By Laja Thomas
LAGOS â€” NEWSPAPER Proprietors, Editors and other stakeholders in the media have reiterated the need for a Press Ombudsman to control and regulate the practice of Journalism in Nigeria.
This was the conclusion reached at an Awareness Programme on Press Ombudsman organised by the Newspaper Proprietorâ€™s Association of Nigeria, NPAN, in association with the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, and other stakeholders with the theme: â€œMaking Self Regulation Work,â€ in Lagos, yesterday.
This is coming on the heels of a public hearing on a bill before the House of Representatives tagged: â€œAn Act to Provide for the Repeal of the Nigerian Press Council Act 1992 and establish the Nigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Council,â€ held in Abuja on Monday.
The bill seeks to abolish the Nigerian Press Council and replace it with a Nigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Council, whose chairman will be appointed and dismissed at the pleasure of the President on the recommendation of the Minister for Information and Communication.
Guest speaker at the awareness seminar, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda, said, â€œit is important that the Nigerian media puts a framework in place for self-regulation. Governmentâ€™s control of the press has failed and continuing on this platform will be futile,â€ adding that we should not be hesitant on our part to make the Ombudsman a success.
It is possible for professional bodies within the media to draw up a self-regulatory system. All that is needed is the sincerity of purpose on the part of media professional bodies. A united media will resist government control. He therefore, appealed to the NGE, NUJ, and other professional stakeholders to set ethical standards for the industry.
In his opening address, the President of NPAN, Chief Ajibola Ogunsola, said the purpose of the seminar was to expand how a self-regulatory system, such as the Press Ombudsman, could help secure the respect and freedom of the press.
Chief Ogunsola who described the bill before the House of Representatives as â€˜nonsensicalâ€™ said, â€œThe NPAN is not unaware of the need for higher ethical standards in the press and regulatory mechanism. It was an attempt to address this problem that the NPAN decided to establish the Press Ombudsman.
We believe that the Ombudsman would help deliver satisfactory, speedy and accessible remedies to many of the complaints against the press,â€ adding that, â€œto perform this role creditably, the press needs a self-regulatory system, sufficiently independent to inspire public confidence and sufficiently effective to keep government â€“ imposed regulation at bay. To do nothing would be to encourage a predatory government to forge ahead with the â€˜sort of nonsensical billâ€™ now before the House of Representatives.â€
In his own contribution, President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye said â€œthe NGE is biased towards the Press Ombudsman because it was a campaign issue before we got elected and we promised to make something about it. Unfortunately, we havenâ€™t got the resources unlike the NPAN who took up the initiative,â€ adding that, â€œwe must rescue this profession in our own best interest.
We must exercise some form of control, whether self or external. The brickbat and abuses over the FoI Bill will not get us anywhere. The challenge for the NUJ, NGE is to make the Press Ombudsman work for the good of the profession.â€
Chairman of the occasion, former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh, urged the media to support the Ombudsman saying, the Press has oversight functions in respect of the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary and other segments of the society. While the Ombudsman, Justice Morounkeji Onalaja appealed that the code of conduct of the profession should be made available to journalists to facilitate the work of the Ombudsman.
Notable personalities present at the seminar were Mr. Sam Amuka, Publisher, Vanguard Newspapers; Mr. Lade Bonuola, Publisher, Nigerian Compass; Azu Ishiekwene, Executive Director, Publications, The Punch; Rueben Abati, Chairman, Editorial Board, The Guardian; Kunle Oyatomi, Deputy Editor, Vanguard; Steve Ayorinde, Editor, The Punch; Lanre Arogundade, Lanre Idowu, Rotimi Obamuwagun, Deputy President, NUJ and Wahab Oba, Chairman, Lagos NUJ, among several other media executives.
Meanwhile, the Chairman, House Committee on Diaspora and sponsor of the controversial Press Council Bill, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, has allayed the fears and suspicions of media professionals over the proposed Bill.
According to her, the bill, if passed into law, would promote the practice of journalism in the country.
She however expressed support for the Ombudsman already put in place by NPAN, adding that the proposed bill will complement its efforts towards continued evolutionÂ of journalism practice that will stand the test of time in the country.
According to her, all stakeholders at Mondayâ€™s public hearing agreed on the need to promote ethics that will enhance the practice and quality of lives of the practitioners which she said the proposed bill is set to achieve.
She assured journalists that she will never work against the interest of the profession that has given her so much fame and recognition, but pleaded with stakeholders to allow the technical sub-committee headed by Prince Tony Momoh to harness all divergent positions on the proposed bill with a view of arriving at a common ground.