The Ethics Of Journalism In Nigeria: Getting It Right

By Uche Amunike

This week, I bring you, a very interesting paper written by the incumbent Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Anambra State Council, Comrade Emmanuel Udeagha. He delivered it at a programme organized by the Union of Campus Journalists, Nnamdi Azikuwe University, Awka on Friday, 9th August, 2019 at Prof Chinyere Okunna Legacy Building, UNIZIK, Awka. It is as informative as it is educative. A must read for every Mass Communication scholar and for all media practitioners.

Please enjoy…

I am delighted to speak at this maiden event organized by your August body. Indeed, I consider it a great privilege to interact with budding journalists and members of the incoming generation of Nigeria journalists on this crucial topic.

No doubt, the issue of Ethics has become quite a topical subject. Unarguably, every single step taken towards doing any work depends on objective and previously accepted or agreed upon criteria, not by caprice, whim or patronage.

The job of the Journalist, to put it in a nutshell, is to gather news. If he is good at his work, he will work with speed, clarity and accuracy. On these three pillars is erected the whole of the his functions.

Maurice Fagence had this to say about the Journalist … he needs the best qualities of a detective (as an investigator) of a psychologist (for handling and summing up people) and as a Lawyer(for drawing logical references from facts) He has to develop certain thinking processes called for by his special skill, for him there is no such thing as a “routine” assignment since even a routine assignment can turn out to be anything but routine. A bitter quarrel may develop at a town meeting resulting in a member turning in his resignation, sensational developments may come up at the hearing of a trial court, the chance discovery of floating bodies of drowned men, such as the Ezu River in Amansea incident, some years ago, and such other developments could generated instant news. There is the story of a reporter who was sent to cover a society wedding. He returned empty handed. When he was questioned, he replied, “There was no story”. A Journalist should always be alert for developments.

Journalism entails a high degree of public trust. To earn and maintain this trust, it is morally imperative for every Journalist and news medium to observe the highest Professional and Ethical Standards. In the discharge of his duties a Journalist should always have a healthy regard for truth and the public interest .

Consequently, on March 18-20, 1998, the Nigeria Press Council organized the Ilorin Forum where the Nigerian Press Organization formally ratified the new code of Ethics for Journalists in Nigeria

The Code of Ethics Include:

Decisions concerning the content of news should be the responsibility of a professional Journalist.

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.

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

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 the public interest

Information on the private life of an individual and his family should only be published if it’S affect It impinges on the public interest .

Publishing of such information about an individual as mentioned above should be deemed justifiable only if it is directed at:

Exposing crime or serious misdemeanor,

Exposing anti-social conduct ;

Protecting public health, morality and safety;

Preventing the public health from being misled by some statement or action of the individual concerned

A Journalist should observe the universally accepted principle of confidentiality and should not disclose the source of information obtained in confidence.

A Journalist should not breach an agreement with a source of information obtained in information in confidence.

A journalist should not breach an agreement with a source of information obtained as off-the record or as background information.

A Journalist should dress and comport himself in a manner that conforms with public taste.
A journalist should refrain from using offensive and abusive or vulgar language.
A journalist should not present lurid details, either in words or picture of violence, sexual acts, abhorrent or lurid scenes.

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries should be carried and approaches made with sympathy and discretion.

Unless it is in the furtherance of public 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

A journalist should neither solicit nor accept bribes, gratifications or patronage to suppress or publish information

To demand payment for the publication of news is inimical to the notion of new as a fair. accurate, unbiased and factual report of an event.

A journalist should not present or report acts of violence, armed robberies, terriorist activities, or vulgar display of wealth in a manner that glorifies such act in the eyes of the public.

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 offence, crime and rituals or witchcraft either as victims, witnesses, or defendants.

A journalist should strive to employ open and honest means in the gathering of information. Exceptional methods may be employed only when the public interest is at stake.

A journalist should strive to enhance National unity an public good.

A Journalist should promote universal principles of human right democracy, justice equity, peace and international understanding.

A journalist should not copy, wholesale or in part , other peoples’ work without attribution and/or consent

Where a journalist should reproduce a work, be it print, broadcast, artwork or design, proper acknowledgement should be accorded the author.

A journalist should abide by the rules of copyright established by National and International Law and Conventions.

A journalist should strive at all times to enhance Press Freedom and responsibility
Getting it Right

No-doubt credibility is journalist’s most important asset and accuracy is the best way to protect it. To ensure accuracy, journalists must check and double check all of the information they collect for a news story. They can make mistakes, but they should be rare. A journalist runs the risk of going to jail if he refuses to abide by the Ethics of the Profession.

Some Nigerians are extremely alarmed about the many reported cases of abuse of professional ethics by some media practitioners across the country.

A school of thought had argued that the apparent corruption in the Media is still widespread and that some journalists are said to still receive and demand “brown envelopes” and gifts.
As condemnable as this may be, my honest and considered opinion is that society and not the Journalist should be blamed for this cankerworm.

It is public knowledge that, most times, journalists are paid low and regular salaries.
A common joke is that some journalists use their press badges as meal tickets. What then do you think? – Your guess is as good as mine

Notwithstanding, journalists should be mindful of the Ethics of the Profession as ethical conduct has the capacity to minimize some problems they encounter in the course of their duty.

According to Professor Chinyere Stella Okunna and Dr. Muyiwa Popoola in the “Safety of Journalists in Nigeria’ the exercise of the Journalist’s right to freedom of expression should carry with it duties and responsibilities.

Let us all therefore work to build a culture of public service journalism in the country that future generations would be proud of.

Thank you.