At NUJ week, experts call for laws to regulate social media practitioners, bloggers
How to ensure professionalism in journalism and instil discipline in social media/online practice dominated discussions at the 2019 media week of Correspondents Chapel, Abia State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists that ended at the weekend in Umuahia, the state capital.Both professionals and non professionals alike decried the insanity in the industry orchestrated by social media operators, as well as calling for laws and regulations that will curb the menace of non trained persons that have invaded the media space in the guise of social media, online and blogging.
The theme of the Press Week, ‘Challenges of Social Media to Mainstream Media in Journalism Practice in Nigeria’ provided the platform for discussions on the subject.Chairman of the Chapel, Comrade Sam Obinna Ibe, said that the body uses the yearly press weeks platforms to evaluate performances and do self-appraisal to reflect on members reportage, with a view to ascertaining, or otherwise, if they were done in line with journalism ethics and extant laws, including assessing identified new ways that journalism will be enhanced, professionally.
The 2019 Press week, which started with a church service, featured free medical outreach, during which many diagnosed of sight defects were treated and given eyeglasses, a public lecture on the week’s theme, honour awards on four persons namely Senator Theodore Orji, Chief Okey Nzenwa, Dr. Aham Uko and Dr. NCNC Okoli.In his keynote address, an Associate Professor and Head of Mass Communication Department at the Abia State Polytechnic, Aba, Dr. Uwaoma Uche, stated that though the benefits of social media are enormous, the practitioners must be those professionally trained in journalism.
According to him, the involvement of untrained people in the social media space negates true journalism, hence, they should not be allowed to continue operating, stressing that to a large extent, many were in the habit of releasing uncensored news, even as they were responsible for the prevalence of cyber crime, cyber bullying, aiding suicides, escalation of hate speeches, insults, harsh opinions and others, by do doing, pose huge security risk, security theft and information leaks.
While calling for proper monitoring of bloggers, social media and online practitioners to prevent the likelihood of their destroying the society and devaluation of national values, Uche enjoined governments to stop “engaging untrained professionals,” predicting that “they will one day, they may even turn against them (government) with the privileged information they have especially when relationship goes sour.”
The Information Commissioner, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, charged NUJ leadership in the country to re-define who a journalist is and should be, so as to distinguish the trained and licensed from those that have taken it on amateur and hobby basis.Even to the professionally trained, the commissioner urged them to remember and apply what they were taught during their training in the tertiary institutions in their practice.
While the state governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, represented by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Onyebuchi Ememanka, lamented the increasing blackmail by some journalists in the country, which he, however, noted was less in his state, reminded journalists of the critical role they ought to play by disseminating information with capacity to engender peace, unity, justice, balance and tranquility in the polity.
“One of the cardinal policies of this government is freedom of the press. Practitioners should therefore ensure there is stability in the polity by reporting the truth objectively, professionally and in good conscience,” he stressed. Immediate past governor of the state and serving senator for Abia Central, Chief Theodore Orji, through Hon. Jerry Uzodike, who represents Umuahia South in the State House of Assembly, while corroborating calls for professionalism in journalism practice, stated that he will never support any bill or law geared towards caging the press.
Agreeing that social media and biased journalism pose threat and danger to mainstream journalism practice, the state Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Chief Gabriel Onyendilefu, urged journalists to criticise constructively and even proffer suggestions on how to address contentious issues in the polity.
In his remarks, Chairman of the state NUJ Council, Comrade John Emejor, who spoke through his Deputy Comrade Mathias Nwogu assured that journalists in the state would sustain professional practice and urged the public to promptly report suspected fake journalists to the Council and commended Governor Ikpeazu’s promise to deliver to the state NUJ, a fully equipped state Secretariat soon.The Federal Government plans to sanitise the media space have generated quite a fuss, with many alleging altruistic reasons in the proposed move.
But Dr. Musibau Tunde Akanni, Director of Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC), Lagos State University, Ojo, feels it’s really strange that people, especially, Federal Government is bothered by the social media. “The concern being expressed now is misplaced and disturbing. This is the same country that enacted Cybercrime Prohibition Act of 2015. That Act provides for Cybercrime Advisory Council comprising representatives of assorted sectors. It conspicuously leaves out the entire media sector in spite of the centrality of Internet to media operation,” he said.
He added, “but our Premium Times won Pulitzer. Besides, the regulation of media in this age has also been highly influenced by digital technology but Nigeria has deliberately ignored this trend even as we don’t have the kind of resources that those already responding to Internet for regulation have. Federal Communication Commission, FCC and Office of Communication, OfCom, now regulate both broadcasting and online media activities in the US and UK respectively. Why must we continue to make NCC and NBC function as if that’s justifiable? So, this sudden interest in social media is spurious and reinforces the suspicion of many that the anti-media posturing of this government is just manifesting further.”
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