Integrity, Independence, Essential Elements Of Unbiased Media Practice – Ibn Mohammed

Integrity, Independence, Essential Elements Of Unbiased Media Practice – Ibn Mohammed

Amid the array of burning issues surrounding media practice in Nigeria, Idris Abdullahi sought the views of ace broadcaster and onetime Director-General of Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, Yakubu Ibn Mohammed, on the way forward for the industry. Excerpts:

What is your take on promoting ethics in journalism practice in Nigeria?

To answer this question, one must first and foremost understand what these ethics are. The ethics, in a nutshell, are honesty, independence, fairness, public accountability, harm minimisation, avoidance of libel and proper attribution. Journalistic ethics and standards therefore comprise principles of ethics and good practice by journalists. For these to be promoted by journalists in Nigeria, they (journalists) must take special care to avoid misrepresentation and over-simplification. They must ensure free exchange of information that is accurate and thorough. Integrity is key here.

For journalism to be ethical, its practitioners must respect and be obliged to the truth, be loyal to citizens and maintain some degree of independence from those they cover, thereby serving as independent monitors of power. A good sense of observation and veritable analytical skills for unbiased assessment are key in this regard.

What do you have to say about the brown envelope syndrome, how could be tackled in the media industry?

The term “Brown Envelope” is the popular name given to gratification offered to, and received by journalists. Sometimes it is offered or given on demand. This practice in all its ramifications goes against the ethics of the profession and negates all that is good and positive in the practice.  It is a common practice signifying decadence. The 1998 Code of Ethics for journalists specifically states that “a journalist should neither solicit nor accept bribe, gratification or patronage to suppress or publish information or to demand payment for the publication of news. To do this is inimical to the notion of news as a fair, accurate, unbiased and factual report of an event”. 

The question now arises … how can this practice be curbed or eliminated? We must understand that journalists are human beings with survival needs. A practicing journalist must therefore be adequately remunerated to be able to independently be in a position to cater to these needs. Adequate remuneration coupled with a clear understanding of the ethics of the profession will definitely go a long way in fighting this cankerworm of “Brown envelope”.

As a critical stakeholder in the media industry, how will you compare today’s journalists and that of the 1980s and 1970s in terms of principles?

Honestly, you cannot isolate journalists in Nigeria today and try a comparative analysis of their principles and those of their 1970s and 1980s counterparts. This is because journalists do not live in isolation on an island exclusively reserved for them. They are part and parcel of the larger Nigerian society of today which, it is generally believed, has lost it in terms of values and principles. 

In this context, therefore, journalism in Nigeria today is a far cry from that of the 70s and 80s in terms of principles and values. This is regrettable and highly unwelcome as media practitioners are expected to uphold and protect principles and values in fulfilment of his role as a member of an important estate of the realm. The society loses it when the journalist loses it because (to paraphrase Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous book THE CANTERBURY TALES) if gold rusts, what shall iron do?  What I am saying here is that there is no basis for comparison in terms of principles between today’s journalists and those of the 70s and 80s.  A pity!

How can poor remuneration of journalists be tackled in Nigeria?

Yes, it is a fact that many media houses do not pay their employees regularly. In fact, there are some, it is alleged, who do not pay at all.  One is employed, given an identity card and asked to put it to “good use”. This is a reality but it is certainly not acceptable to me and others like me who have spent close to a life time doing nothing but reporting, editing and producing news, programmes and other media-related stuff.  Recall what I said earlier about integrity and independence as essential elements of unbiased media practice. 

A practitioner cannot exercise these traits in an atmosphere of want and need occasioned by irregular remuneration and in some cases absolute absence of a remuneration regime. The way to tackle this is for the regulators, Nigeria Press Council and the National Broadcasting Commission to wield the big stick and severely sanction erring media outfits. The liberalisation of the media eco-system in Nigeria has brought in its wake, the proliferation of outfits. Some of them do not have the wherewithal to operate in a very competitive environment given their shoe string budgets.

How will you asses the future of conventional media with the emergence of social media platforms?

For me the more the merrier. I do not subscribe to the view that the emergence of social media has saturated the media eco-system in Nigeria. I also do not see its emergence as a veritable threat to the traditional media. On the contrary, I see the development as providing additional width and height to avenues of information dissemination.   Yes, it is a development that tests the endurance of the traditional media by breaking the monopoly it hitherto enjoyed but the tough keep going when the going becomes tough.

We must also remember that the traditional media have in their favour the power and influence of tradition. My straight answer to this question is therefore a resounding and capital No. I see the development as a spur to the side of the traditional media to re-strategize, up the ante and become more creative in the way they go about gathering, processing and disseminating information.

What is your reaction to media’s contribution to the digital economy?

At this embryonic stage of the digital economy that is now being talked about what is critical and essential is a clear understanding of what it is all about – its ingredients, components etc. This is where the media comes in because the process requires massive sensitisation, education and enlightenment.  For the media to do this successfully, the practitioners themselves need to have a full grasp of the bolts and nuts of digital economy. Once this is achieved through seminars, workshops and interactive engagements, they will in turn educate and enlighten the citizenry on what digital economy is all about.

What is your opinion on the digital switch over in Nigeria, is there any positive impact, how and why?

The Digital Switch Over, DSO, project is well underway in Nigeria since its launch in Jos around the middle of 2016. It is a project being midwifed by the Ministry of Information through one of its agencies, National Broadcasting Commission, NBC. Critical stakeholders in the process include content providers like NTA, Channels and AIT, signal aggregators and signal distributors like Pinnacle Communications and Integrated Television Services, ITS. 

As the term implies, the content providers produce programmes which are then processed by the aggregators before distribution by the signal distributors. As director-general of the NTA from 2016 to May 2022, I was chairman of ITS which had the privilege of being responsible for the initial launch in Jos.

After the take-off in Jos, Abuja came on board courtesy of Pinnacle, then Enugu (ITS), Kaduna (Pinnacle), Ilorin (ITS), Osogbo, Lagos and Kano followed all courtesy of ITS. Other cities have been lined up and will soon follow. As you can see the process is ongoing and very soon the whole country will be covered.  Once this is achieved it will be adieu to analogue transmission in Nigeria.

Translate »