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Problem Of Ethics And Journalism In Nigeria

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Being a paper presented by  Dan Agbese  Editor-In-Chief, Newswatch Magazine at a workshop organised by the Rivers State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists, Port Harcourt, March 4, 2010.

 

Excerpts:

An ideal is a prize worth fighting for but it is not enough to prevent anyone from abusing his position in the news media. No reporter is an angel. All men and all women have a tendency to misuse their positions in ways that do no credit to their professions or vocations. Therefore, journalism, like medicine and law, does require a code of ethics to guide the professional conduct of editors and reporters. The first attempt to provide Nigerian journalists with such a code was made in 1978 by the Nigerian Press Organisation, NPO. The organised was made up of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria. The Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Nigerian Union of Journalists. It issued what it called Code of Honour for Nigerian journalists. The eight point code stipulates as follows:

1) That the public is entitled to the truth and that only correct information can form the basis for sound journalism and ensure the confidence of the people.

2) That it is the moral duty of every journalist to have respect for the truth and to publish or prepare for publication only the truth to the best of his knowledge.

3) That is the duty of the journalist to publish only facts; never to suppress such facts as he knows; never to falsify either to suit his own purposes, or any other purposes.

4) That it is the duty of the journalist to refuse any reward for publishing or suppressing news or comments, other than salary and allowances legitimately earned in the discharge of his professional duties.

5)  That the journalist shall employ all legitimate means in the collection of news, and he shall defend at all times the right to free access, provided that due regard is paid to the privacy of individuals.

6) That once information has been collected and published, the journalist shall observe the universally accepted principle of secrecy and shall not disclose the source of his information obtained in confidence.

7) That it is the duty of the journalist to regard plagiarism as unethical.

8) That it is the duty of every journalist to correct any published information found to be incorrect.

This Code of Honour does qualify as a code of ethics for Nigerian journalists. It prescribes the limits of ethical standards. Its primary objective is to focus the journalist’s mind on his professional responsibilities to the society. Time will not permit us to examine the code seriatim. But let us look at the first item in the code in the context of our discussion here. It prescribes that the public is entitled to the truth. We need not ask, as Pilate did. What is truth? We do have a fairly good idea what truth is in certain circumstances. It is true, for instance, that we are gathered here at this workshop. It is also true that President Musa Yar’Adua is ill and has not been seen in public for more than three months. These truths are also facts. They cannot reasonably be disputed.

Yet, truth and facts are not so easily interchangeable. In the court of law, a man may swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He can then proceed with a straight face to tell lies. Truth is often a mixture of facts with processed opinions about issues. I personally prefer to speak of facts. Facts are more manageable in terms of reliability than truth.

One of the fundamental problems with reporting is that reporters depend almost entirely on other people. Other people give us the facts. Even if the reporter witnesses an accident, he is still obliged to confirm the number of casualties from police or hospital authorities. If his sources tell him lies, he  invariably but innocently serves the public with the diet of lies so dished out to him. This is worse in a dispute. It is said that in war, the first casualty is the truth. It is the same in all disputes. In all disputes, the reporter is confronted with two sets of facts or truths. The first set consists of the facts as they are; the second set consists of doctored or varnished facts that may be strange to the truth but are nevertheless intended to serve vested interest. Political facts are sweeter than real facts.

Take the neglect of the Niger Delta for instance. There are certain basic facts that confirm that this neglect is a fact confirmed by devastated farmlands and the pollution of waters in the area. But have the federal government and the oil companies done anything over the years to remedy the peculiar problems of the area? Once you raise this question, you are instantly bombarded with all sorts of facts because here  we are no longer dealing with facts as they are but facts as the parties to the dispute intend them for public consumption. Here is the challenge for the reporters and editors in this region. The challenge for them is to rise above the propaganda and dig diligently for the truth;  how much was OMPADEC given and how much did it do? How much has NDDC been given so far and how much has it done to change the face of the region? How much have the state governments in the region received as their shares of the derivation fund and how much have they done with the money? These are verifiable facts. If the truth is known it may help to ease tension and volatility in the region.

Let us look at another aspect of the first item in the code of honour. The freedom of the press to serve the public the truth to which the code says it is entitled is severely restricted by a number of factors. A publishable fact must pass the test of its being in the public interest. Who decides that and on what basis? The editor, of course, does not quite often on grounds of universal convention. All of us guard our private lives. We believe that our privacy must not be invaded because what we do in private lives in nobody’s business. Is the private life of a private individual of public interest? By convention, we tend to leave people alone unless and until they cross the boundary and deny themselves the right to their own privacy.

