Nigerians react to bill seeking to make degree minimum qualification for journalists
We need your support to produce excellent journalism at all times.
A cross-section of journalists and other Nigerians have expressed divergent views over the proposed amendment to the National Press Council Act by Francis Agbo, the lawmaker representing Ado/Ogbadigbo/Okpokwu in the federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Benue state.
The Act, which repealed the Nigerian Media Council Act 1988, was enacted in 1992 to promote high professional standards for the Nigerian press, attend to complaints from the public over journalists conducts and complaints from the practitioners over public attitude towards them, and related matters.
Agbo, a journalist-turned-politician, had proposed some amendments to the bill, at a plenary in November 2019. The changes being sought by him include making a degree in journalism training or related disciplines the minimum qualification for practising the profession; increase in punishment for offenders and including a provision in the law that will compel media owners to pay their workers regularly, failure of which their outfits will be shut by the government.
Agbo argued that raising academic qualification for practising journalism in the country would check quackery and further dignify the profession.
He also wants the punishments prescribed by the subsisting law to be reviewed upward to reflect the socio-economic dynamics of nearly the past three decades that the law was enacted.
Agbo was a former political editor of the Sunday Sun and group political editor of the Leadership newspaper. He was appointed Senior Special Assistant on Media Relations by Seriake Dickson, a former Governor of Bayelsa state and now Senator, representing Bayelsa West in the current 9th National Assembly. Agbo also worked with late Dora Akunyili, a former minister of information, as a Senior Special Assistant.
The new bill seeks amendment to sections 19 (1) (a), 19 (1) (b), 21 (5) (a), 21 (5) (b) and 35 National Press Council Act Cap N128 LFN 2004.
Section 19 (1) (a) and (b) of the Act says “subject to rules made under this Act, a person shall be entitled to be fully registered under this Act if…(a) he has attended a course of training recognised by the Council so acquired, with the cognate experience recognised by the Council; or (b) the course was conducted at an institution so approved, or partly at one such institution and partly at another or others…”
But the new amendment wants those paragraphs changed. For example, Section 19 (1) (a) now should read: “…He holds a first degree, Higher National Diploma Certificate or its equivalence in Journalism, media Art, or communication from any Higher Institution in Nigeria or elsewhere,” and 19 (1) (b) “in the case of a person who has a first degree in any other course, he shall within 5 years obtain a postgraduate certificate in Journalism, media Art, Communication, or related field from any higher institution in Nigeria or elsewhere.”
Similarly, section 21 (5) (a) and 21 (5) (b) which specify the measure of punishment for offenders of the Act is listed for amended in the bill.
The subsisting Act, section 21 (5) (a) reads that “In a high court, he (offender) shall be liable to a fine not exceeding N5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment and to an additional fine of N200 for each day during which the offence continues,” and; (b) “In a Magistrate Court, he shall be liable to fine of N3000 and to an additional fine of N100 for each day during which the offence continues.”
Agbo is requesting that section 21 (5) (a) be amended as ( a) “In a High Court, he shall be liable to a fine not exceeding N200, 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment and an additional fine of N500 for each day during which the offence continues;” and Section 21 (5) (b) will be amended as; “In a Magistrate court, he (offenders) shall be liable to a fine of N 300,000 and to an additional fine of N500 for each day during which the offence continues.”
The bill, scheduled for second reading soon, also demands that Section 35 of the Act which stipulates that proprietors of newspapers, magazines or journals should submit an annual report on the performance of their outfits to the council should include mandatory payment of monthly salaries to their employees. It notes that proprietors that owe their workers for more than three months should have their outfits shut.
Some of the journalists who spoke with The ICIR over the matter supported the move while other opined that addressing the challenges facing journalism in the country was beyond legislation. The same goes for other Nigerians who shared their thoughts with this newspaper over the development.
In his opinion, Akindele Orimolade, a lawyer and veteran journalist said the move was in the best interest of the profession.
Orimolade, who is the Head, Investigative Unit of National Star newspaper decried unprofessional conducts among journalists in the country.
