Lokoja retreat: Senate’s admonition against ‘sinking ship’ of journalism

Prof. Onimawo addressing journalists

Last Saturday in Lokoja, Senate’s spokesperson, Senator Ajibola Basiru, declared that the ship of journalism profession is sinking in Nigeria, requiring urgent rescue efforts to prevent it from totally capsizing, TAIYE  ODEWALE reports .

Ajibola who raised the alarm of sinking ship of journalism in in the country did so, in his capacity as one of the resource persons at the 2020 retreat of the Senate Press Corps , held at the Banquet Hall of the Government House , Lokoja, Kogi state .

Senator Ajibola who at the event, also represented the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, in a paper entitled : “Governance : How Watchful are the Watchdogs in Ensuring Accountability and Transparency ” , used Nigeria as a case study and submitted that the ship of journalism profession is sinking due to series of unprofessional conducts and practices by many of the practitioners or better put, journalists .

Some of the unprofessional practices according to him , are the growing tendency of turning news reportage into cash and carry or better put, news buying, preference for sensationalism as against news substance , turning the noble profession from that of watchdog   or service rendering, to money spinning etc .

Sensationalism he explained , should not be equated with serving as a watchdog since it not only erodes the credibility of the media, it also over the times, creates doubts about the role of the media for accountability and responsibility of the government.

He advised, “It is therefore imperative for the press to rededicate itself to proper investigative journalism with necessary thoroughness that focuses on substance or findings in relation to inefficiency, waste, corruption, mismanagement and/ or misappropriation being exposed”.

He added that ” Corruption and bad leadership in and among the Nigerian press have escalated professional compromise which are basically unethical and subjective journalism .

He submitted that if the media ,as the watchdog of happenings in the society , particularly within the public sector , is performing its role as enshrined in section 22 of the Constitution , the country would have surmounted the menace of institutionalized corruption to a very reasonable extent .

Consequently , he professed that for the sinking ship not to capsize, there was the urgent need for it to be  re- navigated properly along the routes of professionalism and objectivity.

In doing these, professionalism-driven therapies like value re- orientation,  training and capacity building, focusing on substance and not sensationalism ,  reforming code of professional ethics etc , must be carried out from time to time .

His words : ” Gentlemen of the Press, the ship of journalism is sinking and it is sinking very fast and something drastic has to be done before it totally capsizes. 

“Therefore, there is need for this retreat to further address itself to a rethinking of how the press can go back to perform its role as the fourth estate of the realm. 

“In this regard, from my own limited horizon, not being a trained expert in this field, I will offer some suggestions based on my personal experience and observation, that could be helpful in making the watchdog to be watchful in ensuring accountability and transparency. 

(1 ) Value Re-orientation Of paramount importance in ensuring that the press plays its watchdog role in ensuring accountability and transparency is a rediscovery journey to those values that made it to be qualifies as the fourth estate of the realm. 

“In this regard, an important indication as to the value proposition in the reorientation is contained in section 22 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which provides that  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.. 

“Part of what the media is expected to uphold is national ethics which is provided in section 23 of the 1999 Constitution to be “discipline, integrity, dignity of labour, social justice, religious tolerance, self-reliance and patriotism. 

“Section 39 of the constitution gives bite to the Press in upholding these values. Therefore, there must be a reversal of the dangerous trend of making the press and mass media a mere commercial venture. 

“The origin and evolution of the press is rooted in deeper values than mere commercialism. It is by the rededication to these higher values embedded in watchdog journalism that the press will continue to be of utility in ensuring responsible and accountable governance. 

“Another observed need for the contemporary press is training and capacity development. Even with the right value an ill-informed press without requisite knowledge, training and capacity cannot deliver on the goal of being a watchdog. 

“Journalists needs to be trained and develop competencies and capacity in the areas of governance, administrative procedures, legislative processes, exercise of oversight function and public finance management laws, procedures and implementation processes. 

“The right questions cannot be asked and correct inferences and conclusions cannot be drawn in exercising the role of a watchdog Without requisite knowledge and understanding of the above areas. 

“Most often energy is dissipated and no cogent findings made even with a best desire to expose inefficiency and corruption. The need for training and capacity development cannot be over emphasized if the press will be able to serve the purpose of being effective watchdog, otherwise they will not even know what to watch for. 

“The tendency now abounds that there will even be disconnect between the headlines and the substantive stories. This is more damaging than doing good to the profession and public reliance on the press. 

“Further, there is the temptation to equate sensationalism with serving as a watchdog. Far from it, sensationalism not only erodes the credibility of the media, it over the times create doubts about the quest of the media for accountability and responsibility of the government.

“It is therefore imperative for the press to rededicate itself to proper investigative journalism with necessary thoroughness that focused of substance of findings in relation to inefficiency, waste, corruption, mismanagement and/ or misappropriation being exposed. 

“An important panacea to addressing the failure of the press to serve as effective watchdog is erosion of professionalism in journalism. 

“Like every profession, journalism has its own dictates, nuances and characteristic traits. It appears, however, that over the time many people engaged in the press are no longer professional journalists. I therefore  submit that much will be achieved if the practice of journalism rededicate itself to professionalism.

“Over the time, journalism has largely been a self-regulating profession. More than at any time ever is there a need for the press to take it upon itself to develop a code of professional ethics to address the myriads of challenges facing it. 

It is suggested that there is need for review of the existing rules of the profession and fashioning necessary reforms that will ensure that the professional  kernel is not sacrificed on the altar crash commercialism and unregulated entry to the profession.

“The requirement of professionalism cannot be discounted if the goal of being effective watchdog for accountability and responsibility in governance will be accomplished”.

Other serving Senators at the event namely  the former National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists ( NUJ), Smart Adeyemi ( APC Kogi West ) and Yakubu Oseni ( APC Kogi Central ) , also tasked journalists to rise up in saving the ship of their profession from sinking further . 

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