The interesting feature of the present democracy about the Nigerian Press is its independent mind, objectivity in analysis of topical and sensitive issues and its reiteration to its audience to abide by constitutional provisions, especially those aspects that deal with the right to personal liberty, fair hearing, freedom of thought and conscience. It also campaigns and promotes freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and freedom to form and belong to associations which are also clearly stated in the national law.
But recently, calls were made by sections of media ownership, which impinge on the right of association by specialized journalists in the industry. It is an attempt to outlaw outright the existence of news beat associations and glaring contravention of the statute’s book, by no ordinary mortals, but the alliance of the alpha and omega in the media, the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).
In most developed worlds, there are alliances of people of specialized occupations and professions coming together to form associations – some emerge from already existing union or bodies. Even though the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) is the central and national body of journalists it has branches and affiliates with such names as NAWOJ, Correspondents’ Chapels etc. The brotherhood of media moguls, NPAN and the league of gatekeepers, NGE may claim not to belong to Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), they are nevertheless, from their professional attachment, seen as part and parcel of the union and offshoot of the Nigerian Press Council. If the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, (NIPR) could endorse the emergence of groupings from its fold, such as Association of Corporate Affairs Manager of Banks (ACAMB) and Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN), there is no reason to punish correspondents on beats for forming a fraternity.
In their separate communiqués after their routine meetings, NPAN and NGE zealously rejected the idea of the established and existing associations of news-beat-correspondents but they could not give convincing rationale and justification for the resentment.
For instance, in its two-paged communiqué released recently, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) agrees that it supports specialization in the media but frowns at members of news beat who have transformed themselves into cartels. They added that they support the position of the NPAN which bans all working journalists from such cartels and call on their members to implement the ban to the letter.
This call is quite worrisome if one knows the effort made by those associations to maintain a high level of integrity, credibility and professionalism thereby making journalism to be respected by the stakeholders. Some of these associations include Finance Correspondents Association of Nigeria, Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, Business Editors Forum, Aviation Correspondents, Political Correspondents, Legislative Correspondents, State House Correspondents and Entertainment Reporters.
It is no more news that in the recent past, once an individual or group invites the media for briefing or press conferences, a motley of news hounds thronged the venue like bees with the aim to compel organizers of such fora to cough out monetary incentives which are coined qua, brown envelops, allawee, logistics and dividends of democracy. These shameless gratifications are perpetuated by quack journalists who have neither beat nor existing medium and have for long given the noble profession bad names.
Surprisingly, the young and vibrant columnists noted for timely and incisive write-ups, have kept mute on the contention. It is hoped that ownership control and proprietorial influence are not responsible for the silence as such may be interpreted as circuitous gagging of the press from their social responsibility.
It is doubtful if the media owners understand that those fake journalists, four-one-niners and the unemployed make brisk business by attending media functions, while denying practising journalists vantage positions to cover such assignments. This unbecoming attitude was checkmated by the associations who screened their members regularly. If the correspondents have behaved in ways inimical to the ethics of journalism, the best thing to do is to call the erring correspondents to order or sanction those involved.
The news beat associations have, in several ways, through their acts and deeds, been the toast of individuals and organizations and highly regarded for their objective, fair and balanced reportage. In addition to this, they maintain high level of professionalism and dress immaculately. With well-informed and inquiring minds, they ask penetrating questions which help them in their analytical, critical and sound journalistic judgements.
In Nigeria, where the private media ownership is strong and striving, but without real financial rewards, which makes sustenance of regular publication tedious and payment of salaries of personnel another burden, professionalism and training of the journalists are greatly being promoted by corporate organizations. A mention may be made of the World Bank extensive training for finance correspondents. The Central Bank of Nigeria, Bureau of Public Enterprise, and even some of the finance institutions assist the media, through the organization of workshops, seminars, conference and training programmes, where accommodation, feeding and materials are provided free as part of corporate social responsibilities of organizations to the press and the public.
While no public relations officer will like to be a victim of quack journalists, deliberate isolation of any medium is not an acceptable norm by reputable institutions. Some of the associations have eased the task of the companies in detecting fraudulent acts. Some of those associations have controlled the excesses of some few members whose tool of trade is misrepresentation of facts, which may take litigation processes but are resolved amicably without bothering the publishers and the editors with such damaging complaints from the public.
It will be appreciated if the publishers and the editors reconsider their stance and allow beat associations to exist, just like them, in maintaining discipline, professionalism and adherence to ethical standards. After all, we have seen, not even ordinary, but executive members of the real cartelists of the Fourth Estate of the Realm ( I mean the NPAN and Guild of Editors) who neither own any existing newspapers nor practise as journalist or editor for long but are accommodated and accepted into the fold of the elitist clubs.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Daily Trust April 25, The Guardian April 28, Thisday April 28, 2002, Post Express May 1, 2002, Tribune May 6, 2002, New Nigerian (NNN) May 22, 2002