By Omena Abenabe
Journalists have been urged to shun the culture of fictionalized news reporting but rather to stick to the facts of events for the benefit of society. Speaking at a Workshop on reporting Economic and Financial Crimes, organized by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the editor of the Guardian newspapers, Martin Onoja noted that it is easy for journalists to be caught up in the excitement that follows certain stories, such as those involving top government officials, and forget to move report the facts as it concerns the people.
Mr. Oloja called for a shift from a media culture which emphasizes political news over human interest news, stressing that corruption is about misappropriation of public funds, therefore, reports should reflect the effect on the people.
The workshop which held Monday at the Westwood Hotel, Lagos, had three other editors as speakers: Dapo Olorunyomi of PREMIUM TIMES, Simon Kolawole formerly of ThisDay, and Azu Ishiekwene of Leadership Newspapers, and was an avenue for a candid conversation between the anti-graft agency, the reporters, and the editors.
Challenges identified by reporters in coverage of financial crimes included: access to information, poor work benefits, poor public perception of journalist and the pressure of digital convergence.
Addressing the challenge of digital convergence and the pressure it brings to bear on journalists, Mr. Olorunyomi in his presentation, New Tools for Economic and Financial Crimes Reporting, said while the new media has been condemned for its viral nature and lack of verification, it has also added great value to news coverage, bridging geographical space, engendering crowd sourcing and collaboration and also increasing access to information.
“While it is true that new media can undermine journalistic integrity, it is also important to note that it equips journalists for better reporting. Besides, the press (traditional media) has also been guilty of such human errors,” he said, citing instances such as the false news of Zik’s death which was widely spread by the press in the country “But in the case of new media, the news goes viral. That’s all.”
Mr. Olorunyomi added that the consumption of news via the Internet, prosumer and inbound nature of digital media has also changed media structure as the new gate keepers are not necessarily journalists and editors but individuals who have built influence and followership online over time.
Therefore he urged journalists to embrace the new media culture as consumers have obviously migrated to digital platforms. “This should get us wondering,” he said. “No newspaper in Nigeria sells up to 50, 000 copies a day. On Premium Times, we have about 50million visits each month. So, we can no longer shy away from this new reality that has hit us but what we as journalists bring to the table is ethics. That is what separated the professional journalist from the regular blogger.”
Hanged by the Press
Mr. Ishiekwene, speaking on Ethical Journalism and Reporting Economic and Financial Crimes: Realities, Challenges and Ideals, noted that the ethics of reporting have not changed. In reporting financial crimes, journalists should seek accuracy, fairness and stick to the facts.
He also enjoined reporters to remember that individuals being investigated for financial crimes are humans with families and loved ones and until convicted should not be labeled criminals, as the press has often done.
He therefore urged journalists to minimize harm as much as it is within their powers and to report news in a way that does not undermine security. “The negative consequences of full disclosure weigh heavily on the minds of all the newsgathering and processing chain, creating a real ethical dilemma, especially in the mainstream news organization… tend to flout all as they report economic and financial crimes.”
Adding to these points, Mr. Kolawole admonished the journalists to go beyond the surface and razzmatazz and dig deeper. He cited the case of Patricia Etteh who was vilified by the press only to be exonerated by the House which apologized to her for accusations which were never proven.
During the interactive session, journalists quizzed EFCC officials on accessibility and also asked questions on the progress of work at the commission.
The Director of Operations at the Agency, Olaolu Adegbite, responding to misgivings that the agency is experiencing a lull, noted that the agency was at a phase where its presence has been well announced and its credibility built.
Now, a decade after its institution, the strategy was to deepen its effect in financial crime investigation and thanked journalists for their support to the agency. Adding, the Chief of Staff at the Commission, Kayode Oladele said the EFCC cannot work alone.
Its job is reliant on the effectiveness of security operatives and the judiciary whose responsibility it is to prosecute suspects. He therefore urged the media to turn attention to issues which undermine the effectiveness of the agency.
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