So much noise and furor has been raised in the media last week on a Bill for an Act to Provide for the repeal of the Nigerian Press Council Act, 1992 and establish in its place the Nigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Council. The Bill, which was sponsored by a veteran broadcaster, who spent 15 years of her life as a broadcaster and anchored the weekly NTA Newsline programme, Honourable Abike Dabri Erewa, according to lawmakers is to enhance the practice of journalism in Nigeria. As a veteran journalist, Hon. Dabri is not a stranger to the Nigerian media industry and the condition of service of journalist in Nigeria. May be that was why she felt compelled to make her contributions in ensuring that the profession has received the much needed attention it deserved in our society.
However, as soon as the Bill was read on the floor of the National Assembly, it started receiving bashing from all quarters, especially the Nigerian Guild of Editors, who described the Bill as totally unnecessary for the profession and the Nigerian public. The Editors, through their President, Mr. Benga Adefaye, employers have a duty to treat their staff fairly in accordance with their contracts of employment. However, what Mr. President failed to mentioned was that 90% of journalists are not on anyone’s pay-roll, talk less of contract of employment. It is a well known fact in Nigeria that only few newspaper industries put their states’ correspondents on pay-roll, in fact journalists are the most poorly paid; they receive meagre or no wages at all. Some earn as little as N15, 000 a month. Hon. Dabri knew about that, though she worked with a government media institution. But the fact remains that, even before the recent appointments in the Nigerian Television Authority, there are hundreds of journalists who were working for the NTA and even contributing to network news but were not on pay-roll.
Journalism profession in Nigeria has a long history of service and excellence, with most of the nation’s nationalists having their roots in the arts and science of journalism. Journalists remained the proud of our nation, battling the colonialists and military dictatorships; they also fought and exposed corruption, indiscipline and helped in shaping national debates. However, they suffer from a long history of exploitation from newspaper proprietors and dictatorial editors which forced some of them to make ends meet by involving in all sort things that dragged the profession into cesspool. They actively participate and get involved in blackmail, divisive, vindictive and abusive or gutter journalism in which even the nation unity is threatened.
Journalist role in society cannot be overemphasized. Without journalist a society may likely regress or even decay. On the other hand, wrongly handled, journalist can also be a tool through which a nation and society can be destroyed. Nobody can deny that there are so many things that are indeed very wrong in the way journalism is practiced in this country. Therefore instead of condemning Hon. Abike Dabri and blackmailing her, the Nigerian Guild of Editors should have helped her in drawing her attention to what they see in the Bill, which may likely drag us back to dark days of military era. All those in fore-front of condemning the Bill and blackmailing Hon. Dabri are actively involved in the exploitation of their employees and they contributed in no measure to the present state of the profession.
What is wrong with the suggestion for instance of appointing a well qualified and experienced individual to serve as an editor in a media organisation? Or telling a journalist to be fair accurate, unbiased, and factual? Think of it. The Bill was also advocating that the condition of service of journalist shall include salaries, allowances, leave, general and retirement benefits etc, which shall be negotiated collectively and as necessary between the NUJ, NPAN and BON. There are so many good things in the Bill as there are bad ones and it is very wrong for anybody, just because the law was silent about his form of exploitation for nearly 5 decades to think that any law that tries to address this is obnoxious.
I think journalists should praise Hon. Dabiri for even daring to sponsor a Bill to address a problem that even the NUJ and NGE are afraid to address for years now. I hope Hon. Dabri will be able to withstand the pressures, intimidation abuse and blackmail from some sections for her to drop the Bill, who for long, exploit and ridiculed a profession that is regarded as the fourth estate of the realm. These are the people that have access to power at all levels. As Abidde once described them ‘they are filthy rich in filthy and unaccountable sort of way with choice lands and landed properties. They travel round the world and stay in preferred hotels. For this group, it is all about money and power — not journalism, and certainly not the people’s interest’.
As long as there are no laws guiding the practice, then journalists will continue suffering from poor condition of service exploitation from greedy newspaper owners and dictatorial editors. Journalists should first open their eyes read the Bill, study it and criticize it and try to make their input as to the way they feel the law can serve them better. They should not just join the band wagon and condemn a Bill, which if passed has the potentials to improve the condition of their service. They talked about freedom, which freedom? A freedom that turned the journalists into a praise singer of a sort, free to follow politicians and wealthy individuals during occasions to collect ‘choppe’. Journalists should have a rethink, they should not be used to condemn a law that is out to protect them.
Kabiru Danladi Lawanti,
Area 11, Garki, Abuja.
08035150369, 08054546764, 08099282770