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ETHICAL CHALLENGES IN JOURNALISM PRACTICE IN SOUTH-SOUTH NIGERIA: A CASE STUDY OF RIVERS, BAYELSA AND DELTA STATES
1.1 Background of the Study
Various professions the world over have identity carved for themselves in which they depend on for pride. Some are known for routine, some are famous for their unity of purpose salutation while some are known for their esprit de corps. The Nigerian print media has taken a new turn in this 21st century though a large percentage of print media ownership is still in the private hands while government clung to monopoly of the broadcast media is gradually giving way. Notwithstanding, concern from the scholars’ perspective is more on the issue of non-professionalism which is more rampart in journalism. It is not uncommon for politicians who have no knowledge of journalism to establish one, two, three and even numerous media houses purposely to prosecute their political ambition and sometimes establishing such for financial gains.
The constitution of Nigeria does not guarantee specific press freedom, it only guarantees freedom of expression including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information. Several professional bodies such as Law, Engineering, Accounting, Medicine, etc today enjoy a high sense of respect because they are clearly identified and defined by the Nigerian constitution, adhered to ethical values and governing rules. Ironically, journalism, which is widely seen as the conscience of society is yet to be certified a profession, judging by the yardstick on what a profession should be. The practice of journalism in Nigeria has courted great controversies especially in relation to ethical regulation and adherence to professional precepts. Journalism is an esteemed profession that has a lot to offer in the reformation of society; unfortunately in Nigeria, it has become an all comers affair.
The former Abuja Bureau Chief of the Tide Newspaper, Alloys Nweke, during the January 2008 Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Summit in Port Harcourt, frowned at the numerous untrained people bestriding the streets with pen and paper claiming to be journalists. Nweke’s speech revealed that the number of fake journalists in Nigerian society is higher than the real practitioners, this is really painful and embarrassing because it depicts journalists as beggars and irresponsible whereas, genuine Nigerian journalists have remained in the forefront of democratic change and social re-ordering through doggedness and abrasive posture.
Akinfeleye (1990) quoted an American critic, Dean Rosco Pound who once wrote that every profession is governed by certain rules, and the absence of such rules makes it a vocation (Akinfeleye, 1990). For a very long time Nigerian scholars, professionals and practitioners have argued as to whether journalism is a profession or not in Nigeria. Some scholars and practitioners of journalism in Nigeria say journalism is a trade, others say it is a craft or an occupation while the rest simply say it is a vocation. According to Akinfeleye, (1990), the confusing state of affairs as to whether journalism is a profession or not in Nigeria has been partially brought about by the colonial rulers, particularly Britain where until recently, journalism was regarded as “an unqualified profession” (Akinfeleye, 1990).
In another development, every profession is being governed by its ethics and code of conduct. The early and the nationalist press were not governed by any formal ethics and code of conduct. For example, editorial policies didn’t exist, from the four paged, bilingual Iwe Iroyin to many paged Daily Times. On ethics and code of conduct in early Nigeria journalism practice, Udoakah & Nnadi, (2007) position that there was no regulation in the profession and anything went through. This accounts for one of the reasons why up till today, journalism in Nigeria is still not being seen as a profession, it is an all-comers affair. Responsible regulation came with the ethical code of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in 1962. This was after the journalists have established themselves as trade unionists on March 15, 1955. It started with 12point functions and 12-point code for members.
Following this on May 21, 1961, the Nigerian Guild of Editors was inaugurated. Both NUJ and NGE in 1962 proclaimed 16-point code of ethics for journalism practice in Nigeria with all fusing organizations in January 15, 1979 and signed the ethics and code of conduct which was in operation before modification in 1998. The 1998 adopted code of ethics emphasizes: “the publication of truth, the question of corruption, the question of free access to news, the question of confidentiality, the publication of plagiarism and errors of facts.” Colonia rulers in Nigeria and their succeeding “Nigerian-Europeans” regarded journalism education as an unnecessary undertaking. This view partly accounts for the reason why few decades ago, most Nigeria universities did not offer any formal journalism training. Until recent times, Nigerian journalists were being viewed as a bunch of dropouts who had been rejected by other professions. This uncomplimentary view of journalism and journalists in Nigeria has made the profession, trade, craft, or vocation, very unprestigeous (Akpan, 2000).
It has now become a truism that low literacy rate contributes to a low degree of journalism training and also to a low standard of journalistic performance. Journalism profession has suffered serious setbacks in its developmental processes in Nigeria because; Nigeria nation has not given priority to degree programmes in journalism. Instead graduates from other disciplines such as Political science, Economics, Sociology, English etc are being given on-the-job training in journalism and these non- professionals do cause serious damage to this noble profession. Just of recent, the immediate ex-NUJ President, Akwu in Port Harcourt, after a deliberation on the state of the profession submitted that journalists should ensure strict adherence to the ethics of the profession in order to change the perception of the world about them. Making comment on the issue of non-professionalism in Nigeria journalism, Gboyega (1989), frowned at the inability of the very many press barons in Nigeria to make deliberate efforts to transform journalism in the country to an enviable profession that can compete favourably in its organizational structure, effectiveness, thoroughness and virility as in other professions like Legal, Medical, Engineering and Banking professions. In view of all these, this research seminar will critically examine some issues and aim at providing solutions to them.
Also, the condemnation of journalists by those not favoured by news reports is always total. Few people are objective in their assessment of journalists’ performance when they are directly involved in a report. They are stingy with praises when due but generous with condemnation. They discard the principle of cause and effect which basically explains the relationship between the cause of a story and the story itself. However, the journalism profession occasionally experiences credibility problem, which hinges on lack of adherence to its ethical demands by practitioners. This is undesirable, though, as a good relationship between the media and its audience is an imperative if society must grow.
It is noteworthy that the integrity of the media has hardly ever been on the line when issues of national importance are involved. Challenges come mainly when issues revolve around individuals or group and, at that point, the media, in its entirety, is overwhelmingly castigated over the perceived offence or professional misconduct of few practitioners.