Mr Nnamdi Njemanze, is the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Press Council (NPC). In this interview with the Managing Editor, Ajibola Abayomi, he expresses his views on practice of journalism in the nation.
The NPC has made series of interventions to ensure that the output of the media is enhanced particularly concerning election coverage in 2019, how will you assess the impact so far?
Is like you are asking me to assess myself and I will readily say we have done quite well. We have been training journalists to enhance their capacity to report election better. We have drawn attention to the need to be professional. You cannot be professional without being knowledgeable and abreast with the morphology of election which include understanding the electoral law, the constitution and the rules guiding electoral bodies. If you are outside the confines of those things that are germane to the coverage of election, people will not reckon with your reportage to take a decision simply because you are not in tune with the international best practice.
How many media practitioners has the NPC trained and what number are you targeting?
In 2018, we have trained about 74 journalists in Abuja from different northern states. For the South West, in Akure assembled about 55 journalists and same number in State for the South East, we could have done better but we have budget constraint, however before the general elections, we intend to do more either by December this year or January 2019.
So how will you view practice of journalism in Nigeria and what are the other commitments from the NPC to make it better?
If you look at the act setting up NPC, it was the act that gave journalism legal basis in Nigeria. It stated the basic qualification for anyone who wants to be a journalist. As a professional, you have to pass exams and have a subsisting code of practice. Before then, there was no law on that. In 1998, the subsisting code to practice as journalist in the nation was set up in Ilorin. The NPC is mindful of the need for professionalism. The difficulty at hand is setting up the board of the NPC arising from the 1999 constitutional amendment that made relevant stakeholders refused to nominate or elect members into the body. When the board is constituted, it will be in a position to make pronouncement or adjudicate over the performance of journalists. When the council is properly constituted its pronouncement or adjudication will be a guide for practice of journalism in relation to the code of ethics of the profession. In terms of accreditation for journalism courses, the council working with the Democratic Governance for Development under the UNDP assisted the National Board for Technical Education to carry a review on the National Diploma programme in Mass Communication and journalism in 2014. These are some of the contributions of NPC to enhance journalism in Nigeria.
What about joining the campaign for better salary package for the media, is NPC working on that?
The press council even though it protects the right and privileges of journalists is not a salary and wages commission. The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) wearing the cap of a labuour union is in a better position to negotiate the welfare and salaries of journalists with various media employers. In 2008, the NPC assisted the NUJ to organise a national workshop where the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) was invited as a stakeholder to review the salaries and working condition of journalists but the body refused to attend and claimed that issues relating to salaries should not be discussed at that level. NPAN insisted that wages should be left for the employers and the employees based on the ability to pay according to individual media establishment’s strength. Payment of wages is a labour issue with clear provisions on the right of the employees to demand for their right. Media employee or the NUJ can explore that better to enforce right of journalists to negotiate their salaries without NPC’s involvement.
How do you intend to measure the feedback on the training organised by the council for journalists?
Immediately after the election in 2015, we conducted a post assessment for those we trained. They were invited to critique the training model we used and the results we got were quite interesting. We monitor through the research officers that monitor the newspaper publications and look at areas where there were breaches of the code and we took action.
What is your suggestion on how media practice can be better enhanced?
The question is a doubled barrel pointer. The practice of journalism can be enhanced better when you have transparency in government and the agencies are ready to provide information based on need in line with the freedom of information bill. The job can also be enhanced when journalists go beyond the surface scratching of press releases and go deeper by carrying out investigative journalism. The traditional media have challenges because these days information can be easily access through the social media on the internet. However, real journalists working with either the conventional media or online outfits, have duty to go deeper by prescribing, verifying and fact checking so that people can rely on them and to forgo fake news mostly being circulated on the social media by untrained people or those that deliberately want to be mischievous. The way the Premium Times went beyond the WAEC saga relating to the school certificate result of President Muhammadu Buhari was very commendable. The outfit was able to contact Cambridge and extract the names of those that sat with the President in 1961, doing that, they have gone beyond surface value by providing additional and relevant information on the issue.