Why good journalism truly matters
Media, democracy and development are tripartite partners that could drive any modern society. These critical issues formed discussions at the just-concluded 67th General Assembly and 2018 IPI World Congress of the International Press Institute, held in Abuja for the very first time in the history of Nigeria and attended by some 330 participants, 65 speakers from 37 countries. Themed, Why Good Journalism Matters: Quality Journalism for Strong Societies, the congress coincided with when IPI would hold its flagship global press freedom event in West Africa.
Welcoming all, IPI Executive Board Vice-Chair, Dawn Thomas, the hosting was an acknowledgement of the country’s historical importance to the institute and that Nigeria became a key focus of IPI’s Africa programme in the 1960s and 1970s, when it established the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ). The IPI Executive Director, Barbara Trionfi disclosed that the congress was a reminder of the power of solidarity in the global media. At the Presidential Villa, there was a panel that was moderated by John Momoh, President, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria/Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Channels Television, comprising the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun; Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd); Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; and Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr. Okey Enelamah, who spoke on what Nigeria was doing in transforming its economy and other security matters.
As the panel session was ongoing, President Muhammadu Buhari joined the congress to present his keynote address. The President underscored the importance of quality journalism to building strong societies, saying that good journalism always promotes good governance. Buhari also sought to draw a distinction between quality journalism and what he described as hate speech and fake news, while enjoining participants to continue promote good journalism, after which participants were treated to a welcome cocktail reception hosted by the Minister, Federal Capital Territory, Alhaji Muhammad Bello and IPI Fellow, Mallam Ismaila Isa, before departing the villa.
The second day featured a town-hall-style discussion on Why Good Journalism Matters: And How to Make People Like It, consisting leading editors and media executives from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Associated Press and Al Jazeera, among others while the afternoon session was Africa Media Forum on the future of press freedom and independent journalism. The Chairman, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and other panelists spoke on Covering Elections, Advancing Democracy, where the INEC boss said there would be collaboration between the media and civil society organisations such that 2019 general elections would witness high level of credibility, just as the revised edition of the 35-page Nigerian media code of election coverage was unveiled with the endorsements of about 100 media stakeholders across Nigeria.
The African Media Initiative’s CEO, Roukaya Kasenally, ruminated over the imperative of shaping a new African narrative. Lisa Anne Essex of the European Journalism Centre also presented the centre’s guide for African journalists covering development issues. She tasked university journalism students to write the top story. On the future of African journalism, John Momoh, and Google’s Country Director for Nigeria, Juliet Ehimuan, explored the possibilities of having independent and digital-driven journalism.
Gwen Lister, Namibia Media Trust; former BBC Africa Correspondent, Mark Doyle; Nation Media Group Editor-in-Chief, Tom Mshindi; and Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Africa Editor, Khadija Sharife discussed the relationship between African media and their audiences in which they expressed concern about loss of trust and support. During an open dialogue on Understanding Terrorism and Conflicts in Africa, covering of Boko Haram terrorism took the centre-stage, as such assignments caused great trauma for many journalists, according to Hamza Idris, the Political Editor of Daily Trust newspapers, Nigeria; as Victor Bwire, Media Council of Kenya revealed that local Kenyan journalists had a tough time learning how to cover security.
Many African governments were accused of repressing free press. Deodatus Balile from the Tanzania Editors Forum; Barbara Kaija, Editor-in-Chief, Uganda’s New Vision newspaper; and Joan Chirwa, Editor-in-Chief, Zambia’s The Mast newspaper deliberated on why this is so. At this point, I made a case for why local journalists in Africa should be assisted by international organisations like IPI to overcome many dangers being faced on the job. Similarly, a Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Lagos, Ralph Akinfeleye; Funke Egbemode, President, Nigerian Guild of Editors; Mohammed Idris, Publisher, Blueprint newspapers; and Abdulwaheed Odusile, President, Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), gave candid advice on how to enhance the living conditions of journalists in the session on Why Nigeria’s Journalists Struggle to Make a Living and What We Can Do About It.