“I think it’s the right thing by the House of Reps to put journalism in the right place. If you did not go to university to study Law and attend Law school, you cannot practice Law. If we are going to have a critical and sensitive profession as journalism, we should have people who are trained, who are skilled in that field to handle it. If you are skilled as a journalist, you’ll be told so many things about patriotism, about ethics of the profession, about what you should publish, about what you should post.
“There are some information you have at your disposal which you don’t use immediately because of national interest and all that. But, if you are not a trained journalist, you’ll not able to do this. I think it’s good for the profession,” he stated.
He said if editors share their experiences on “poor” copies they receive from their reporters, people would feel sorry for them.
He explained that though some of the journalists who didn’t have a background in journalism training could be doing well, sanitizing the profession should not be jettisoned because of those persons.
He said the likes of former governor of Ogun State, Olusegun Osoba who did not study journalism in school but rose to the pinnacle of the profession later went through journalism schools locally and abroad, where they acquired needed training for the job.
Besides, he said other veterans grew from being office assistants to being Editors of their organizations where they worked because they exposed themselves to training.
Orimolade also strongly frowned at many of the undercover reports done by some persons in the country “against the ethics of the profession.” He argued that if the people who specialize in conducting and reporting undercover “such as bribing policemen on the highways from one part of the country to the other” had journalism training in school, they would know that they were not doing real journalism.
He said undercover for any trained journalist should always be the last resort.
Rafat Salam, immediate past secretary of FCT NUJ council said the NUJ constitution is very clear on who a journalist is.
“The NUJ constitution already provides for that and says that before 1993, you should have practised for five years, otherwise, whatever your discipline is, you should have at least a diploma in journalism. That was the idea behind the setting up of the International Institute of Journalism; that person who has an interest in journalism should go there and do a post-graduate diploma, as the case may be,” she said.
According to her, going to the school and other journalism institutions would help people who want to practise journalism to understand the ethics of the profession and possess the academic requirement.
Rafat, a senior journalist with the Voice of Nigeria, noted that journalism is about flair, passion and ability to communicate, but practising the profession in the country requires academic qualification.
She said she didn’t see the amendment as any attempt to shut anyone out of the profession by reviewing the Act.
She explained that the decision to raise the entry requirement should be a wakeup call to everyone who wants to practice journalism to go to school and do journalism, adding that those who are already graduates should apply for a post-graduate diploma in journalism to enable them practice.
“You can’t be an accountant, no matter how good you are, you need qualifying professional examination and certification for you to do it. I think we should all embrace it. Those who don’t have a diploma in journalism can go and have a diploma to enable them to practice.”
She also said there is no system that couldn’t get rid of quacks or minimize it if it is so determined. She pointed out that no professional group could make its profession an all-comers affair, as she emphasized that if journalists in the country agree that degree is the minimum requirement that should be used for employment in the media, employers would have no option to agree with the decision.
Kemi Yesufu, Editor-in-Chief of Frontline newspaper said though the decision to increase the academic qualification is good, there are yet very talented practising journalists who were not trained in school to report.
“I think it’s ok, but the challenge is that there are some talented people that have special education, very hardworking journalists. Some of the good reporters we have now actually come into the media with their secondary education. With time, they went to university (didn’t study journalism or related courses) and are still doing very well in the media.”
She expressed hope that the amendment would not be discriminatory at last, if it eventually scales through.
She however agreed with the argument that people in other fields are ensuring that only those who have a degree or relevant qualification could practice them. She expressed caution that journalism is a profession and a career that could accommodate people from other fields, especially when those people are very skilled.
“I’m just saying that if you have a young person that likes to write, and for certain reasons, he’s not been able to attend tertiary institution, I understand what people are saying with Law and Medicine, but when it comes to writing and informing people, you see that people go to social media, post recorded videos of newsworthy events. So, journalism is about informing people,” she explained.
For Franklin Adebayo, a real estate consultant and a trained journalist based in Lagos state, the amendment to the bill is just a step towards sanitizing the profession.
He said a significant percentage of brilliant journalists in the country were not Mass Communication graduates, but graduates of History, Political Science and other courses.
Adebayo said legislation of this kind could only attempt to minimize quackery “and other infiltrators” in the profession but would never eliminate it.
