The need for the maintenance of the highest standard in different professions had always necessitated the establishment of various regulatory bodies. The journalism profession not an exception. The obligation of the mass media as contained in section 22 of 1999 constitution empowers the media to “uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people. This onerous responsibility thrusts on the press required that it must discharge its duties professionally. This is where the work of a regulatory body becomes relevant to ensure maintenance of professional standards.
The birth of the Nigerian Press Council as a regulatory body was a prayer answered. It was a birth that saw an end to the clamour for the establishment of a Press Council to regulate and ensure the moral tone and integrity of the Nigerian Press.
The Nigerian Press Council has a long, albeit, checkered history. The Council came into full operation following inauguration by President Ibrahim Babangida in Abuja on December 29, 1992. Basically, and like most Press Councils or Press Complaints commission or Committee on Professional Ethics, Board of Denials or Corrections or whatever name they are called, the NPC’s functions revolve around ethical matters. Its functions lay an overriding emphasis on standards and professionalism.
The Council was set up to promote high professional standards for the Nigerian Press, and to deal with complaints emanating from members of the public about the conduct of journalists in their professional capacity or complaints emanating from the press about the conduct of persons or organizations towards the press.
The Council in December 2012 makes its 20 years of existence. Since existence, the Council had functioned as a quality control orbiter helping to facilitate the promotion of a fair, vigorous and credible journalism by providing the forum where the public and the news media engage each other in examining ethical standards of truth, balance and fairness.
The adjudicatory role of the Council’s mandate is the key element of its operation. A specific function of Press Councils is to consider complaints against the news media and journalists, concerning the messages they publish or broadcast besides their behaviours with regard to the people they encounter in covering the news. The complaints that people make about news publications and broadcast usually pertain to ethical standards such as truth, accuracy, fairness, balance and decency, or issues such as bias, objectivity and sensationalism. The Council has been providing the cheapest and fastest forum for the resolution of conflict between the media and the public as well as for obtaining redress over ethical breaches by the press in the performance of its duties. It has in the past years received complaints from the public, government officials and organizations over alleged media misconduct. Council has handled over 145 complaints.
The Board of the Council carries out the work of adjudication. However, during periods when the Board was not in place, the Council rigorously adopted the direct resolution mechanism of handling complaints.
Council’s quality control function extends into the area of journalism training. The Council has vigorously embarked on various capacities building and training of journalists at different levels to provide both theoretical and practical groundings for media professional. Apart from the workshops which the Council had organized alone, it had also carried out some training/workshops in collaboration with other media stakeholders such as the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild Editors (NGE), Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and other media non-governmental organizations such as International Press Centre and Media Rights Agenda. Other collaborative efforts had also been made with the National Assembly, International Republican Institute, United Nations Development Programme and some state governments.
To live up to its statutory functions as a centre of research and documentation of contemporary press development in the country, the Council had published over 18 titles/books and also produced 16 editions of the press, a quarterly journal of the Council.
Some of the books had been distributed to journalism training institutions and libraries. This is the direct contribution of the Council to indigenous literature on journalism and media research. On a quarterly basis Council also distributes its published journal, The Press, to journalism training institutions, the 36 NUJ Councils and the FCT NUJ Councils and some media organizations.
The Council also has a well stocked library comprising books it produces from presentations delivered by eminent/veteran journalists and scholars of repute at its various workshops and seminars. Others of reference to Journalism are also acquired. These books serve as good research material for journalists, researchers and students of mass communication as well as for the general public.
The Council had also sustained its maintenance of an up-to-date inventory of newspapers and magazines published in the 36 states of the country and the FCT. The inventory is aimed to provide more data in the newspaper/magazine industry in Nigeria.
The Council recognizes the fundamental role which a Code of Ethics plays in regulating a profession and because of the inadequacies of the old NPO Code of Conduct, facilitated workshops in conjunction with NUJ, NGE and NPAN where the code was reviewed and a new one adopted as Code of ethics for Nigerian Journalists. The Council has printed and reprinted the code into booklets for distribution to journalists and has sustained public enlightenment on the code, especially with the publication of the code in some major newspapers and the Council’s journal, The Press.