It is said that a public officer has no private life. This may well be so, but even here public interest draws the line. It is not everything we know about the private life of a public officer that is publishable. Convention imposes on us the obligation to protect the integrity of a public officer under certain circumstances.

Some facts offend the laws of the land. We cannot publish such facts because publishing them is deemed not to be in the public interest. If we do, we pay dearly for our indiscretion. Here I draw your attention to the laws of libel, sedition, pornography, national security and official secrecy.

Another set of facts the press cannot publish concerns those facts whose publication would be injurious to public safety, public morality and national defence. If Nigeria is at war with another country, the movement of its troops would be a fact but the public is not entitled to know that because its publication would compromise national security and put the lives of our troops at risk.

There are even more difficulties that confront the reporter in carrying out his daily duty of serving the public with the truth to which it is entitled. These difficulties or constraints fall into two broad categories – internal and external. Internal constraints refer to a) proprietorial interests, b) personal interests and c) self-censorship.

Brigadier-general Samuel Ogbemudia, former military governor of the old Mid-West Region, once put it quite nicely when he said no government sets up a newspaper to criticise itself. Despite the sometimes high-minded mission statements of proprietors, all of them have vested personal, economic, religious and even ethnic interests in setting up newspapers or radio and television stations. They expect journalists working for them to fully protect those interests at all times and at the same time advance them, even at the expense of their business revivals.

Journalists are human beings. We all have our personal interests and those of our friends to protect and even promote. Those interests do tend to exert some influence in the way we do our job. This is usually evident in self-censorship. We restrain ourselves from publishing facts known to us about issues and event because doing so would compromise our interest or those of our friends.The external constraints are (a) inducements, (b) pressures from individuals, groups and organisations and (c) laws and administrative decisions. Remember the brown envelope syndrome? Those who invite reporters to press conferences know what they must do – they must induce the reporters with money to publish their stories. Reporters and editors are also induced to kill stories when their publication would affect certain vested interests. The more pernicious aspect of this constraint is found in a situation where editors and reporters are induced or to be more polite about it, persuaded to publish damaging stories about individuals and organisations. Here the public is not served the truth and by the time the truth is known, the damage has been done and someone’s integrity has been called into question. 

All of us face pressures from our friends and communities to give the public some varnished truths. Sometimes we are even blackmailed to do this. And truth becomes the casualty.

Legal and administrative constraints are hurdles in the path of the reporter’s efforts to give the public the truth. Governments in Nigeria from the colonial times to the present, have systematically run the ring around the Nigerian press. Prince Tony Momoh has detailed the various laws specifically directed at constraining the press. There have been eighty or so of these laws. Perhaps, the most notorious among them were the Newspapers Act of 1964, decree 11 of 1976 and decree four of 1984. the more dangerous of these constraints during our long winter of military rule were not the laws, draconian as some of them were, but that what was not an offence became an offence at the whims of the military men and journalists were punished for them. A good case in point was the publication by Newswatch magazine in April 1987 of stories that dissected the report of the Samuel Cookey panel on political reforms. The Babangida administration took offence and banned the magazine for six months. The magazine committed no offence because the report was a public document and its publication did not endanger national security in any way. If anything, the magazine sought to promote public discourse on the political future of the country.

To be continued

 

