Threat to Journalism… Experts canvass professionalism, ethics

• Media owners risk picketing for unpaid salaries
Threat to journalism and how to practice it in line with ethical tenets formed the centre of discussions at the 2017 Media Week of Correspondents Chapel of Abia State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Umuahia recently. It climaxed with the launch of the chapel’s almanac for members.

Chairman of the chapel, Comrade Emma Ugwu, said the media week offers correspondents the opportunity to reappraise their professional practice and also take time-off their busy schedule to engage in physical exercises. Ugwu, who raised the alarm that journalism profession is presently under serious threat, said, “journalism profession is being buffeted on all fronts, as non-professionals have invaded the territory in numbers that are on the increase day-by-day. A majority of journalists in Abia State and Nigeria in general, who work for independent media organisations, no longer earn salaries for the work they do.”

He, therefore, urged media owners to stop employment of non-professionals and national and state NUJ leaderships to take the fight against quackery in the profession very seriously. According to him, the scenario has transformed journalism into a pure labour of love and not a means of livelihood unlike in other professions.

“Our lot is that we don’t report our own issues,” he said. “We fight for others but we don’t fight for ourselves and the public hardly raises a finger in our defence.”

Comrade Ugwu also reacted to the wrong impression state governments often have journalists in their domain, noting, “We are here to serve the public and project every view possible, be it from the ruling party or the opposition party. Members of the Correspondents Chapel belong to everybody and to nobody; we deserve respect and recognition, as we carry out our constitutionally-guaranteed duties.”

Speakers at the occasion also frowned at the way journalists are being poorly treated, saying the profession is not being practised as it ought to be. They decried non-payment of salaries by media owners and employers and the incidence of unbalanced and biased reports by quacks in the industry, especially on social media and urged NUJ to urgently address the scenario. 

The state’s Information Commissioner, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, expressed worry that those he called professional media practitioners watch and do nothing, as unprofessional social media and online operators and practitioners lead the mainstream media by the nose, as if they (online media) are the primary source of information for the public. He described the scenario, as a challenge before the professionals and offered to organise free online news reporting training sessions for chapel and work closely with the state’s NUJ. Kalu urged journalists to stop ignoring reportable events and issues in their state in favour of others, imbibe self-regulation and not allow others to dictate to them.

Chairman of the occasion and former APGA gubernatorial candidate in the state, Chief Ochiagha Reagan Ufomba, said that journalists would be more appreciated for their balanced and unbiased reports and stand discredited if they failed to do so. 

Represented by Mr. Obinna Odowike of Radio Nigeria Pacesetter FM, Umuahia, Ufomba tasked journalists to counter the false reports being fed the public by social media platforms with true and balanced reports, saying that journalists should do so by going the extra mile to pre-investigate issues and thereafter publish them for credibility.

In a lecture titled ‘Journalism Practice in Abia State: Problems and Prospects,’ a Mass Communications teacher, Dr. Uwaoma Uche, called for the adoption of what he called ‘analytical journalism in Nigeria’ and the use of investigative, factual journalism to counter false reporting and rumor mongering that feature so much in today’s journalism practice.

Uche also made the case for information to form part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and for the media to be statutorily recognised as the fourth arm of government. He enjoined journalists to avoid sycophancy, ‘yellow’ journalism, character assassination, sensationalism among others, saying that by so doing they would enrich and make their reports more credible and be better reporters.

NUJ’s Vice President for Zone C, Comrade Chris Isiguzo, condemned the practice of not paying journalists salaries due them, indicating that such culprits now risked being picketed and urged journalists to continue to report objectively.

Abia State’s NUJ Chairman, Comrade John Emejor, who commended the chapel for pioneering publishing of members’ almanac, stressed that a labourer deserves his wages, especially journalists that work round the clock. He recalled that journalists in the state had resolved to get their reports right, adding that there is a standing ethics committee that treats reports of quackery and unprofessional practice and misconduct.

In his remark, Chairman of the state’s Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Uchenna Obigwe, recalled that journalists in the state suffered great losses at their state secretariat, when soldiers invaded this year during ‘Operation Python Dance II’ and destroyed valuables and working tools. He urged the military to compensate NUJ and its members that fell victim.

The Chapel received goodwill messages from the three senators from Abia State – Theodore Orji, Enyi Abaribe and Mao Ohuabunwa and Ikwuano/Umuahia member in the House of Representatives, Chief Sam Onuigbo, among many other notable dignitaries.

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Comrade Emma UgwuNUJ
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