Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has called on journalists to prioritise public good in the discharge of their duties ahead of the 2019 general elections.
He made the call while speaking on the topic “journalism and public good” at the unveiling of Maktoub Magazine in Abuja at the weekend.
Dogara tasks Nigerian journalists to abide by the ethics of the noble profession of journalism and to take measures to ensure that only those who are truly qualified may practise it.
“In the modern era especially of instantaneous media, it is more difficult to define who a journalist is. If care is not taken, anyone with an android phone connected to the internet and on a social media platform considers himself a journalist. I don’t think there are boundaries anymore, and sometimes things that are posted on social media are read by millions almost instantaneously, while in conventional journalism which is a practice of a more conventional media like the newspapers, the electronic media, it may even take more time for the people to access them. So the question is who is a journalist? I don’t know what the profession is doing in order to overcome the challenges to ensure that only those who are trained and certified as journalists practice the profession of journalism.”
He further urged media practitioners to place national interests first, “If you ask any journalist out there, even those that are engaged in citizens journalism, they will just tell you that they are engaged in the pursuit of truth. What happens when the pursuit of truth collides with national interests? Which one serves the public good better? That is the question we should always answer. I remember there was a particular judge in the military era who once said that even the Constitution of the country must be subordinated to the national interest because if there is no Nigeria, there can’t be a Constitution.
The question is that will journalists just be engaged in the open pursuit of the truth to be serving the national interest or public good? Or are there other standards out there that we must even subordinate the truth to in order for us to serve the public good? The truth is that there are certain truths that once published, even though they are truthful; without the truth everything loses its essence, but in publishing that truth we empower a conflict that may harm members of the public. What do you do in such cases?”
The Speaker raised concerns about fake news, especially in light of the fast approaching 2019 elections.
“As we approach the most critical period of the elections in 2019, it is pertinent to decipher what is fake news and real news. But my charge to those truly practicing the profession of journalism is to ensure we always put forward information that are verifiable, information that have been tested so that we can serve the public good.”
He also spoke on the danger which irresponsible use of social media portends for our democracy.
“The media of course is a vital tool in a democracy; without informed debate, without holding the government accountable to the people and the standards it is supposed to set for itself, there can be neither progress nor development. It is always in the escalation of constructive debates that we can reach out for the truth. I know that in the era of the social media, the debate has been whether to regulate even the social media itself. I remember there was a Bill in the National Assembly that talked about that, and there was an almost hateful campaign on all media platforms and the sponsors of the Bill named. At the need of the day, courage fled and the sponsors of the Bill withdrew it.
As journalists and citizens of this country however, we need to look at whether there is a case of freedom that does not come with responsibility. I know that we have fundamental rights in the Constitution but almost all these rights are ably circumscribed. Even the right to practice journalism, free press, free media and freedom of speech is circumscribed by the laws of slander and libel, the same way that the right to live is circumscribed by the law against murder. So, there’s virtually no right or freedom that is absolute. In exercising the right to engage in the social media, do we make that right absolute, or should we as a nation circumscribe by demanding that those who handle this very important tool of communication have the responsibility of ensuring that they do not post information that they know is not true? Or by requiring that they do not post information that harm the society?
I guess that we should as a nation dwell on this debate because if we don’t demand that those saddled with this responsibility exercise it, the damage that the social media can inflict in our polity can be unimaginable.”
He commended Mariam Mohammed, the publisher of Maktoub magazine, for speaking the truth to power and practising journalism in line with the ethos of the profession.
“I want to thank the wonderful woman, Mariam Mohammed, who engaged in this very noble effort of telling it as it is. I want to thank her for making this sacrifice that most journalists wouldn’t: to speak to those in positions of power regardless of the inhibitions and difficulties that may arise. Let me say that we continue to look forward to more of this kind of noble endeavours in the future. We want to encourage journalists to continue to borrow a leaf from efforts like this to tell their stories from angles that will benefit public good. As we march towards the elections in 2019, let’s dwell on the truth instead of fake news.”