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Nigeria: Journalism and Society - Rights and Responsibilities

Nigeria: Journalism and Society - Rights and Responsibilities

BEING A PAPER ENTITLED “RESPONSIBILITY OF JOURNALISTS IN A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY” DELIVERED BY PRINCE DIMEJI KAYODE-ADEDEJI AT THE ANNUAL SYMPOSIUM OF THE PRESS CLUB OF THE FEDERAL COLLEGE OF EDUCATION, OSIELE, ABEOKUTA, OGUN STATE, NIGERIA

The President of the club, members of his executive council, invited guests, students, ladies and gentlemen.

Let me start by welcoming you all to this auspicious occasion. And permit me, firstly, to appreciate the organizers of this laudable event, THE PRESS CLUB OF THE FEDERAL COLLEGE OF EDUCATION, OSIELE, ABEOKUTA for deeming it fit to invite me to deliver a lecture today.

Prince Dimeji Kayode-Adedeji

No doubt, your choice of topic is apt and relevant at this point in time in view of the fact that the nation is gradually attaining status of globally accepted democracy.

However, let me begin to do justice to this topic you have put before me.  Specifically, you have tasked me to educate this august gathering on the ‘Responsibility of Journalists in a Democratic Society’.  Having said that I’ll crave your indulgence to begin to x-ray this topic for your comprehension by making you to understand firstly, who is a journalist? Similarly, I’ll endeavour – within the limited time apportioned me on this topic – to describe what democracy is and analyse the responsibilities of a journalist.   Doing this, to my utmost understanding, we would be able to grasp where we are coming from and where we are heading to on this crucial topic.

 A journalist is a person who collects and writes, and sometimes distributes, news and other obtained information for the public’s consumption. The work of a journalist is journalism. A journalist can work on general issues reporting, or specialized in certain aspects of news coverage and dissemination, often called beats. For example, a
sports journalist covers news within the world of sports, a politics reporter regularly writes on political issues, while, for instance too, a maritime reporter brings news concerning maritime activities – either locally or internationally or both.

What do journalists do?

They gather and “sell” news to people that often they don’t know, that is different set of listeners, viewers or readers. And news is sincerely that part of communication that makes is possible to keep us informed about the events happening around us, and globally.  But, let me educate you by saying that the news you expose yourself to may be interesting, educating, annoying and, or, even entertaining.  But, the significant value of news is to make you to be informed and also serves as a tool to empower you in order to make decisions in line with your philosophy about life.

And talking about democracy, it is government by the people.  In other words, it’s a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by proxy, through their elected agents under a free electoral system.

But I need to stretch it further to educate you clearly here with three meaning of this very significant word – democracy.  It is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, often through elected representatives; it is a state governed by a democracy; and it also the control of an organisation or group by the
majority of its members. But for the purpose of today it is, according to former President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, (and) shall not perish from the Earth.”         

Let us, however, equally understand the word responsibility. The Dictionary meaning of responsibility has it that, it is a duty to deal with or take care of someone/something so that you may be blamed if something goes wrong. It also explained that, it is a duty to help take care of someone because of your job, position, etc.

Now having explained all these, the next stage is for me to focus my attention on the media practitioners (journalists), on their expected roles in the society.  Most importantly, we should not forget that when creating conditions to allow journalists to function effectively, it is important to recognize their contribution to democracy and development.
Without making, or ensuring, available access to credible and ethical journalism, people are unable, or may not be able; to make informed decisions, and corruption, for instance, often remains in place. A vibrant democracy relies on the pluralist participation of all sectors of the society, including journalists, and democracy flourishes best when journalists are able to provide civil society with the information they need to formulate informed positions on economic, social, and political matters.

Observations:

At this juncture, I am of the basic opinion that it is important to look at the situation of journalism in the world today and the changes that are taking place in the way people receive and give out information. In doing so, an examination of the conditions and professional environments that journalists work is vital.

In addition, with the increasing ways which the civil society receives information, members of the civil society are no longer voiceless, but are direct participants.  Similarly, journalists are becoming more and more involved in moderating, rather than leading, a conversation.  To understand the specific role journalism plays, no doubt, is to create an information environment that builds upon democracy. In democracies, people need to be properly informed.

They need information that is credible, reliable, and truthful, and they need to know the sources. It is not just the quality of journalism, decent wages, and safe working conditions that are at stake, but it is also a matter of ethical journalism with prescribed acceptable standard.

Those working in journalism must maintain the integrity of the profession. Coalitions between civil society and journalism should be developed to help ensure a stronger relationship of engagement. Promote civil society trust in the media because journalism has traditionally functioned outside of civil society and it is necessary to overcome this obstacle.∙ Build coalitions within the journalism world, as well as create new links between independent journalism and civil society to build trust in the media.

Anti-corruption campaigns:

  • Build a social dialogue inside media management including developing a new relationship with media employers;
  • Raise awareness of the pressures on journalists and need for public support to counter impunity and corruption inside media;
  • Develop new accountability systems for journalism to encourage self-rule injournalism, to mediate disputes with media, to advocate better laws and rules governing media, and to lead national campaigns for media literacyand education;
  • Establish a framework for social dialogue among mediamanagement, government, and unions to provide collective agreements andprotections for social rights of journalists and media staff;
  • Campaignfor the rule of law;
  • Challenge impunity over attacks on journalists, repeal laws that restrict journalism, encourage more investment intraining and media literacy, and build respect for public service valuesso that state-supported media operate independently;
  • Introduce programs for media development in all national development strategies toensure that free expression, freedom of association, public rights to information, and high standards of journalism are made an integral part of economic, social, and democratic development;
  • Promote ethical and professional journalism;
  • Monitor the work of media and increase medialiteracy; and,
  • Mediate disputes without fear of intimidation or loss ofemployment. –

However, anyone familiar with the history of democracy would know that journalism played a vital role in the struggle of the ordinary people against the absolutist monarchies that were the norm in the 19th century. Ditto, the struggle for Nigeria’s independence. You will recall that our early nationalists in the forefront for the independence struggle were one time or the other journalists: Chief Ernest Ikoli, first Editor of Daily Times of Nigeria and President of the Nigerian Youth Movement; Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who
later founded the Nigerian Tribune; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who founded the West African Pilot newspaper in Ghana and Nigeria before he became the President of Nigeria
in 1963 and Dr. Herbert Macaulay. Since that time, the press in every democracy has guarded its role as the watchdog of the interests of the people against the ever-present danger of abuse of power by the “Leviathan”.


