HOW APPROPRIATE ARE THE ETHICS OF JOURNALISM IN NIGERIA?
Firstly, there is a need to highlight the code of ethics of Journalism in Nigeria. The Code of ethics is a collective effort of Nigerian journalists represented by the Nigeria Press Organization (NPO) and the Nigerian Press Council (NPC).It thus reads;
1. EDITORIAL INDEPENDENCE
Decisions concerning the content of news should be the responsibility of a professional journalist.
2. ACCURACY AND FAIRNESS
i.The Public has a right to know. Factual accurate, balanced and fair reporting is the ultimate objective of good journalism and the basis of earning public trust and confidence.
ii.A journalist should refrain from publishing inaccurate and misleading information. Where such information has been inadvertently published, prompt correction should be made. A journalist must hold the right of reply as a cardinal rule of practice.
iii.In the course of his duties, a journalist should strive to separate facts from conjecture and comment.
As a general rule, a journalist should respect the privacy of individuals and their families unless it affects public interest.
A. Information on the private life of an individual or his family should only be published if it impinges on public interest.
B.Publishing of such information about an individual as mentioned above should be deemed justifiable only if it is directly at:
i.Exposing crime or serious misdemeanour;
ii.Exposing anti-social conduct;
iii.Protecting public health, morality and safety;
iv.Preventing the public from being misled by some statement or action of the individual concerned.
4. PRIVILEGE/NON DISCLOSURE
i.A journalist should observe the universally accepted principle of confidentiality and should not disclose the source of information obtained in confidence.
ii.A journalist should not breach an agreement with a source of information obtained as “off the record” or as “back ground information”
i.A journalist should dress and comport himself in a manner that conforms with public taste.
ii.A journalist should refrain from using offensive, abusive, or vulgar language.
iii.A journalist should not present lurid details, either in words or picture, of violence, sexual acts, abhorrent or horrid scenes.
iv.In cases involved in personal grief or shock, enquiries should be carried out and approaches made with sympathy and discretion.
v.Unless it is in the furtherance of the public’s right to know, a journalist should generally avoid identifying relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime.
A journalist should refrain from making pejorative reference to a person’s ethnic group, religion, sex, or to any physical or mental illness or handicap.
7. REWARD AND GRATIFICATION
i. A journalist should neither solicit nor accept bribe, gratification or patronage to suppress or publish information.
ii.To determine payment for publication of news is inimical to the notion of news as fair, accurate, unbiased and factual report of an event.
A journalist should not present or report acts of violence, armed robberies, terrorist activities or vulgar display of wealth in a manner that glorifies such act in the eyes of the public.
9. CHILDREN AND MINORS
A journalist should not identify, either by name or picture, or interview children under the age of 16 who are involved in cases concerning sexual offences, crimes and rituals or witchcraft either as victims, witnesses or defendants.
10. ACCESS TO INFORMATION
A journalist should strive to employ open and honest mans in the gathering of information.
Exceptional methods may be employed only when the public interest is at stake.
11. PUBLIC INTEREST
A journalist should strive to enhance national unity and public good.
12. SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
A journalist should promote universal principles of human rights, democracy, justice, equity, peace and international understanding.
A journalist should not copy, wholesale, or in part, other people’s work without attribution and/or consent.
i. Where a journalist reproduces a work, be it in print, broadcast, art work or design, proper acknowledgement should be accorded to the author.
ii. A journalist should abide by all rules of copyright, established by national and international laws and conventions.
15. PRESS FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY
A journalist should strive at all times to enhance press freedom and responsibility.
Having highlighted the ethics and examined the Nigerian Journalist, the ethics are not totally obeyed by them. The issues have however been a concern based on the ethics meant to be followed by journalists in Nigeria.
