When KAS Gathered Stakeholders For Improved Journalism Practice

 

By DAPO FALADE

The timing could not have been more auspicious as it came a point when the morale, unarguably, is at its lowest ebb, as far as the practice of journalism (traditional or conventional) in Nigeria is concerned. The converge was the gathering of some of the best hands in the art of media practice in the country, including teachers of journalism and its practitioners. It was a three-day capacity building workshop with the theme, “Freedom of the Press and the Codes of Conduct for Nigerian Journalists and Media Houses”. It held from 13-15 December, at Fraser Suites Hotel, Abuja. The gathering was in consonance with the similar one held at the same venue, precisely two years ago.

The facilitator of the all-important workshop is Konrad-Adenaeur-Stiftung (KAS), a civil society organisation based in Germany but with representation in 189 countries across the globe; ably represented in Africa, particularly in the Third World countries.

KAS is an organisation named after Konrad Adenauer, a Chancellor of Germany after the Second World War. It is to promote three legacies: One, the idea of the Rule of Law; two, a vision that sees political participation and socialisation as critical to the creation of peace and, three, freedom for all, under the aegis of either a social market economy or a democratic system.

The question may be asked: What has KAS got to do with the media in seeking to promote the three aforementioned legacies? The answer can be found in the fact that the Press has been a significant pillar, contributing immensely and immeasurably to the key factors that can aid the attainment of the legacies namely, the building of a culture of accountability, due process and democracy in Nigeria. The role of the media can be better understood in the light of its functions, especially the birth and the continued growth of the ongoing democratic experiment in the country.

It was thus in the realisation of the role of the media in nation-building that KAS organised the workshop with the aim to creating a synergy between and among critical stakeholders, and expanding the opportunity in order to impact more on the practice of journalism in the country.

The workshop was, indeed, rich in character and content. It drew 40 journalists from 27 media houses, both traditional and online. Besides, seasoned publishers and others in media-related fields were on hand to give deep and insightful practical presentations on issues affecting journalists and media houses.

After the registration and the opening session, followed by the Welcome Remarks of Dr Vladimir Kreck, the Resident Representative of KAS, participants were taken through various rigorous but interesting presentations during the three-day programme. These included “Historical Development of the Press in Nigeria” (Dr. Tunji Ogunyemi, Head, Department of History, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife); “Statutory Provisions for Press Freedom in Nigeria” (Dr. Tunde Akanni); and “Social Media Bill and Freedom of Expression in Nigeria: Current Stand and Perspectives” (Jide Ojo, Executive Director, OJA Development Consult).

Others were “Between Freedom and Regulations: The Case for a Code of Media Ethics in Nigeria” (Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher, Premium Times, Abuja); “Public Perception of Media and Press Freedom: An Overview” (Adenike Aloba, Programme Manager, Humanitarian, Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, PTCIJ); “Press Freedom Before, During and After Elections in Nigeria” (Ojo, op.cit); “Press Freedom-The First Line of Defence for Human Rights” (Osai Ojigho, Country Director, Amnesty International (AI), Nigeria); “Defamation: A Tool of Oppression Against Press Freedom” (Dr. Ogunyemi, op.cit) and “National Broadcasting Commission: Reasons for and Challenges of Monitoring the Broadcast Media” (Dr. Tony Anigala, Director, Broadcasting and Monitoring, NBC).

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Dr Ogunyemi, who has been a consultant with KAS for over six years, did justice to his first paper as he took participants through the historical and constitutional stages of the growth and development of the media under successive administrations in Nigeria. The university don, a man of many parts- a historian, lawyer, economist and registered advertising practitioner- spoke extensively about the power of the media and its practitioners, as well as their constitutional limitations, in nation-building.

Dr Akanni, in his own paper, spoke about various international and local legal backings and provisions for journalism. He also spoke about the inhibitions to the practice of journalism in the country. This was as he declared that the media and media advocates, in spite of their seemingly limitless power, often find it difficult to be sufficiently self-righteous.

Ojo said the essence of his paper was “to sharpen the knowledge, skills and attitudes of the participants on the contemporary issue of social media regulations and what it portends for Nigerians.” He further clarified that the Social Media Bill is erroneous as he said the official title of the Bill, as sponsored by Senator Muhammad Dani Musa of the Niger East Senatorial District, is “Protection From Internet Falsehoods and Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill 2019”.

While stating that the whole essence of the Bill, according to its promoters, is to curb the spread of falsehood and fake news in the country, Ojo averred that it is particularly injurious to the practice of journalism and would generally affect access to information and freedom of expression. He said there are laws that can take care of what the Bill stands for, adding that the best way to check or reduce incidents of fake news on the social media is not by clamping down but by having in place a responsible, responsive and people-oriented system of government.

Olorunyomi, the publisher of the high-flying Premium Times, while alighning with the view that there is no absolute freedom of the press obtainable in any part of the world, declared that “in any society where you have press freedom, it will be difficult to have alarming crises.” He said press freedom is a sine qua non for development, adding: “Development is impossible in any society that lacks press freedom…Without power, the media cannot be functional in its role. The role of the media is to provide the basis for power processes, vis-a-vis political, economic and business.

“If there is a doubt about the role of the media and if there is a need to check the power to execute the role, the court is the arbiter. The media, in a democracy, need the power to perform its job, essentially to hold everybody and every institution accountable.”

