The senior special assistant to the vice president on media and publicity, Laolu Akande, has said self-regulation by the media in Nigeria will help eliminate government regulation.
He said this while speaking at a workshop on “legal and ethical issues in investigative journalism” in Abuja on Monday.
The workshop, scheduled for two days, is being organised by Daily Trust newspaper in collaboration with Centre for Media Law and Development.
Mr Akande, who represented the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, said with self-regulation, adoption of ethical codes and understanding the legal issues guiding the journalism profession in Nigeria, media practitioners can help preserve media credibility, check fake news and also enlarge its investigative journalism space, which is, he said, is becoming a dying art.
He said in this age of social media, fake news spread like wild fire, and facts are distorted by a few individuals leveraging on various media platforms to push outright misrepresentation into the public space.
“This is especially critical in this era of fake news and ‘alternative truths’, which can spread like wild fire, especially online. The need to be the first to get a scoop and break an exclusive story these days have relegated investigative journalism to the very background.
“Recent events, including the past general elections – where fake news and unverified information were shared by many on different media platforms, and on social media especially – have also put a spotlight on the importance of investigative journalism and why our country needs this aspect of the profession more than ever.
“Of course, we should always be conscious of over-regulation or infractions of the freedom of the press or freedom of information.
“It is important that self-regulation is robust enough to prevent a situation where government or formal establishments pass laws and regulations of the trade. I think once self-regulation is robust enough, it is easier to then make the case that we should not have government regulation,” he said.
On the legal standpoint, Mr Akande urged investigative journalists to discharge their duties without infringing on the fundamental rights of an individual or having unauthorised access to information that may put the journalist at the risk of criminal prosecution or going against the laws of the land.
He also admonished journalists to strive to abide by the code of ethics in the practice of their profession, “because without adhering to a code of ethics, investigative journalism, or any profession at all, would not thrive as much as it should.”
Mr Akande explained that according to OPEC statistics, between 2010 and 2014, Nigeria earned over $383 billion from oil sales, but with little to show for it in terms of infrastructure.
“However, between 2015 and 2018, when the federal government (under President Muhammadu Buhari) earned a little over $90 billion, that country was able to achieve much in the area of huge investments in infrastructure and welfare of Nigerians.
“Since 2016, in two budget cycles, the Buhari administration has spent N2.7 trillion in capital and mostly on infrastructure and this is the largest capital spend in our nation’s history, despite the fact that the country has earned 60 per cent less than in the previous last 5 years,” he said.
He added that the practice of more investigative journalism would, therefore, help to eliminate grand corruption and waste of national resources; which would ensure an improved culture of fiscal prudence in government and public accountability.
He also pledged that government will continue to play its part in providing conducive environment for the practice of good journalism and ensuring the safety of journalists wherever they find themselves in the line of duty.
A senior Nigerian lawyer, Femi Falana, who delivered the lead paper at the workshop, spoke on legal and regulatory issues in investigative journalism in Nigeria.
Mr Falana, who pointed that investigative journalism is a risky part of the profession, said there is judicial backing for investigative journalism.
He explained that journalists in Nigeria are mandatorily required to operate under legal and ethical regulations and standards.
He further listed some Nigerian laws that investigative journalists should pay attention to when carrying out investigations.
They include the Official Secrets Act, Cybercrimes law, Defamation law, and Penal and Criminal Code.
Others include the Child’s Right Act, Freedom of Information Act and media parade of suspects.
Dapo Olorunyomi, a speaker at the workshop, presented a paper on Dynamics of Investigative Journalism: Truth and Conflict of Interest.
Describing investigative journalism as an accountability profession, Mr Olorunyomi, the publisher of PREMIUM TIMES, said conflict of interest seeks to undermine trust in the practice of journalism by violating the integrity of the journalist and the credibility of the organisation.
“For truth to prevail as the primary obligation of journalism, the journalist must be free of any form of obligation than to the audience,” he said.
He further explained that conflicts arise from accepting pecks and gifts, publicly stating positions on controversial issues and relationship with subject of news coverage.
The workshop, which will continue on Tuesday, is aimed at portraying the legal and ethical issues in investigative journalism.