Firstly, Editorial Independence most of the times is subjected to negative ownership. Most media organizations in Nigeria are not being independent of their publications due to the fact that these media houses are privately owned by important personalities in the society. This Owners control what should be heard or read by the citizens. A good example is that of President Olusegun Obasanjo, being a Southerner, has benefited from the “soft touch” of the predominant media in Nigeria. In the “Speaker-gate” scandal that involved Alhaji Salihu Buhari, the first Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Obasanjo Presidency, the North/South perspective of the Nigeria media was manifest. The News, a southern-based news-magazine, which first reported the fact that Salisu Buhari had forged his age and educational qualifications to clinch the exalted position, pursued the allegations until Buhari was forced to resign, and was subsequently tried and convicted for perjury.
Most media organizations support the religion or ethnicity of the owners of the media houses. Notable examples of these are the census controversies of 1962 and 1973, the Daboh-Tarka affair. The North/South divide in Nigerian politics is so deep that public policy defers to it, and mass media outfits skew their reports and analyses to accommodate the interests of its adherents. Also the idea of giving out brown envelopes to journalist by politicians is very imminent in the Nigerian Media. The integrity of Journalists has been bought by the bribes and incentives of politicians and people in power. Monetary bribes and other gifts tie the hands of journalist who then become incapable of being objective in reporting events and issues involving people who give the gifts. Also, some publishers are in the habit of getting contracts from the government, such publishers always try to discourage their newspapers and magazine from publishing stones hat are critical of the government.
Although the media sometimes provide information to citizens but in most cases it is never done, rather they hoard information at times for security and if they have been bribed to keep the information. For instance, the government’s poor record of accountability amongst public officers between 1986 and 1993 was evident among others at the National Electoral Commission (NEC), the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL) Plc, and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), but which was reported only after the demise of the Babangida administration (See African Guardian, 1 November 1993; The
Guardian, 18 October 1993; Newswatch, 29 October 1993; The Guardian, 13 October 1993; 6 November 1993; and African Concord, 7 March 1994). This implies that the problem of lack of exposure during life of an administration is not for want of evidence and the necessary information.
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.
When the press makes statement that damages a person’s reputation, the press is guilty of character assassination. An example of character assassination was late Ohonbamu’s accusation of the former Head of State, late Murtala Muhammed of corruption and acquisition of ill-gotten wealth. Ohonbamu, a Senior lecturer in Law at the University of Lagos and also the publisher of African Spark magazine published the allegation in hismagazine. He was charged to court and towards the end of the trial he pleaded guilty. Also, the recent statement credited to Dr. Gbenga Obasnjo published by The News magazine accusing Vice President Abubakar Atiku of corruption is another case of character assassination. Whereas there is no legal punishment for sycophancy, character assassination is both unethical and illegal, a journalist could face court action for defamation or damaging somebody’s reputation.
Ethics are important because they prescribe acceptable codes of professional behaviour. But in itself, an ethic code of conduct can of itself do nothing. The responsibility for serving the public rests squarely on individual reporters and their editors. As I see it, the challenge facing us has less to do with our failure to abide by the ethics of the profession. The challenge is to do a good job of informing and educating the Nigeria public. To do this, we must commit ourselves to two fundamental objectives.
- Firstly, we must be better informed than the public we seek to serve. An uninformed or a poorly-informed reporter is a dangerous creature let loose on the land.
- Secondly, we must sharpen our editorial judgement. Good editorial judgment is a function of both experience and broad-mindedness. The rush to publish has left a lot to be desired in our editorial judgement. We need to hasten slowly because what is published can never be unpublished.
In the words of Risley (2001) when a journalist is confronted with ethical problems he or she should consider the following principles.
- When there are two extreme positions in a situation, he or she should seek the middle ground known by Aristotle as the “Golden mean”.
- Act only as you would wish others would act.
- Consider the utilitarianism of our actions, that is, our action should produce the greatest balance of good over evil.
- Apply the veil of ignorance, that is, make ethical decisions as if you are equal with all members of the society and lastly treat people in the same way you would expect to be treated.
v Risely, Ford (2001) “Ethics” in Harpler Christopher and the Indiana group (eds) Journalism 2000 Madison, Course wise.
v Akinfeleye, Ralph (2003), Fourth Estate of the Realm or Fourth Estate of the Wreck: Imperative of Social Responsibility of the press, Lagos press pp 63-64