In the evening of day two, a gala night and award dinner was hosted by the Ministry of Information and Culture, where the minister highlighted the achievements of the Federal Government and reassured that press freedom would be guaranteed in the country. At the event, IPI World Press Freedom Hero award was conferred on journalists that had made significant contributions to the promotion of press freedom while the Annual Free Media Pioneer award was to given to recognise media organisations that had made innovations, which promoted news access and quality in which Angolan anti-corruption journalist, Rafael Marques and Philippine news website, Rappler were awarded, respectively.
During a special interactive session, Nigerian Nobel Prize laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka expressed his optimism about the future of press freedom in Nigeria. The don offered a strong defence for press freedom, while expressing deep concerns over attempts to criminalise hate speech in the country without being able to clearly define what it is, saying such a move cannot become a reality. However, the night did not end without colourful dance performances by the AfriTheatre Group and others.
On the third day, IPI’s Barbara Trionfi ruminated over theme, The Story Lives On alongside other experienced panelists just before the session on When Lone Wolves Join Forces: Collaborative Investigative Reporting on Corruption, Financial Crimes and Abuse of Power kicked-off with the likes of Anas Aremeyaw Anas, the renowned undercover Ghanaian investigative journalist and a mythical figure in the African media scene; Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher/CEO, Premium Times, Nigeria; Anita Ptratap, The Week, India; and John Githongo, an anti-corruption activist, who highlighted the various challenges facing investigative reporting and suggested solutions such as solid and independent funding.
Thereafter, there was a special discussion on natural resources and the extractive sector in Africa; anchored by Prof. Martha Steffens, University of Missouri, Columbia, United States of America that featured Oludotun Babayemi, Connected Development; Umaru Fofana, BBC correspondent in Sierra Leone, who highlighted the obstacles preventing local journalists from properly covering the extractive sector.
Khadija Sharife, OCCRP’s Africa editor, stressed that poorly-paid journalists were easy targets, calling on media organisations to always pay their journalists well, just as I equally advised participants not to neglect the non-oil industry in their reportage because of the many unreported illegalities taking place across Africa.
Before attending the general assembly, there was the discourse on Innovative Ways to Fund Investigative Journalism: Interactive Conversation, which attracted practitioners on how to improve themselves for better performance while Motunrayo Alakija, Coordinator, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism; Lisa Akiniyi May, Journalism Fund, Belgium; and Joshua Olufemi, Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, gave the intricacies involved in carrying out successful investigative journalism.
The general assembly was presided over by the IPI Chair, John Yearwood, during which members unanimously passed four resolutions urging action on press freedom issues in Africa, Egypt and Turkey. They further called on African governments to protect the safety of journalists and repeal anti-media laws, among others. The general assembly elected four new Executive Board members and re-elected three including Khadija Patel, as IPI Vice-Chair while the board appointed John Daniszewski, Associated Press, as Vice-President for standards and Editor-at-Large, as IPI’s special representative for journalist safety.
An exciting and lively closing dinner was hosted by the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Chairman, IPI Nigeria/Chairman, Daily Trust Nigeria, Kabiru Yusuf, who expressed his profound appreciation to all for the well-attended congress while Saraki urged media practitioners to be objective in their reportage in the build-up to the nation’s general elections. As participants were at their great moments, Markus Spillmann, former Editor-in-Chief, Switzerland’s Neue Zrcher Zeitung, was named as the 34th chair of IPI, as he takes over from John Yearwood, former World Editor, Miami Herald, having served out two terms. Before Barbara Trionfi left for Vienna, Austria; base of IPI, both of us were invited to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) national headquarters on Good Morning Nigeria, anchored by Claire Adelabu Abdulrazak, where fragmentation of the media, proliferation, fake news, press freedom and the like were discussed.
Meanwhile, some months ago, Barbara had visited Nigeria, where she met with top government functionaries and media executives on the congress, which had Nduka Obaigbena, President, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN)/Publisher, This Day newspapers as its Chairman, Local Organising Committee; while the Secretary of IPI Nigeria, Raheem Adedoyin, was Secretary while different planning committees were set up in Nigeria, after last year’s congress, held in Hamburg, Germany. No doubt, the congress has come and gone, but the thought-provoking discussions were deep, robust and highly resourceful. It is only hoped all the stakeholders at the Abuja congress would ensure that good journalism truly matters towards a strong and healthy society.
Kupoluyi wrote from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB).