… As group charts course on press freedom, others
By Simeon Mpamugoh
Centre for Constitutional Governance (CCG) in partnership with the United States Consulate General, Lagos, recently organised a capacity building workshop on enhancing journalism and press freedom in Nigeria.
The one-day event took place at the Lagos Travel Inn, Toyin Street, Ikeja. In attendance were media men from the new and traditional platforms, who were taken through legal frameworks, codes of conduct, general principles of journalism and Journalists’ creed.
Head of the CCG, Dr. Adewale Balogun, regretted in his welcome address that journalists were still restricted in the performance of their assignment, in spite of the democratic environment.
He revealed that World Press Freedom ranking index this year placed Nigeria at 122 out of 180 countries that have respect for freedom of the press. Last year, Nigeria was rated 116 out of 180 countries.
He observed that despite the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, which was signed into law on May 28, 2011, government institutions and officials regularly denied journalists access to information, and in some cases threaten them for investigating issues that were in the interest of the public. This, he said, was in addition to the lack of ethics and professionalism that has been evident in the practice of the profession in recent times.
He averred that no society could grow without an active press watching over it and reporting its activities.
The CCG, he noted, embarked on the project for a number of reasons. “To improve the environment for journalism to thrive in Nigeria, provide modules for practitioners and civil society organizations to understand and promote principles of press freedom,” he explained.
Other reasons, according to him, include advocating better education for journalists to imbibe key skills on better and safe practice of journalism in Nigeria and to strengthen the practice of journalism in a more responsible manner.
Executive director, Independent Advocacy Project (IAP), Adedeji Adeleye took participants through a 14-page history of journalism in Nigeria, noting that the account of journalism could be emphasized as the steady rise in news available to the public and the speed of its dissemination.
He noted that journalism plays a significant role in the society, adding that its role in democratic governance has been recognized since the late 17th century and remains a fundamental principle of modern-day democratic theory and practice. He argued that freedom of the press was the absence of prior government censorship.
He also quoted the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
He listed four principles as the foundation for an ethical journalist and encouraged their use in practice by all media people. These are, he noted, “seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable and transparent.”
In spite of the importance of law and ethics in mass media practice, majority of the mass media establishments in Nigeria do not have legal departments neither do they expose journalists to workshops on media laws and ethics,” he observed.
Dr. Jide Jimoh of the School of Communications, Lagos State University, Ojo noted that ethical problems arise in the journalists’ method of performing their duties.
“Newspaper agencies can ruin lives and also make celebrities. Some of the ways they can affect lives negatively include: sycophancy, character assassination or libel, pressure, confidentiality of source, invasion of privacy, inaccuracy and lack of fairness,” he said.
He enumerated the mechanism for maintenance of ethical standards in journalism as self-regulatory, codes of professional ethic in mass communication, Ombudsperson and the Nigeria press council.
The don described the new media and citizens’ journalism as public, participatory, democratic, guerrilla or street journalism, saying that it was based upon public citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing, and disseminating news and information.
He noted that new media technologies, such as social networking and media-sharing websites had made citizen journalism more accessible to people worldwide. He explained, however, that critics of the phenomenon, including professional journalists, believe that citizen journalism was unregulated, too subjective, amateur, and haphazard in quality and coverage.
On how to improve the environment for the safe practice of journalism, Jimoh called for compulsory insurance and safety cover for reporters as well as training of journalists, who cover hostile environments.
The event was wrapped up with a communiqué, calling for more funding of the media and training and retraining of journalists on mass media laws.