On a consistent basis, the Council carries out the analyses of newspapers/magazines contents, especially in the areas of political, economic and social development coverage, to establish trends, slants and unprofessional handling of news and to determine the extent of ethical compliance. This had formed the basis on which the Council periodically offers guidelines and advice on acceptable media practice. From its daily monitoring of newspapers/magazines the Council creates a quarterly breach profile from which it determines the level of compliance of journalists to the prescribed rules and regulations of the profession as contained in its Code of Ethics. In case of identified breaches, Council had written to the concerned media organizations stressing the need to uphold and abide by the Code in order to maintain the highest professional standard by the Nigerian Press.
Another major role of the Council is protecting the rights and privileges of journalists in the lawful performance of their duties. In view of this, the Council had intervened in several reported cases of assaults on journalists, either by members of the public or public functionaries, through letters and press releases, drawing attention to the fact that redress can be sought through the law courts in criminal cases or through the Council where it borders as ethical issues.
To carry out its statutory duties of carrying out visitation and accreditation of all journalism/mass communication training institutions, the Council had liaised with other statutory academic and technical training authorities such as the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE). Council accredits the professional content of the curriculum while the NUC and NBTE accredit the academic content of courses. Council in 2005 reviewed the guidelines on accreditation for journalism training institution in the Country. The reviewed edition had also been published.
To further ensure standardisation of professionalism the Council commenced a process of assisting Journalism and Mass Communications training institutions with the domestication of the UNESCO Model curricula for Journalism education in the country. After a workshop held in Lagos in 2007, Council empanelled some consultants to review the proceedings at the workshop. The review report has been circulated to the 68 Journalism training institutions in the country for their input.
Council participated in the UNESCO/IPDC and Nigerian Association of Journalism Teachers of Mass Communication (NAJMAT) Conference on Capacity Building and Harmonisation of UNESCO Model Curricula held at the University of Lagos in December 2012. The Conference examined the level of domestication of the model by the over 15 Journalism Training Institutions that attended the conference. Council, in 2013, hopes to further the process of domestication by encouraging/organising more seminars on the issue.
Council became a member of the World Association of Press Council (WAPC) in 1994 and had since then had a fruitful relationship with WAPC. In October 1996, the Council successfully hosted the first African Regional Conference of WAPC in Abuja. Eighteen countries from Africa as well as Australia, India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka attended the conference.
The Council currently has some on-going projects which include the establishment of Modern Research and Documentation Library. The Council intends to develop a state of the art Media Resource Centre in its Abuja and Lagos offices by embarking on the establishment of E-Library and Digitization of Archival Registry.
Council had however not existed without some challenges, the main constraint being inadequate funding.
Another challenge is in the area of litigation. Certain aspects of the Act entailing the functions of the Council’s regulatory duties have been stalled by litigation by some industry members. This has subjudiced part of Council’s critical function for which it awaits resolution.
To strengthen and re-focus Council’s efficacy, the National Assembly processing amendments to the law establishing it.
Accommodation is another operational challenge that tend to inhibit the smooth operation of the Council. The Council, has since it lost its former head office at Maitama, Abuja, during the sale of non essential Federal Government Residential properties in 2006, been operating from rented premises. Also, the fire incident which gutted its liaison office in Lagos, worsened its accommodation situation. The Council suffered a major set back when the Lagos office was completely razed by fire on February 10, 2008. However, with the intervention of the then Minister of Information and Communication, the Council was provided an office accommodation at the Ministry’s Lagos liaison office.
Be that as it may, the Council remains an alternative dispute resolution institution for the indigent Nigerian to redeem incorrect or false publications that impinge on their person or reputation at no cost through corrections, rebuttal and apologies.