Application of ethical principles among Journalists, a necessity - Barrister Habeeb Whyte



Several quarters argued that Journalistic professionalism is derailing. What can you say about that?

Several quarters?

I would be glad if we can get statement of facts to buttress their stance on a noble profession like journalism. It is important to note that the society would cease existence without journalists. That realm holds and controls life.

Yes, it is arguable that the proper nobility and ethics upholding syndrome might be missing in the act of some journalists but it does not suffice to say that the art of professionalism is derailing.

You would agree with me that journalism practice entails a great deal of fiduciary relationship between the journalist and members of the society, to whom the journalist publishes. This relationship therefore entrusts a commendable level of responsibility on the journalist.

A good practice of journalism demands high compliance with the legal and ethical dictates of the profession.

Let’s just say that why do Journalists betray the core values of their ethics. Is it that they are ignorant of the laws and principles of their profession?

I think when we answer the above, we can safely conclude on whether or not journalistic professionalism is derailing or not…

What are the code of practice expected of a news correspondent?

There is no doubt that every profession has it’s own code of practice. These are principles that guides the relationship of a profession to his clients. Here, the journalist and the society.

In disseminating the news as a correspondent, they have an ethical obligation to seek the truth, avoid sensationalism and trivia, and protect individual privacy interests.

Is there a constitutional right to news reporting or gathering?

The ethical obligation of all journalist in the world is basically hinged on nine core principle, which is called ‘ Statement of Shared Purpose’.

The Statement of Shared Purpose defines the central purpose of journalism as providing citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society.

It identifies nine Core Principles:

(1) Journalisms first obligation is to the truth;

(2) Its first loyalty is to citizens;

(3) Its essence is a discipline of verification;

(4) Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover;

(5) It must serve as an independent monitor of power;

(6) It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise;

(7) It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant;

(8) It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional; and

(9) Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience…

These nine Core Principles will be summarized into three primary ethical obligations of the press:

(1) an obligation to speak truthfully and accurately,

(2) an obligation to maintain independence and loyalty to the citizenry, and

(3) an obligation to avoid sensationalism and trivia and to protect individual privacy interests in the dissemination of newsworthy information.

These ethical obligations exist in virtually all ethics codes in some form or another. Moreover, these rules of behavior codified by the media create an express, almost moral, obligation to the public to act ethically and responsibly.

Is there a constitutional rights to news reporting or gathering?

There is, every Nigerian is a beneficiary of the Fundamental Human Rights provision contained in Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and under the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right.

So as a News reporter or a reporter in at a gathering, your fundamental human rights are inalienable.

Furthermore, the constitution in Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended in 2011), under the heading the Right to Freedom of Expression and the Free Press states that:

(1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.

In spite of the constitutional guarantees, press freedom in Nigeria has been hindered by a number of factors. The foremost instruments of press control in Nigeria are laws, policies and regulations. Many mass media laws are in existence to regulate journalism practice in the country. These include: defamation, sedition, obscenity, copyright, privacy and official secrecy laws. For journalists to practise their profession well, they need to be fairly versed with the mass media laws among other requirements.

Can journalists or news correspondents trespass. Like reporting or filming a private property?

I love this question.

I took up a case of filming with a private property recently in Abeokuta and the fact remains that a Private motor coy (name withheld) did made a documentary of their business by a journalist using the Private property of another Billionaire in Abeokuta (name withheld) as a background of their shot.

The intention of the journalist that directed that short documentary was not aimed at using the property for any illicit purpose or illegal purpose but the owner of the property upon sighting the video reported the case to the IGP and from Abuja, signals were sent down to Eleweran and from Eleweran, the DPO of Ibara was ordered to make arrest and charge the journalist and everyone found at the office of the Motor company.

When the Police got to the office of the Motor company, they arrested everyone and I was also at that office that same time. I was arrested too and some other customers.

We got to the Police Station and we got to know the reason for the arrest. We were told that the journalist made a short documentary that had the property of the billionaire shown conspicuously in it.

Immediately, I heard this, I know the company is in trouble because it is wrong for a journalist to report it film a private property at anytime. If he must use the property, he must take permission. I had to immediately wade in and put calls across through some contacts and the billionaire had to let go and undertaking was made that such would not repeat itself.

That act of filming with no permission is trespass on property. It is an offence punishable under the law.

Talking about FREEDOM OF SPEECH VIZ-A-VIZ PRESS FREEDOM. Do we really have Press Freedom in Nigeria because we have seen where NEWS CORRESPONDENTS are attacked and imprisoned?

If a Journalist is arrested. What can such person do ?

Yes, we have press freedom in Nigeria. However we can safely say that Nigeria has not been too lucky to have leaders that would allow the proper press freedom to operate as intended by the law.

However, the rights of speech is not absolute but limited. Reporters that spread fake news are deserving of imprisonment.

If a journalist is arrested, the first thing he should request for is to speak to his lawyer immediately. The lawyer would take other steps up.

Please no journalist should argue arrest with a man that is holding gun. Dead men tell no tales and accidental discharge is a good defense in law.

