The Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Akwa Ibom State, Patrick Albert, has identified lack of adequate professional training as a major challenge of journalism practice in Akwa Ibom state.
Mr Albert said journalism graduates, unlike those from other professions, are always in a hurry to start practicing without going through training and mentorship.
He was speaking as a studio guest on Akwa Ibom Mandate, a radio interview programme on Planet FM, Uyo, on June 14.
He was responding to a question on what the union was doing to sanitise journalism practice in the state.
“We have been on it since my emergence in 2013. We had a war scenario then, and I am happy that each day we are improving. What we have now cannot be compared to what we had in some years back,” the chairman said.
He said for journalism to thrive, it requires public trust, and that a journalist or a media house can only earn and maintain such trust by observing the highest professional and ethical standard.
“Very unfortunately, we have persons, smarts from school, maybe with their intelligence, maybe they came out with first class, or they are activists, so automatically they are qualified, in their own consideration, to be called journalists.
“And so they can take on any subject they want, the way they like it. They can take on anybody, they can take on the governor, they can use whatever language they like.
“A trained journalist will know that calling a governor a thief is wrong. He will know that calling a highly placed person a thief is wrong.
“Before someone is called a thief, it must have come by way of a pronouncement by a competent court.
“The assumption in journalism that you have the right to say anything is not tenable, and it cannot come from a true and certified journalist,” Mr Albert said, adding that the union under his leadership has been organising training programmes for journalists in the state.
Solomon Johnny, the editor-in-chief of Global Concord, one of the most well-read newspapers in the state, faulted Mr Albert’s argument on the inappropriateness or otherwise of calling a governor a thief.
Global Concord had in October 2015 stirred controversy when it described Governor Udom Emmanuel as “armed robber governor” in its banner headline.
“If we were operating in northern Nigeria, where we have had two former governors, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, charged to court and found guilty of corruption, and we had said that those governors were corrupt in our estimations and findings, and Patrick Albert were to be around, he would have told us that we erred professionally,” Mr Johnny told PREMIUM TIMES, Monday.
“He (Mr Albert) doesn’t like critical press, and when there is no critical press, corruption thrives.
“We are not worried about whatever opinion he holds about us. That cannot stop us from being a newspaper that we are.”
Mr Johnny said Global Concord and its editors would have been vindicated today if the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had been allowed to investigate the financial books of the Akwa Ibom State government.
When reminded that what the NUJ chairman meant was that a newspaper should only labelled someone a thief after a court would have pronounced the person guilty as such, Mr Johnny responded: “There’s this issue in law that talks about justification.
“If I say I have reason to believe that you have looted the resources of the state, you can’t dismiss it outright. You must give the person the opportunity to justify that the position he has taken is correct.”
Mr Johnny, who admitted that he is a card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), disagrees with Mr Albert’s argument that a journalists ought not to be a member of a political party.
“Journalists have the right to associate or not to associate with any political party,” he said. “As a person, I find it difficult to separate journalism from politics because the two things advocate for a better society.”
He said he does not allow his political inclination to influence his report, for instance, against the Akwa Ibom State Government which is being controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“It is for the people to say if we have been objective or not, if we have given the government a chance to be heard in our newspapers, and whether there was any time the government invited us for a press conference and we refused to attend.
“If we don’t have any of such instances, then you will agree with me that my political affiliation has not affected my media practice.”
Mr Johnny said the state government recently barred him from attending a press briefing by Governor Emmanuel, even when he was duly invited to the briefing.