He attributed his position to many dimensions to the practice of journalism in the 21st century, including the use of social media.
“The issue of quacks in the profession still rests on many of those factors that we have known for ages as students and practitioners. The only twist to it is the dimension it is taking, given the powerful emergence of social media. The multifaceted matters that are needed to be dealt with in this fourth estate or fourth pillar of democracy have little connection with qualifications but much of proper training and adherence to professional ethics. This is because they are correlative and none of them can be addressed in isolation. An attempt to do that will definitely be an effort in futility.”
He cited poor remuneration for journalists as one of the factors that the new law might find difficult to cover, as according to him, the law is only proposing monthly salary, but it did not specify the minimum amount that should be paid by media owners.
“Many practising journalists in Nigeria are poorly paid. This subjects them to a lot of untold abuses and tacitly explains why they are always at the mercy of their news sources. In such instances, the attribute of objectivity and fairness has almost totally vacated the corridor of consideration once brown envelopes were passed and received.
“Do you think journalists in Nigeria fall from heaven? Are they not a reflection of the same society where we are and where many professionals adopted career shift to greener pastures because the profession is not paying off? Even as it stands, the porosity in the profession is not because of qualifications. It’s because of survival of the fittest,” he reasoned.
He cited religion, ethnicity, political sentiment, ownership influence, weak professional body, corrupt regulatory agencies, social media invention and proliferation, activities of bloggers among others as major challenges responsible for ballooning quackery, misinformation and distortions of news in the country.
While noting that politicians directly or indirectly own about 90 percent of media outfits in the country, he suggested that the use of social media should be regulated by the government.
“This, therefore, implies that the bill cannot be impactful without taking into consideration the absolute need to regulate social media,” he said.
Ada Egbu Ezenwa, an entrepreneur based in Abia and Lagos states gave a similar perspective to the debate.
She said though journalism in Nigeria seems like an all comers affair, the infiltration of people from other spheres of endeavour isn’t peculiar to journalism alone.
She listed other disciplines such as banking, aviation as some of the fields that accommodate people from diverse fields.
Ezenwa said in newspapers, for instance, there are health columns, history, crime, religion among others, and that it won’t be wrong for any sound professional in these areas to write about issues that should go into those columns. But, she advised that a well-trained journalist in the position of an editor must look into such copies.
She opined that in the course of recruiting journalists by media owners, the Nigeria Union of Journalists and guild of editors must be part of the screening and employment process, so they could recruit the best heads.
According to her, the National Assembly cannot do the work of serious training by higher institutions, media house and editors through a bill.
She explained that corruption remained one of the ills facing the profession, as according to her, members of the political class could bribe editors to push their sponsored or unfounded stories and achievement through compromising journalists.
“The problem here is more of the loopholes/shortcomings in practice than law,” she said, adding that “quackery in the true sense, is not only when a person is not properly trained, practice is key. Some owners of media houses did not receive any relevant training. They are capitalists and entrepreneurs who sometimes dictate what should be reported in their mediums.
“The house should rather look at the issues on how to give journalism adequate protection and to ensure that the ethics of this noble profession are strictly adhered to. Let’s not forget that the world is evolving and many who have a flair or passion for writing have become a part of the system somehow,” Ezenwa added.
Meanwhile, Patience Edamivoh, a former employee of Edo State Liaison Office, Abuja, threw her weight behind the bill.
She said passing the bill to peg a minimum qualification of a degree or HND on journalism in the country would be a welcome development.
Edamivoh noted that there were too many practitioners who lacked needed skills to do the job.
She said if passed into law, the bill would stop people who claimed to be journalists but lack the skills and would consequently add more dignity to the profession.
With the law, she said practitioners would be able to demand better pay and would be motivated to be more productive.
The National Universities Commission (NUC), had in January 2020 unbundled Mass Communication into several separate degree programmes in the nation’s universities.
The commission disclosed that the step was taken to reposition and revitalise university education in the country.
The NUC said unbundling the programme was to meet contemporary demands in university education, in line with global development and best practices.
The programme was split into Journalism and Media Studies; Public Relations; Advertising; Broadcasting; Film and Multi-media studies; Development Communication Studies; and Information and Media Studies.