Dan Agbese

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Issues

Hate Speech Emanates From Hate Agenda, Policy

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Now, the hate speech debate has added to the number of debates in the country; such as the fading rural and urban grazing areas (RUGA), restructuring, etc. The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recently introduced a bill which seeks to establish a Federal Government Agency to check and regulate hate speech in the country and the matter is generating hot debate across the country. Majority of Nigerians have spoken against the bill.
The bill prescribed death by hanging as maximum punishment for certain categories of offenders. Other categories of offenders are liable to 10 years jail term or payment of N10 million fine. The offenders are those who use their tongues, or publish, produce, present, provide, play, distribute or direct performance of any written or visual that stir up ethnic hatred, hostility, violence or cause the death of fellow Nigerians.
The bill is sponsored by the Deputy Senate Chief Whip, Senator Sabi Aliyu Abdullahi. The proposed bill is an assault on democracy and democracy loving people of Nigeria. It is an affront to those who risk their lives to fight for the enthronement of democracy and liberty in Nigeria. It is childish, unconstitutional and undemocratic. The bill is barbarous, obnoxious, draconian, horrendous and totally unacceptable to Nigerians. It is sacrilegious and condemnable. The freedom of speech as enshrined in section 39 (3) in the Nigerian Constitution is sacrosanct.
I think the sponsor of the bill is ignorant of what democracy entails. Perhaps he does not know that the best baby of democracy is the freedom of speech. That democracy allows all people to speak their minds at all times, whether it is hate or love, sense or nonsense, criticism or praise, condemnation or commendation. That as the creator allows all human beings, rich or poor, educated and uneducated etc to co-exist and co-habit, so does democracy. May be, he is not aware that the law of defamation, slander, libel etc takes care of hate speech and all that. He may not know, that there is right to refute and needs for apology. Besides all that, we have the Nigerian Communication Act and Cyber Crime Act. Are these not enough to take care of hate speech, if enforced?
I am sure Senator Abdullahi is not alone in this diabolic hate speech bill. There are people behind him and they have ulterior motives. They know their plans and what they want to achieve in 2023. So, they want to make all of us dumb now before the time. So that when they start displaying their barbaric political acrobatics in 2023, we will be watching them like dumb people without uttering a word as nobody would want to be hanged or pay 10 million naira fine. But for sure their plans will fail.
Nigerians feel circumvented and betrayed that the National Assembly which is the heart of democracy and major representatives of the people should be in the forefront of those attempting to murder the freedom speech, the finest baby of democracy. Unhallowed hate speech bill (freedom of speech) now lying in the hallowed Red Chamber waiting to be murdered is against democracy and the people of Nigeria. It is to muzzle and deprive Nigerians their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech. It is sad that this is happening in the 8th Senate, under Buhari and the APC government. Something we did not experience in 16 years of PDP rule, not even under the military governments of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha; and not also under the June 12 madness. Why is it happening now under Buhari’s democracy? Could this be the resurrection of Decree Nos. 2 and 4? Is that our expectation in this “Next Level”?
Now, what law will the senate make for those who promote hate agenda and those who execute hate policy in the country? Because through hate agenda and policy that hate speech emanates. Without hate agenda and policy there will be no hate speech. What do you expect when people from a section of the country speaks, behaves and act as if they own the country. What do you expect when people from section of the country kill Nigerians with impunity. What do you expect when a leader who should see himself as a father and leader of all, sees himself as a father and leader of a section of the country and packaged juicy and sensitive positions for them. Will these not generate anger and hate speech?
It started when the Fulani herdsmen began to behave as if they own the country and killed Nigerians any how that people reminded them that they immigrated from Senegambia in the 1880s. Could that be hate speech? Tongue is not wicked until it is provoked. My people say if a masquerade over displays, harasses and intimidates people at the dancing arena, people will be compelled to display ordinary tree with which it was carved as a masquerade. This is where hate speech comes in. So, if the Senate is looking for people to hang, they should direct their search toward the murderous Fulani herdsmen. There are also many arrested Boko Haram and bandit murderers, let them hang them first, before looking for mere provoked hate speakers.
More so, how do people feel when a section of the country produced the President of the country, the Senate President, the Senate Leader, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, the Attorney General and Minister Of Justice. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Accountant General of the Federation, the Chief of Staff to the President, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Air Staff, the Inspector General of Police, Minister of Defence, the Comptrollers-General of Customs, Immigrations, Prisons and National Security Adviser.
Others were the Heads of DSS, NIA, DIA, NNPC, DPR, NPA, FAAN, NCAA, NDIC, NRC, PENCOM, AMCON, NUC, NEMA, NSPM, BPE, NBC, UBEC, NPHDA, NHIS, FERMA, NPHDA, TETFUND, NTDA, NAICON, INEC, EFCC, NTA, FRCN etc. Will these lopsided appointments in favour of a section of the country generate love speech or hate speech? If every section of the country is treated well and equal, there will be no hate speech.
It is the ethnic agenda and policy such as this that promotes hatred and hate speech in the country. I, therefore, urge the Senate to make a law to checkmate lopsided appointments in Nigeria. If the president of Nigeria is from the North, the Senate president should come from the South, if the Chief Justice of Nigeria is from the South, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice should come from the North; If the Chief of Army staff is from the North, the Inspector General of Police should come from the South and so on. The balanced position will make people happy and stop hate speech in the county.
Lest I forget, President Muhammadu Buhari recently raised alarm that the trillions of naira budgeted for the constituency projects across the country in the past 10 years have no reflection on the people and the constituencies they represent. Thus, the Senate should enact a law by hanging for any senator, other legislators and public office holders who involve in extortion and embezzlement of public funds and in the process impoverish his fellow Nigerians to die by hanging. This is more important to me and Nigerians than mere hate speech. What is hate speech?
Ogbuehi, a journalist and pro-democracy activist, wrote in from Eagle Island, Port Harcourt.

