Guild of Editor’s (NGE), Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) must be strictly adhered to.

Abimbola is worried that fake news has pervaded Nigeria’s media space and eroding the integrity of the information industry, apart from its other serious implications.

He opined that it is the duty of gatekeepers in news processing – reporters and editors – to maintain media integrity by upholding ethical standards in their day-to-day operations.

“Reporters gather reports for publication, while editors process and filter out unwanted materials before pushing out the news to the public.

“The integrity of any profession is determined by the level of adherence to the ethical standards by the practitioners of such a profession. In Nigeria, journalism wears the toga of a trade union and also claims to be a professional body.

“The presence of the social/new media breeds fertile ground for fake news. Fake news threatens the integrity of the media, both social/new conventional/traditional,’’ he argued.

According to Abimbola, the responsibility of upholding professional integrity rests on the gatekeepers and they should strive to curb fake news.

“Fake news is spread by both the new media and the conventional media…the new media are more fertile grounds for its spread due to the peculiarities in news processing.
“Whenever a news medium publishes a report that turns out to be fake, such a medium is de-marketed in many ways: It loses a large portion of its audience and consequently loses revenue in sales and advert.

“It faces litigation from the victims – those offended by such reports – and more importantly, faces the shame of retracting such a report.

“Nothing hurts managers or owners of media firms as retracting a report that

Talabi, a mass communication teacher in the Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun, called for synergy between the mass media and security operatives as a strategy to stem political violence and promote national security.

“Mass media should appraise situations and give critical analyses that will uphold and promote peaceful co-existence of different groups and ideologies within the society.

“They should not allow themselves to become toys in the hands of the political elite to be used as apparatuses for personal aggrandisement. They should remember that they exist to liberate imprisoned political consciences,’’ Talabi said.

According to Talabi, while government is expected to do the right thing, the mass media is expected to checkmate the excesses of government. “Cordial relationship among media houses is key to speaking with one voice in order to suppress tyranny and uphold national security. Media professionals and security operatives should be partners in progress; hence, security personnel should work with media practitioners as watchdogs.”

Olawunmi, a senior lecturer and Acting Head, Department of Mass Communication, Adeleke University, Ede, Osun, is convinced that the code of ethics is a strong tool for responsible and objective journalism.

Olawunmi, a retired Deputy Director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), regretted the low level of compliance with the code of ethics by journalists, especially reporters.

“A review of Nigeria’s operating media environment shows inadequate compliance with code of ethics in reporting, thereby limiting the credibility and believability of media, with adverse consequences on the viability of media as an enterprise.

“Media’s dual mandate as both a public trust and a commercial venture, particularly privately-owned media, compels many media entrepreneurs to embrace sensational and titillating reporting as a patronage-attracting strategy.

“Governments, law and social institutions are in ambivalent in relationship with media in its reporting function, sometimes enhancing and at other times constraining.

“The ombudsman, the in-house media critic, has remained a failed experiment. Lack of prescribed qualification and training to practise journalism greatly constrains ethical reporting in situations where reporters lack philosophical understanding of the profession/vocation they engaged in,’’ Olawunmi argued.

He acknowledged the enthusiasm among reporters, but believed that enthusiasm deficient in an understanding of tenets of journalism cannot optimally serve public good.

He urged the Nigerian Press Organisation to encourage adherence to code of ethics by its member-associations, especially with regard to news reporting.

The lecturer called on the NPC to devote more resources to its research and documentation division for study on media performance, including infringement of code of ethics and flawed reporting, and publishing same as a way of exerting moral pressure on the press to take compliance more seriously.

The Acting Executive Secretary of NPC, Victor Egharevba, said the aim of the workshop was to sensitise journalists on the need for ethical compliance to earn and maintain integrity for the media.

“The media plays a significant role in the society. People depend largely on the media to create images, form opinions and quite often get guidance on issues.

“The NPC considers the theme of this workshop very vital and critical in view of the concern in recent time that the standards of journalism are being ignored by professionals.

“Media bias and sensationalism among others have become controversial issues in modern reporting in the country,” Mr Egharevba said.

He, therefore, advised media professionals to be guided by some norms in the discharge of their responsibility of transmitting information.

In a 15-point communiqué issued at the end of the two-day workshop, the participants recommend that news must be written to benefit the audience, urging that social disorder reports must be discouraged.

In the communiqué, “the need for industry regulation for print media practice including discipline, fact checking of stories, continuous training and good remuneration’ was raised.

They also declared that citizen journalism is a misnomer, advising that information freelancing should rather be adopted.

The participants urged that code of ethics should be the moral guidelines and should be voluntarily subscribed to and internalised by professionals as a way of life.

They urge news gatekeeper to guard mass media integrity well by upholding ethical standards in their operations, adding that media professionals should intensify their watchdog function and check excesses of governments.

“It was agreed that something drastic must be done to the role of the NPC for it to be able to carry out its functions effectively; strict adherence to the Code of Ethics must be sustained.

The communiqué said the workshop agreed that fake news erodes media integrity and it is the duty of the gatekeepers to maintain integrity by upholding ethical standards in their operations.

“Code of Ethics is moral guidelines which professionals voluntarily subscribe to and internalise as a way of life.

“The thrust of ethics is the individual’s acceptance of responsibilities.

“Journalists should have self esteem, good carriage, self respect and at all times be well dressed. They should understand the strategic position they occupy in the society,” the communiqué urged.

The journalists also called on people engaged in journalism without prerequisite qualification to do self-development programmes to make them more equipped on the job.

According to the communiqué, the participants also agreed that there is need for special media salary for both public and private media houses as the media is not immune to violence.

Besides, they agreed that media houses should checkmate the excesses of the government without fear or favour and called for synergy among the Nigerian media practitioners.

The communiqué further urged the participants to practice the knowledge acquired during the training.

Stella Jibrin, the Director of Research and Documentation of NPC, said the council could not do it alone, adding that there is need for journalists to be professional in their jobs and stick to the Code of Ethics.

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