By Kabir Alabi Garba
DESPITE the revolution in communication technology with its attendant multi-functional tools that enhance performance and productivity, workload of journalists is still heavy and daunting.
And with a new orientation among media owners of small size workforce, working environment for journalists is becoming precarious especially when media owners have always treated the issue of better condition of service as secondary matter.
But with the belief that “there can be no freedom of expression where journalists work under precarious situations and are exposed to poverty or fear,” the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has come up with a policy on how to improve the welfare of media professionals.
Tagged Standard Condition of Service for Nigeria Journalists, the document “seeks to provide a baseline for agreeable conditions that would enhance journalism practice in Nigeria, taking into account the interests of the media employers, journalists and other relevant stakeholders.”
The draft was prepared by an ad-hoc committee set up as an aftermath of the international workshop organized by the NUJ in collaboration with the African Regional Office of the International Federation of Journalists held at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja on October 29 and 31, 2006.
The committee comprised Mr. Owei Lakemfa representing the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) who served as chairman; Barrister Chukwudi Acheife (ex-officio of NUJ); Mrs. Oladapo Adetoro (immediate past national chairperson of NAWOJ); and Umar Mohammed Yari who served as secretary.
The committee submitted the document at the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of NUJ held in Makurdi, Benue State between September 7 and 9, 2007.
The committee claimed that the proposal benefitted from a comparative analysis of the acceptable standards of work condition adopted by the West African Journalists Association (WAJA); Media Employers Organisation; the ECOWAS and the Francophone Inter-governmental Agency (AIF) at a meeting held in Dakar, Senegal between November 8 and 10, 2004.
Besides, inspirations were also drawn from Conventions 87, 98 and 135 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) concerning labour unions and the protection of labour rights, the application of the principles concerning labour organisation and collective bargaining and the protection of representatives of workers.
This is in addition to consulting relevant provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and Fundationmental Human Rights.
But shortly after its presentation to NUJ in September last year, copies were sent to professional groups in the media such as the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN); the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) among others “for comments, inputs and advice” before the document becomes operational.
The step is to ensure that the interest of stakeholders in the profession are adequately accommodated and catered for.
But such inputs from the media groups have not been forthcoming. Only the NPC has responded so far.
As a result, the NUJ secretariat in Abuja, on May 23, 2008 issued another reminder seeking the cooperation of the publishers’ group especially, with an appeal that “we will appreciate if your comments, inputs and advice on the report reach the secretariat by June 16, 2008.”
It was also learnt that similar reminder was dispatched to all other associations in the media industry.
Essentially, the document has 45 articles spread across 17 chapters on issues such as trade union activities and freedom of opinion; ethics; salaries and promotion; refund of expenses; recruitment and promotion; freedom to information; leave and holidays; staff strength; conditions of employment; social benefits; further training; freelance journalists; disputes and conciliation among others. It is all encompassing. And if it is eventually adopted and becomes functional, 90 percent of hues and cries of journalists today should have been taken care of.
Under article one, it is stated “this condition of service which defines employment and work conditions, as well as guarantees minimum social benefits for journalists shall govern the working relations within media establishments (newspapers, radio and television stations and news agencies).”
Article 3 defines a professional journalist as any person “who has attended a school of journalism recognised by the state or the profession, or any other person who possesses a university degree or equivalent, has undergone two years of practical training in a newsroom, is regularly employed to gather, process and disseminate information, and earns his living essentially from editorial work as prescribed by Article 3 of the NUJ Constitution.”
Under ethics (Chapter 3), it is stressed that “the employer shall not give journalist assignments that are incompatible with their professional ethics or degrade their dignity as human beings. The employer shall not compel a journalist to take on an assignment, publish false information, or express an opinion that is contrary to his deep professional conviction.”
In order to ensure the independence, objectivity, impartiality and transparency of journalists, media owners are urged to place journalist “on salaries, allowances, pensions, and general condition of service at least not less than 20 per cent above those paid to staff in Federal and State government parastatals and private companies, as the case may be.”
It is also recommended that journalists should be entitled to annual increment and promotion in line with organisational regulations, “but not more than every three years where they so deserve.”
Article 27 supports the establishment of a National Examination and Accreditation Board by the NPAN, NUJ, BON and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) to conduct examinations for newly qualified journalists or mass communication graduates in Nigeria.
And to consistently build intellectual capacity for the industry, the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) as well as International Institute of Journalism (IIJ) “shall establish and organise a one-year refresher programme for the training of graduates of journalism.” While NUJ maintains “a Journalist Registration Board” which shall issue certificate of practice to every registered member in the country.
On social benefits, media employer is required to “take out a life insurance policy with at least five times the journalist’s gross annual salary. This shall cover damages, injuries or death that may occur while the journalist is carrying out his professional duties.”
This is besides “special insurance provision” to be instituted by the employer “for journalist travelling in areas of great risk (characterized by uprisings, war or military operations, epidemics or natural disasters) or preparing reports in difficult hostile areas, or experimenting with dangerous equipment, etc.”
The document also has something for a male journalist who becomes a father. It solicits a one-week leave “which shall not be deductible from his annual leave. Notice to take such leave shall be given after the pregnancy is confirmed.
As a knowledge based and information processing industry, the document laid emphasis on training and retraining of journalist.
It asks employers to set aside “a special fund to enable journalist working for his establishment to undergo further training and keep abreads of new techniques in a dynamic profession.
“The employer shall contribute at least two per cent of the total wage bill of the journalists within his establishment to the fund. The fund shall be managed jointly by the employer and the union.”
Article 37 clarifies that the training may be organised locally or abroad. “The journalist undergoing further training shall be paid the totality of his salary throughout the duration of the training programme.
“At the end of the training programme, the journalists shall serve the employer for a period equal at least to the duration of the training programme under a humane or work-friendly environment. A journalist granted fellowship to pursue a particular prgramme should not change the course of study without the consent of the employer.
“A journalist who fails to comply with the above provisions shall be required to refund the totality of the amount spent on his/her training.”
The draft is not silent on freelance journalists describing them as those contributing regularly to editorial work in a media establishment and deriving most of their revenue from such activities. They can also contribute editorial work to more than one media organisations
But Article 41 specifies, “Freelance journalists shall be entitled to remuneration and refund of professional expenses. Payment due to freelance journalists shall be based on a written agreement between the freelance journalists and the employer.”
Recognising the dynamism of human existence, the document, it is recommended, should be due for review triennially. But the party wishing to review a part or the totality of the agreement at any time “shall submit new proposals in writing to the other party and such review shall be completed within three months of the receipts of the new proposals.”
In view of the deadline today for NPAN to forward its comment on the document, NUJ president, Mr. Ndagene Akwu Ndamele noted that a national conference, in form of a public hearing is underway in order to involve members of the public in the report.
He thanked the leadership of the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) for its cooperation so far in facilitating the prompt emergence of the final document soonest.
Initially, Akwu revealed that the conference was planned for the end of July but inability to raise sufficient fund has forced the union to shift the date forward.
“Meanwhile, it won’t be later than end of August,” he said. According to him, no letter requesting for inputs, comments and advice on the document is forwarded to the NGE, because “the guild is believed to be members of the union, and their interests have been taken care of.”
* Source: The Guardian
Last changed: 02/20/09