Journalism is a profession that has ethical standards. A practitioner requires some training. Journalism requires training involving practice and theory. A journalist is usually guided by ethics hence disciplinary action is meted out to any journalist that fails to adhere to such ethical standards. In Nigeria, a journalist is expected to tell the truth with objectivity and fairness. Journalists have built-in self-censorship and therefore exhibit higher duty of care in disseminating information.
In Nigeria, the Nigerian Press Council provides the highest ethical standards for the journalism practice.
(a)Inquiring into complaints about the conduct of the press and the conduct of any person or organization towards the press and exercising in respect of the complaints the powers conferred upon it under this Act;
(b)Monitoring the activities of the press with a view to ensuring compliance with the Code of Professional and Ethical Conduct of the Nigeria Union of Journalists among others. The COUNCIL also ensures the protection of the rights and privileges of journalists in the lawful performance of their professional duties.
It is because of the critical role of the Nigerian Union of Journalists and the Nigerian Press Council that most administrations prefer to appoint trained journalists as principal information managers. Another reason is that non-journalists can hardly obtain correct information from their State NUJ Chapels because of the dividing line between them.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PROFESSIONAL JOURNALIST AND OTHERS
1.A professional Journalist is obliged by the social responsibility theory to protect the interest of the public, while telling the TRUTH. A non-journalist protects his/her interest and sometimes tells half-truths or outright falsehood.
2.A professional journalist is guided by ethical practices but a non-professional journalist can easily spread rumours, hack into people’s accounts or use the profile of other people to perpetrate falsehood.
3.A professional journalist is a member of the Nigerian Union of Journalist of any Chapter but a non-professional journalist cannot be admitted into the Union. The implication is that a non-journalist finds it difficult to obtain authentic information and therefore liable to peddle falsehood or commit acts of libel, defamation and slander.
4.A professional journalist emphasizes professional integrity and is not swayed by material or financial gratification but a non-professional journalist is prone to the BROWN ENVELOP hence non-journalists are less likely to be objective. If a professional journalist is found to not to uphold his professional integrity he/she is severely sanctioned. A non-professional journalist is very pedestrian in practice.
5.A professional journalist is expected to use real names and profiles to publish work but a non-professional journalist sees journalist as a Russian roulette and uses all sorts of pseudo and often fictitious names in peddling their trade. NON-PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS ALSO TAKE DELIGHT IN HACKING ACCOUNTS TO SPREAD FALSE RUMOURS. The hackers whom I suspect are not professional journalists used my first facebook account to announce the demise of the wife of a prominent President. After the successful workshop on February 20th, the hackers went to spread another falsehood that I was robbed in Ibadan, and those senseless sinister and heartless hackers went to solicit for money and recharge cards from the unsuspecting public. Professional journalists should be able to know that journalism practice solely and squarely rests on integrity, truth, objectivity and fairness. ONLY non-professional journalists can engage in such unethical practices.
The implication is that while the professional journalist uses his professional integrity in managing information, non-professional journalists extort money, tells lies, and worships the brown envelop. They publish stories without cross-checking facts and often use government funds to acquire sophisticated gadgets to pull down their colleagues rather than promote government policies and programmes. For the non-professional journalist, truth must be crucified on the altar of greed, avarice and self-aggrandizement.
Some Guiding Principles of Professional Journalism
1.Public interest: A journalist is expected to serve the general welfare by informing the people and enabling them to make judgments on the issues of the time.
2. Truth and accuracy Journalists strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair.
3.Verification: Practicing Journalists seek out multiple witnesses, disclosing as much as possible about sources, or asking various sides for comment. The discipline of verification is what separates journalism from other modes of communication, such as propaganda, fiction or entertainment.
4. Fairness: The goal of every journalist is to cover the news impartially and to treat readers, news sources, advertisers and all parts of our society fairly and openly.
5.Distinguishing fact and comment Media practitioners must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. This is why facts are sacred.
6.Accountability: The journalist shall do the utmost to rectify any published information which is found to be harmfully inaccurate.
7.Independence: Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know. This is why the pen profession is guided by the Social Responsibility function.
8.Transparency: Aim to attribute all information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative, attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances.
9.Restraint: The public has a right to know about its institutions and the people who are elected or hired to serve its interests. People also have a right to privacy and those accused of crimes have a right to a fair trial. There are inevitable conflicts between the right to privacy, the public good and the public’s right to be informed. Each situation should be judged in the light of common sense, humanity and the public’s rights to know.
10.Originality: In the course of writing, journalists are not expected to engage in not plagiarism; they are expected to be original
RUMOURS CAN ONLY FLOURISH WHERE PROFESSIONALISM IS REMOVED FROM JOURNALISM PRACTICE.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE IN BAYELSA STATE
Most often, those in Government blame the opposition for rumour mongering. However, it has been observed that even public office holders can be very active agents of rumour mongering. They do so by their unfounded and often skewed comments, unfair assessments and unguarded utterances. Such people release confidential information, which are usually misunderstood or falls into the hands of vicious propagandists.
1.Formation of Government House Chapel of NUJ:
This Chapter should be inaugurated by the Governor of Bayelsa State through the Commissioner for Information. The inauguration of this Chapter will provide a platform and a CLEARING HOUSE for journalists to gather authentic information and disseminate same to the public. This prevents the spread of vicious rumours and vile propaganda. It should be mandatory for every information manager in Bayelsa State to belong to the NUJ and abide by the ethics of the profession.
2.Encourage non-Professional Journalists to Professionalize:
Another way of tackling the incidence of rumour mongering is to encourage non-professional journalists to undergo training. For instance, in Bayelsa State, there is an institute where journalists can be trained. Such training should be made compulsory for non-professional journalists.
3.Principal Information Managers should embrace the SOCIAL MEDIA: The Social Media is wider than the traditional media where editors and sub-editor etc are regarded as gate-keepers. The only thing you can defend on the social media platform is the TRUTH; and those who peddle falsehood are easily identifiable. The bottom-line is that professional journalists abide by the ethics of their profession while non-journalists see the practice as a trial and error game where money and influence replace integrity. In reality the BROWN ENVELOP cannot replace truth.
A professional journalist does intensive research, and verifies facts because facts are sacred. Basically it is assumed that all principal information managers at all levels of government are journalists, as non-journalists can misinform the public. This is probable because they do not feel obliged by the ethics of journalism. No profession survives without a code of ethics. Government policies and programmes are better conveyed through organized channels of communication. In this enterprise, professional bodies that set standards such as the NUJ cannot be ignored. Several research evidences establish a relationship between rumour mongering and non-professionalism of the practice. There is also massive evidence that training principal information managers can improve information management in the public domain. On the strength of this, the only cure to the menace of rumour mongering is to train non-professional journalists to undergo the requisite training to understand the fact that the professional integrity of journalism is underpinned by ETHICS AND DISCIPLINE. RUMOURS AND DISTRACTIVE, DESTRUCTIVE, AND AN INSTRUMENT OF DESTABILIZATION. In Bayelsa State, we cannot tolerate the spread of vile and vicious rumours to undermine the good intention, programmes and policies of government. WE MUST EMBRACE PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISM TO CURE THE DEBILITATING EFFECTS OF THE MALAISE OR RUMOUR MONGERING. The public should know the difference between ROBUST JOURNALISM and WRETCHED RUMOUR MONGERING.
Chairman- Bayelsa Social Media Committee.