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Sale-Of-State Syndrome

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Not many Nigerian elite became aware when Nigerian politics became a gangsterist affair and what accounted for that peculiar feature, and whose interest such development was meant to serve. Similarly, not many Nigerians had an opportunity to read an online posting by The Times, April 9, 2008. Its title was: The New Scramble for Africa Begins: Modern Imperialism on the Resource-Rich Continent will be less Benign than old Colonialism. Its author was one Matthew Parris, making reference to “Black gangster governments” emerging under the guise of democracy.
It is quite unfortunate that the docile and myopic nature of the Nigerian masses should be exploited to such an extent that people can be induced to sell and enslave themselves. For example, how many people took note or reflected on the following statement of a governor: “Anything that will promote the interest of Rivers State is what I will do. You can be my sister state, if you want to take what belongs to Rivers State, I will not agree. I will not sell Rivers State”. (The Tide 25/11/19 – page 39).
With reference to the controversies over the recent elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States, there was a phone call from a Kenyan research fellows, saying that what is happening in Nigeria is “not an exclusively Nigerian affair”. He did not want to go for. Knowing him for his level of articulateness and deep degree of perception, it was not difficult to grasp the message of the Kenyan diplomat.
Commenting on the same recent elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, made statements that Nigerians should think about seriously. He said “President Buhari by now ought to have summoned his service chiefs and ordered a presidential investigation into the violence and observed infractions in the elections, including the deployment of a police helicopter to teargas voters”. He went on to add that “it is clear that he is more interested in the survival of the APC than the survival of democracy”.
The aforementioned online posting of April 19, 2008, did talk about “raping” of African countries by self-interested Asian or Western powers” who sponsor “Black gangster governments”. While such foreign powers do not need to administer or visit the territory, the strategy is to “buy your own gang” and “give it support munitions, bribes and protection to keep the roads and airports open”. What is the vital issue at stake? Matthew Parris said it is oil!
The fact that allocation of oil blocks in Nigeria is shrouded in secrecy and chicanery also goes with the fact that those given such allocations merely become rent collectors. Without the technical wherewithal, they sell the allocations to foreign partners, who should rightly be called buccaneers perhaps, these foreign buccaneers or middlemen, are those who “buy and sponsor Black gangster governments”, for their own business purposes.
The perennial state of instability, insecurity, corruption and social injustices involved in a “do-or-die” system of politics and governance, may not be unconnected with the Matthew Parris theory of “Black gangster governments”. If that is not the case, then why is democracy being subverted and undermined under the guise of election? Why are the security and armed forces involved in the way they are in electoral process?
While there are many glib talks and explanations about the unstable state of developing countries, not much is known about foreign influences fuelling such state of instability. If no other fact can be pointed out, the issue of arms proliferation can suffice to support the theory of foreign collaboration.
Common weapons used by heartless economic interests to maintain the status quo include arms, money, power, intimidation, violence, corruption, poverty, mendacity, hypocrisy etc.
Unfortunately, members of the security and armed forces, wittingly or unwittingly become participants or partners in this sad mission. It is a well-known fact that global capitalism operates at its worst in the oil and gas sector, of which Nigeria is a playing field. When the military handed over power to civilian politicians in 1999, details of the constitution were not made open.
The fact that elected members of the National Assembly were showered with lots of money as allowances and benefits, was meant to provide a safe landing for the military and their collaborators. It is also a fact that a major part of oil block allocations was done by the military and more in favour of their collaborators. Therefore, there is a close relationship between oil politics and the military, such that who holds power matters a lot.
We cannot deny the fact that it takes gangsterism to subvert and dethrone a democracy in such a nasty way that elections can become a warfare. Why are voters being intimidated, bought over with money or burnt alive because of what party they belong? Obviously, there is more to the gangsterist nature of Nigerian politics than what meets the4 eyes.
Not only voters are being subjected to anti-democratic assaults, but efforts are being deliberately made to expand and consolidate power, just like PDP once boasted that it would remain in power for 50 years without being dislodged. Is that democracy?