Olorunyomi, however, did not mince words as he declared that integrity and credibility are the key essentials for every journalist or media house in the quest and process of information gathering and disseminating of same to the public. “Upholding ethics is very central to the desire and aspiration of the journalist or media house to earn integrity, through the passage of credibility. A successful journalist should and must be ethically grounded. It is a requirement for making a better decision…We lose our sense of morality when we are ethically deficient,” he said.

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The publisher of Premium Times identified some ethical challenges that may come up in the course of reporting. These, he said, include stolen words, invented facts; conflict of interest, divided loyalties; dealing with sources; business and technology; deception; citizen journalism; photoshop, managed reality; infotainment and post fact world. He, however, declared that the sole aim of a journalist should be service, adding:”Ultimately, the defence of Democratic values and institutions are at the core of true journalist ethics.”

Taking the challenges of public perception of the Nigerian journalist to the practitioners, Aloba of the PTCIJ and a nursing mother who came to the workshop with her infant baby, said the public acceptance of the role of the media is still low. She asked rhetorically: “For whom do we do the work that we do?”; Why does our work matter?” She she went on to say that the job of a the journalist “only matters to the extent that it impacts those for whom it is intended, the public.”

As a way out, Aloba submitted: “Journalists and media managers need to invest in winning the trust of their audiences, even if that will require the kind of wooing that the media is not traditionally used to.

“Audience attention is seriously contested and increasingly so by the sinister forces of misinformation and disinformation and the media has to rise to its aspirational role of the Fourth Estate of the Realm, and continue to innovate around a more interested and invested audience.”

Delivering his second paper which he said sought to “enhance the knowledge, skills and attitude of Nigerian journalists on their expected role during the (sic) electioneering process”, Ojo, again, spoke on press freedom, vis-a-vis the Nigerian Constitution. He spoke about the role and interface of the media in the course of the electoral cycle namely, pre-voting, voting and postt-voting periods.

He highlighted the findings of various election monitoring groups on the 2019 elections, especially that of the EU EOM, and how the media and journalists were affected and hampered in the course of discharging their duties during the period. Ojo concluded by saying that the Nigerian Press still face a lot of operational challenges, declaring: “There is no absolute freedom anywhere and self-censorship and upholding of ethical standards are still much encouraged.”

Ojigho of AI, re-emphasised the importance of the media as she said: “The press holds a special position because they not only have the right to freedom of expression, but exercising that right is essential in order for them to do their work. This makes press freedom a double blessing and burden for media practitioners…”

She said governments, across the globe, especially Africa, seek to justify restrictions on press freedom on the basis that the right to the freedom of expression is not absolute. She went ahead to cite instances of cases “where journalists and other media practitioners have been beaten, assaulted, threatened, arrested, and even killed for pursuing and publishing stories or reports of human rights, corruption and issues of public interest.”

The AI Country Director, however, emphasises the need for press freedom, more than ever, under “the cloud of constant surveillance, repression and attacks. We are in times that have been described as the post-truth era. It is important that we are supporting efforts to seek the truth, to publish fairly and to bring unheard or marginalised voices to public attention…

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“Sadly, the attacks against press freedom would continue excepts steps are taken to push back. Journalists too have a role to play… Everyone should support a free, uncensored, and unhindered press. It is the first line defensive in ensuring that every person, not only a privileged few, or those in power, have access to information to make informed decisions about issues affecting all, of our lives.”

Delivering his second paper, Dr Ogunyemi, took the participants through what constitutes defamation, how they can be avoided and the instances and the various court pronouncement on each offence. He spoke on the inherent dangers for the Press; the defences and the privileges.

Dr Anigala of the NBC categorised the numerous challenges facing the media (with special emphasis on Broadcast) to include financial constraints, shortage of manpower and inadequate modern infrastructure for monitoring, occasioned by new technology and poor feedback from the public,bamong others.

He, however, tasked media practitioners on the need to read the National Broadcasting Commission Act, 2004 to know and learn about the powers of the NBC and also the NBC Code (6th Edition) to learn about what is required from broadcast stations and understand the procedure for sanctioning.

“How many of us have bothered to go to the NBC website? I challenge you to avail yourselves of these opportunities in order to make more informed judgment about the workings of the Commission. I know it is not yet Uhuru but we are working towards it. Hopefully, we will get there,” Anigala said.

Participants at the three-day workshop expressed gratitude to Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) for the opportunity given to them to sip from the fountain of knowledge of the various speakers and the air of conviviality that surrounded the programme. They promised to put into use the lessons inherent in the various papers presented.

In his Closing Remarks, an elated Resident Representative of KAS, Dr Kreck, said he was impressed by the conduct and enthusiasm of both the paper presenters and the participants and declared that the three-day capacity building workshop was a huge success.

Kreck aligned with the submission that press freedom is essential to democracy and democratic government, noting that the conviction informed the choice of this year’s theme.

He, also agreed that, looking at the International ranking, it is clear that Nigeria is not among the top-ranking countries that honour and respect freedom. He noted, however, that the country is not doing badly in the African Continent.

“Nigeria still has a lot to do in that regard. Journalists have a lot to do in terms of carrying out their responsibility without seeking to embarrass anybody, organisation or government. This can be done by seeking for ways to ensure balancing.

“Press freedom can only be achieved by all stakeholders in a proper way by seeking to advance and deepen the cause and course of democracy. I want to thank the media houses hereby represented and I hope that the relationship will be sustained,” Kreck said.

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