Media Stakeholders to Adopt Co-Regulation through Independent Ombudsman Framework

Kabiru Yusuf
NPAN president

Media stakeholders have agreed to adopt co-regulation through an independent ombudsman framework and have accordingly decided to appoint an Ombudsman regulatory mechanism as a step towards self-regulation in order to check infraction of the code of professional ethics for journalists.

This position was reached at a roundtable organized the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) in collaboration with the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), Guild of Corporate Online Practitioners, (GOCOP) and other stakeholders in the sector.

The roundtable was held on November 14, 2022 in Ikeja, Lagos under the theme: ‘Deepening media professionalism through co-regulation’.

The stakeholders resolved that the Ombudsman would be an eminent journalist of many years standing who has no paid job. He/she will receive complaints from the public, which would be thoroughly investigated, determined and the outcome publicized.

They also agreed that where there’s infraction, the Ombudsman working with a panel, will recommend action against the offending journalist, newspaper, broadcast or online organisation. The verdict of the Ombudsman and the panel would be subject to review by a review panel also headed by an eminent journalist who is also a lawyer.

The roundtable also agreed to adopt the two documents at the end of the roundtable namely, “Thoughts on Co-regulation through an Independent Ombudsman Framework”; and “The Revised Draft of a New Code of Ethics for Nigerian Journalists”.

These are part of “an attempt to jumpstart a fresh attempt to put in place rules to guide professional conduct and a regulatory council to support the efforts to hold journalists accountable to their publics and deepen public trust in their work.”

In his opening remarks at the event, Chairman of the stakeholders’ roundtable and former governor of Ogun State, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, said the only way the media would free itself from draconian government legislation aimed at gaging the press was to co-regulate itself.

He noted that attempts to gag the press had been on and will continue to be made because governments love to operate in secrete.

He recalled that “one of the last bills debated in parliament before the overthrow of the First Republic in 1966 was a bill a bill sponsored by Festus Okotie Eboh that aimed to regulate the media. He said: “As far back as 1978, there was an attempt by the then military government of Gen Olusegun Obasanjo as he was going out to entrench the regulation of the media in the constitution. The war has been on and I’m sure it will not end because governments all over the world are like cultists because they like to operate secretly.”

Continuing, Aremo Osoba said: “We formed the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), the all-inclusive body for all of us, and we formulated a code of conduct and got all media practitioners to swear to uphold it to prevent Obasanjo from making rules and regulations or first setting up a regulatory body for the press.”

He lamented that online platforms are becoming an embarrassment but took solace in the fact that the major newspapers have gone online and are breaking news. That is the way to fight them. He stated that the co-regulation of the industry has become necessary because the media needed to do some introspection and reposition itself for accountability and for public good.

President of NPAN, Mallam Kabiru Yusuf, urged media practitioners to work together in order to make the media more professional and efficient to resolve complaints.

Chairman/Editor-in-Chief of the THISDAY Media Group and ARISE News Channel, Prince Nduka Obaigbena, posited that media organisations must separate paid content from editorial content, adding that the cost of operating Ombudsman must be taken very seriously.

He warned that media organisations must “be very careful in inviting the government to come and partake in sanctioning you, they will abuse it”.

The President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr Mustapha Isah, lamented that media practitioners broke the rules and ethical codes of the profession without consequences and asked that measures should be put in place to ensure changes.

Also, the Director of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers, Ms Maureen Chigbo, said, “We try to do everything possible to clear up the mess created through unverified online investigative journalists and professionalise the sector. We also need to enlighten advertisers, advert agencies and other institutions that patronise them to channel their efforts to support professional media practitioners.”

On the Ombudsman, he said: “How do you want to include the Press Council – the body we rejected in total, what kind of inclusivity is that? The point is this, name and shame which is the power of this body is more effective than any; the fact that you have sanctions and are published and you are named and shamed.”

Azubuike Ishiekweme, Editor-in-Chief at Leadership Media Group, who is a member of the NPAN Committee on Media Self-Regulation Presented the proposal on ‘Co-Regulation – Pathway to an Effective Media Ombudsman”. He said the session was motivated by the conviction that the media needed to do some introspection and reposition itself for accountability and for the public good.

He disclosed that the committee which has Gbenga Adefaye, the Editor-in-Chief of Vanguard media as chairman; Executive Secretary, Newspaper Proprietors ‘Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Feyi Smith as Secretary, Kadaria Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer of RadioNow 95.3FM and himself as members was given the mandate to fashion out a framework for a generally acceptable, workable and trusted self-regulatory platform for the media industry, both at the local and central levels.

Leading media stakeholders who participated in the roundtable included Mrs Angela Emuwa, Chairperson, Punch Nigeria Limited; Sam Amuka-Pemu, publisher of the Vanguard Newspapers; Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, Chairman of the Guardian Newspaper; Prince Nduka Obaigbena, ThisDay newspapers publisher; and Mr. Azu Ishiekwene the Editor-in-Chief of Leadership Newspapers.

Other personalities at the event were Lade Bonuola, former Managing Director, Guardian Newspaper; Ralph Akinfeleye, Professor of Mass Communication, University of Lagos; Ambrose Somide, Managing Director, Radio Services at DAAR Communications Plc; Ray Ekpu, Co-founder, Newswatch Magazine; Gbenga Adefaye, Editor-in-Chief, Vanguard Newspapers, among others.