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Basic Education: Using PR To Address Challenges

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It is a privilege to talk with Public Relations Officers of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and the State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs) from all over the country.  This National Training session is very important because it has the capacity to enhance the quality of basic education in the country.
It is instructive that the 2019 Public Relations Training is holding in Rivers State. This is because Rivers State is the centre of rapid development in the country. Therefore, the gathering of basic education public relations officers means that they will directly interact with the development process of Rivers State.
I take this opportunity to welcome you to Rivers State, the home of Mr. Projects, Nigeria’s Best Performing Governor. You must have noticed that Rivers is a huge construction site.
UBEC And SUBEBs Public Relations Officers Are Important
Public Relations Officers of UBEC and SUBEBs are key players in the quest to resolving the out- of-school children challenge facing the country.  Fundamentally,  proactive information dissemination to convince parents to allow their children access basic education is important.  This is in view of the fact that basic education is free.
•This entails effective use of traditional and new media. However, each public relations officer must use the right media that will be most effective for his state. But in view of the strata of society being targeted, I suggest local broadcast media and the new media. For the broadcast media, messages should be sent across to parents through indigenous languages.
In cases where finance is available, the public relations officers should work with the Local Government Education Authorities (LGEA) to engage in direct outreach programmes, which will involve meeting religious leaders, community-based groups, women groups and comparative groups in the drive to attract children to school.
•Retention Of Kids In School
Even when the out-of-school children are attracted to school, the next challenge is to retain them in their classes. Here again, public relations officers of UBEC and SUBEBs remain critical partners with other stakeholders.
I believe that the PR Departments of UBEC and SUBEBs should be strengthened to provide positive information on the beautiful things that happen in schools – the improving quality of learning, the free feeding programme (where it exists) and the advantages of good education.
PR personnel must not allow purveyors of negative information discourage children from going to school and giving parents reasons why children should not go to school.  Such negative information comes from sensationalism.  If there is a challenge at a public school, these negative information traders blow it out of proportion.
While we seek better educational facilities, we must always seek intelligent and honest ways of promoting the public basic education system. You can achieve this by promoting outstanding teachers and very brilliant pupils in different schools across different states.
•Advocacy To Attract Stakeholder Participation In Basic Education Across Communities
We have all agreed that government alone cannot drive basic education.  There are limited resources with competing needs. We are also aware that several schools across the country that require attention cannot be reached by the Federal and State Governments.
This is where the participation of community stakeholders is vital.  Public relations officers in different states working with other SUBEB and LGEA officials should identify privileged Nigerians in different communities and prevail on them to invest in basic education schools.
There are privileged Nigerians who can build classroom blocks, boreholes, writing materials, classroom furniture and feeding for children.  These investments ought to be done in line with the capacity of the investing stakeholders.
For the investing stakeholders, they would have their names crested on the areas of their investments.  In addition, UBEC and SUBEB should also initiate awards and halls of fame to recognize these stakeholders and encourage others to key in.
•Education Remains The Key To National Revival
As public relations practitioners, always bear in mind that you are at the most important rung of the developmental ladder of the country. This means that you must remain dedicated.
As it stands today, education is the only way for the country to commence its journey to greatness. In this march to greatness, education plays a key role and the basic education sector is even more important.  That is why public relations officers of UBEC and SUBEBs must engage the process and all stakeholders to ensure that our people appreciate the importance of basic education.
•Education Beyond Politics
As we work to develop the basic education sector, we must bear in mind that education is beyond politics.  Every Nigerian child, irrespective of the political leaning of his/her parents, should be able to access education
Therefore, public relations officers working for UBEC and SUBEBs must place the society above political considerations.  If they do this, they will earn the confidence of parents and improve the enrollment figures in our public basic schools.
Building Networks To Achieve Collective Goals
This is why this meeting should be applauded.  Beyond the training that PR personnel will get is the opportunity to interact and build networks for the development of the basic education sector.
Though the challenges faced may differ from state to state, public relations officials have the platform to peer review and compare notes. This way, they can tap into diverse experiences and better their operational capacity. In the long run, the country stands to benefit. The basic education sector would be enriched and our country would naturally be on the path to growth.
Nwakaudu is the Special Assistant to the Rivers State Governor on Electronic Media. He made the above remarks at the 2019 PR Training for UBEC and SUBEB Public Relations Officers from the 36 States and FCT in Port Harcourt, yesterday.

 

By: Simeon Nwakaudu

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