We are following an honourable tradition. Even in the US and Britain, the countries considered as group of liberal democracy, there has always been tension between the government and the press – with the former persistently accusing the latter of overstepping its bounds. Bill Moyers, regarded as one of the most credible figures in American journalism and one who served in the White House during the Vietnam War, once said: “In the White House we circled the wagons, grew intolerant of news that didn’t comfort us and, if we could have, we would have declared illegal the sting of the bee.

"The right to freedom of speech is the first for a reason. It’s needed to keep our leaders honest and to arm the powerless with the information they need to protect themselves against the tyranny of the powerful, whether that tyranny is political or commercial.”

Let me equally say this, as journalists, we have freedom of speech, just like you anyway, and we would indeed be unfair in our duty if we did not report the facts as we
understand them rather than bend them to the agenda of the government of the day. For most of our history we had a commercial press that mirrored the positions of those in power and denied the legitimate right of the citizenry to become aware of the facts that created the chains of their bondage.

As pointed out on so many previous occasions, the government has nothing to fear from the truth if it or any of its agencies are not covering up the truth.  The Johnson administration (in the US) saw the press as the “enemy” because they wanted to hide the truth that the war in Vietnam was not going well and in fact was leading to being lost. The press exposed the truth; the administration pilloried them as ‘aiding and abetting the enemy” but they stuck to their guns and eventually their perspective was vindicated. America gained in the end.  

Democracy cannot be built or sustained on lies from a government that is supposed to be governing on behalf of “the people”. In a democracy, the “consent of the governed” must be an informed consent and it is the task of the press to present the facts that will inform the citizenry – especially as it relates to the activities of the state to which they have conferred so much power.
 
“Press Freedom” recently seems to be seizing the moment of the day. Talks are centered on the word ‘freedom’; however, not much weight is given to the responsibilities attached to that freedom. Freedom of the press does not mean uncontrolled in totality, since it can be abused.

Press freedom entails certain responsibilities, that is, to safeguard human rights and to ensure the proper functioning democracy.  Journalists under a democratic society must promote liberal discussions, and to encourage people to engage in healthy debate so as to advance the development and progress within a nation – and attain viable democracy. The power of the press should not be used recklessly or thoughtlessly, but always be guided by conscience and careful thought.

The ‘press’ is a powerful tool and if used for the wrong reasons can do more harm than good. Information whether factual, fictional, or fantasy is disseminated through the press and it can pattern the thoughts and opinions of the people. It can change the perceptions of people, for or against someone and it can build up heroes or create criminals. The power of the press and the analogous obligation to exercise that power with caution cannot be understated.

Today, since our news media are not acting responsibly enough (not all of them anyway), we need to differentiate what is sense, from what is nonsense for shifting the important matters to the unimportant.

`Indeed, a ‘free press’ is a watchdog to keep checks on government power and abuses. But at the same time, public officials deserve respect and protection against false insinuations and unsubstantiated accusation of official wrongdoings. Public officials are always the victims of personal attacks and ridicule by the public because of press abuse.

Journalists have a responsibility to report the truth, and this entails the proper investigation of stories before reporting. Rumours and gossips should be shunned, though nowadays a big segment of the society prefers this, probably just to amuse themselves or take their minds away from the huge socio-economic and political problems confronting the nation right now.  Journalists should not discredit themselves by becoming storytellers or novelists. Reports must be warranted by facts, as US ex-President Abraham Lincoln articulated “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.”

At this juncture, let me intimate you with the fact that Nigeria’s constitution recognises the roles of the media in the society.  The constitution mandated the media, through the journalists, to perform its roles for the betterment of the society. 

Specifically, Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution enjoins the mass media to hold accountable the government – in their responsibilities to the people. Proceeding further, however, Chapter Two, Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution says: “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”  Indeed, if you go further to Chapter Three, Section 39, sub-section 1, the constitution explained clearly further: 

“Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”  And sub-section 2 went further: “Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium of the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.”

In conclusion, I want to emphasize that, for democracy to thrive, journalists have significant and herculean tasks to play.  By the responsibilities bestowed on them, for instance in the 1999 Constitution and to help the advancement of democracy and people’s participation in the decision-making process in government, journalists should stick to the ethics of their profession, and should equally avoid sentiments or being biased when performing such roles in the society.

However, I must add that government at all levels, because this is necessary, must provide a conducive and enabling environment for the media to operate and thrive – one where no journalists would be intimidated harassed, maimed or even killed. 


By ensuring the right environment, it is the people and the government itself, and the society in general, at the end that would be the overall beneficiaries of a society where freedom of the press prevails.

Once, again I thank you all for listening with rapt attention. God bless us all.  Amen.

* Dimeji Kayode-Adedeji (a Prince) is a journalist of over 2 decades practice, a former Zonal Secretary, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and member of Central Working Committee (CWC) – highest decision-making body of the Union. Currently, Dimeji is Ogun State Editor of Premium Times, a vibrantly frontline online publication. He can be reached at: +234 803 318 6392, +234 806 434 2039. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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