The Minister of Information and Communication, Dora Akunyili, on Thursday asked journalists to promote “the courage to publish the truth and perish” and make it a professional canon.
Mrs. Akunyili said this as the special guest of honour, at a media stakeholders’ debate titled “150 years of journalism, how far?”
The debate was organised by the Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) to commemorate the 2010 Press Week.
As the 2011 general elections approach, Mrs. Akunyili called for “rigorous investigative reports.”
The minister noted that, after 55 years of the existence of the NUJ, the profession should bold, fair, and balance in its reports.
“The imperative need for electoral matters to be reported with a spirit and principle of dispassionate arbitration cannot be overstated,” she said. “For us to have the much desired free and fair election, reports on the event must be thoroughly and rigorously investigated to unearth and publicise truth and truth only.”
Better pay for journalists
Ray Ekpu, the event’s chairman, who is also the chairman of Newswatch, described Nigerian journalism as a giant with feet of clay. Mr. Ekpu said journalism has gone from being an “unprofitable, frustrating, and soul-depressing career in the 1930s,” according to the late Obafemi Awolowo, to being a profession where journalists now “wear nice clothes and drive exotic cars.”
On the other hand, Mrs. Akunyili condemned the poor remuneration of journalists, blaming same for the “unethical journalism in which practitioners, powerless to effect change within (their organisations), become outwardly oriented and begin to trade both media space and professional conviction for money and material.”
She promised to champion the cause for a separate and enhanced salary structure for journalists and appealed to “the ownership and management of the private sector journalism centres to urgently revisit their personnel policies, especially, as it relates to compensation.”
Though Mrs. Akunyili avoided the long-standing call for the passage of the freedom of Information Bill into law, the Editor of THISDAY Sunday, Yusuph Olaniyonu, described the failure of the National Assembly to pass the bill as a lost opportunity.
Mr. Olaniyonu, in his remark, asked the minister “to use her good office to re-initiate the FoI Bill as an executive bill given its salience to achieve objective reporting.”
The guest lecturer, Ralph Akinfeleye, the head of the University of Lagos mass communications department, called for the immediate passage of the bill because more than eighty democracies in the world have passed the FoI into laws.
“If our leaders are serious about transparency, rule of law, and accountability, and good governance, this is the time to pass the FoI bill that has been with them for over a decade,” he said.