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‘Strengthening public confidence in media through ombudsman’

By Sunday Aikulola
25 April 2023   |   4:31 am
As part of efforts aimed at providing independent forum for resolving complaints, the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), which comprises Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigeria Union of Journalists ....

Eugenia Abu (left), Edetaen Ojo, Stella Okunna, Lanre Idowu, Emeka Izeze, Dupe Ajayi Gbadebo and Hussain Abdu

As part of efforts aimed at providing independent forum for resolving complaints, the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), which comprises Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP) constituted a nine-man board of the National Media Complaints Commission (NMCC), known as the National Ombudsman.

The Board members include, former Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian Newspapers, Emeka Izeze; former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and member of the Body of Benchers, Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud (SAN); first female Professor of Mass Communication and Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics), Paul University, Anambra State, Chinyere Stella Okunna; a development and humanitarian specialist and Country Director, Care International (Nigeria), Hussaini Abdu.

Other members are Editor-in-Chief of Diamond Publications Limited and founder of the Diamond Awards For Media Excellence (DAME), Lanre Idowu; Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Edetaen Ojo; a journalist, lawyer and arbitrator, Dupe Ajayi-Gbadebo; veteran broadcaster, author and columnist and Managing Partner/CEO, Eugenia Abu Media, Eugenia Abu and the Chair House of Representatives Committee on Information, Segun Odebunmi.

NPO and NPAN President, Kabiru Yusuf, described the commission as a major step in prompt resolution of issues bordering on ethical breaches in media content.
He noted the commission would serve as an independent forum for resolving complaints about the press, fairly and free of charge; maintain high standards of journalism and journalistic ethics, and defend the freedom of the press and the rights of the people to know.

Describing the media as a key stakeholder in democratic governance, NUJ President, Chris Isiguzo, in a chat with The Guardian, assured, “we are restoring the people’s confidence in the media. Now you have a body that will listen to complains. Every practitioner is subject to the ombudsman. Government and the people will have confidence in the media. Even the media will have confidence in itself. If there is going to be transparency in governance, it is the media.”On what led to the establishment of the ombudsman, he recalled there had been moves by the National Assembly to regulate the media recently.

“The NPO felt it was completely out of order to hand over media regulation to government, so we sat and came to the reality that there should be some form of regulation.

“But we didn’t just decide to regulate ourselves. What we did was co- regulation where the Chair House of Representative Committee on Information is a member of the ombudsman, the former president of NBA is a member. There are media egg heads and civil societies, so it’s a holistic co-regulation. That way, it will be a lot easier as it obtains in other climes like Ghana, where professionals are allowed to regulate themselves.” He advised the print and electronic media to set up internal ombudsman at the respective media houses to check unethical practices by practitioners.

Insisting that it is long overdue, former Publicity Secretary, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Ken Ugbechie, observed lack of internal control as reason National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) could arbitrarily fine broadcast stations.

To him, aggrieved corporate citizens or individuals can now lodge complaints and the body will examine the perspective. It is also expected that there will be fair hearing as journalists involved would be asked to defend themselves. He added the Commission could now mete out punishment on such journalists. While saying every practitioner is now put on check, he added the ombudsman, apart from being a secretariat for addressing non-adherence to ethics or professional infractions, would also monitor where excesses are visited on media industry by the regulatory bodies and where the media is being victimised.

“The new media has caused infiltrations into the media space by bloggers and others. There is information overload or what some people call infodemic, where people conjure something and share. Anybody with smart phone is now a publisher. The ombudsman must be able to filter, to let members of the public know that what is happening is not done by professional journalists.”

Describing the board members as extremely competent, veterans and experienced hands, he said they should be able to mentor those that are upcoming and give proper directions. He recalled, “I was a school certificate holder when I started reading Izeze in The Guardian Newspapers. He, however, advised everybody to come under the ombudsman, adding when reprimanded, it should not be taken as witch hunting.

Celebrated columnist and co-founder Newswatch Magazine, Ray Ekpu, recounted, “the only media establishment that, on its own, established the office of the ombudsman was the Daily Times under Alhaji Babatunde Jose. Alhaji Alade Odunewu was appointed as the ombudsman for all the 13 publications in the Daily Times Group.

However, some years ago, he said NPAN appointed a retired judge as an ombudsman. “Some members of the association kicked against it because the office of the ombudsman is different from, and not a substitute for a law court,” he said.

Ekpu expressed optimism that with a gathering of such eminent persons from various fields, the public should expect nothing but fair and unassailable adjudication. He said the body would provide alternative dispute resolution mechanism which will use its collective wisdom to tackle disputes brought before it. He noted, “it will have to be guided by two journalism tools, the recently revised and approved code of journalism ethics and canons of journalism practice.”These canons, he explained, are encapsulated in the acronym FOBAC, that is Fairness, Objectivity, Balance, Accuracy and Completeness.