By Yinka Adeosun
It’s that time of the year when the significance of a free press is brought to the fore. Globally known as World Press Freedom day, it is a day set aside to celebrate press freedom by reminding governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom, and as well remind media professionals of issues of press freedom and their respect for ethics.
As announced by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the theme of this year’s commemoration is Information as a Public Good. This is an auspicious nudge for media professionals to acknowledge their importance in the society and take pleasure in their role as source of news and information in the society. As purveyors of a service that is classified as public good, journalists are obliged to pay serious attention to the veracity and relevance of information they dish out to the public.
The current state of the media is also aggravated by the weakening of the resistance by journalists to trends as permitted by the system. Here, truth is the victim. Lies, unverified claims have found their way into the prominent pages of many publications. The decentralization of the media and the unrestrained access to air your views which technology provides with the social media should not repudiate time tested principles and values upon which journalism was founded.
Just recently, the story of Ojonuwa Onu, the amputee hawker, who was identified as Mary Daniel, went viral. It is strange that the story as published by the mainstream media and copied by other online media, was devoid of attribution and quotation by other persons that she mentioned in the story. Clearly, the reporter, who broke the news was plagued by emotions. A diligent reporter would have verified some of the claims in her story
Under no circumstance should a journalist be overwhelmed by emotions. In fact, his emotional quotient should have suggested to him the need to seek for one or more relative or institution, who were referred to in her unsubstantiated story. Sadly, none of the media organisations which reported the story did anything close to that. The story which attracted the goodwill of kind-hearted Nigerians ended on an uncharitable note of fudged claims.
Such shoddy reportage is our bane at the moment. They fuel the pitch of anti-press sentiment, erosion of public confidence, mistrust and violence against journalist. How sad that social responsibilities and restraint are falling short of professional ethos, especially by mainstream media organisations. Gaffes by these respected media channels is fast eroding the trust and confidence we have placed in these organisations. Beyond the ordinariness of mediocrity and mad rush for breaking the news, the sanctity of professionalism and the sacrilege of publishing falsehood in any guise cannot be accepted.
Same is the release of the CCTV footage of the minor being molested by the popular entertainment personality. That video is awful and distasteful. Many claim that the video was released out of public interest. While it may have aided the believability of the claims of the accusers against the accused, it further lends to the victimisation and stigmatisation of the victim. The right place for that CCTV video remains the court of law where it is admissible as evidence.
As the fourth estate of the realm, the media wields a powerful influence in the society. In addition to reporting the society and holding governments accountable, the media system, using its product – information – enables citizens to know their rights, duties and prerogatives, just as it also contributes to the general interest, and the service of sustainable development.
As the world celebrates and remembers world press freedom day, this year’s theme is apt and timely for Nigerian media in particular, especially at a time like this. The role of media houses in enhancing the capacity of journalists to recognise and value the elements of information as a public good cannot be overemphasised. This will further help them to defend and promote the type of content which they gather, produce and disseminate for public consumption.
Information as Public Good underscores the irrefutable substance of verified, reliable and beneficial information to the society. Once again, it is a clarion call to the essential role of professional journalists in the gathering, production and dissemination of information, by trashing misinformation, and other contents which may be considered harmful in the society.
-Adeosun writes from Akure, Ondo state.