Just submit yourself for arrest.

What does the law says about PLAGIARISM?

Plagiarism is a copyright infringement. This occurs when any person uses any of your work – no matter how small it is – for any of his/her personal benefits irrespective of whether or not he gives you the attribution, unless that person has a written permission from you. Content could be in many forms such as text, artwork, sound and video (including animations), ideas, inventions or symbols.

Once your work is published – irrespective of whether on paper or digital media – you own the sole rights to: use the work; allow reuse; allow derivatives and allow others make profit from your work.

If you are the copyright holder, it means that ONLY YOU are allowed to make copies of the work and should you wish – others and only the ones to whom you give written permission can use the work.

At this point it is important to note that the saying “because it’s posted on the internet, then it’s free” is totally misleading and untrue.

Nigeria’s Copyright Act (Section 20), if a person is convicted by the Federal High Court for the sale, possession or distribution of copyrighted material for purposes of trade or business, he or she is liable to a fine of ₦100 for every copy of the infringing work and/or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding …

Is there any rule guiding Court reporting?

Theres is no specific rule that guide court reporting except for the fact that the court must consent to the reporting of its proceedings. Reporting court proceedings without the permission of the court, it is tantamount to contempt of court.

We can easily say that the guides are Judge made under the guise of exercising their discretion in a judicial and judicious manner.

In Nigeria, Journalists are occasionally confronted with such issues as Contempt of Court. In 2012, for instance, a magistrate court judge ordered the police to arrest and detain seven judiciary correspondents in Lagos, south west Nigeria.

The judge accused the journalists of allegedly disturbing court sessions with their cameras and phones, as they were said to be busy clicking for exclusive pictures, which eventually angered the judge, who handed down the order.

Based on the directive, which was interpreted as contempt of court, the journalists were moved from the court premises at Ikeja GRA to Area F police command for eventual detention.

Do Reporters have the right to Access a crime scene?

Reproters have the right to access a crime scene and make report thereof.

It forms part of the processes in performing their duties. There is no law that prohibits them from doing that. It is an exclusive right.

Is it important for Media organizations to have legal advisers?

It is a must for any reasonable media organisation to have a legal Adviser. The legal adviser would put them through laws guiding media operations and consequences of some professional acts. It is necessary.

What are the differences between these words; Journalist, Blogger and News Correspondent?

Journalist is someone that is well trained in news reporting and media activities. He holds a certificate evidencing that he is well skilled in the art of journalistic professionalism. Bloggers are referred to as casual or online content producer. He operates through blogs. While News correspondent is a journalist that reports events to a Media outfit for processing and onward transmission to the public.

Concerning Copyright infringement, Can I sue anyone who uses my work without my permission, when I have not registered my company with the CAC or any of the bodies under Copyright?

The law does not operate on illegality.

You cannot have your cake and eat it.

If a friend uses your idea which you have not copyrighted or which you dont even have a registered company which you operate under, the person has not committed any crime.

If you report, you must show how the idea became yours.

The law does not allow a party to benefit from their wrong or mischief.

You must register your media house under CAC. Get accreditation from NBC and always ensure you copyright your ideas and ensure you allow people to sign a NON DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT with you before sharing your ideas.

What is the legal action to be taken if someone’s picture is used for an advertisement on a bill board without seeking consent?

Good, Sometimes in June last year, I handled a case like this for a client. What happened was that the client was at OOPL for a visit and he was at the bar with a friend. At that bar, the International Brewery staffs were doing a promo show promoting Trophy Lager Beer.

They took random pictures and used it on their twitter timeline. A friend of my client called his attention of his picture wherein bottles of trophy were at his front and used it on their social media page.

He called me up and explained. I wrote Internation brewery at their office at ikoyi and they responded by asking the advertisement agency to clear the mess because the know that it was wrong for pictures of people to be used without their permission.

The media agency on the long run after series of writings ended up paying damages worth millions. Anyone that use your picture without your knowledge must pay. If you are in this condition, do let me know. We can make millions. Let’s do business please (smiles)

Does a journalist have to necessarily hold a certificate in Journalism?

For example someone that studied Animal Science in the University with interest in Journalism. Does such person needs certificate to practice?

Yes, you need certification for the practice of journalism. It is important that you must acquire the skills needed to practice it effectively.

Journalism is for Professionals. You should remember that we have a body called NUJ in Nigeria. You must belong to that body before you can call yourself a Journalist.

What should be the disposition of Journalists to anti – hate speech advocacy in line with relevant Nigerian laws?

Very well, Journalists must oppose hate speech advocacy frowning around because it would hinder their professionalism and incapacitate them especially when opinions of journalists are been misinterpreted just to soothe the law.

However, some of our laws have protected journalist from intimidation and unjust use of the law.

What can you say about this. There’s freedom of speech, how about freedom after speech?

There is freedom after speech if what you have said is the truth and authentic.

The defenses to your story that affects someone through your writings are as follows:

(a). Absolute privilege
(b). Fair comment
(c). Justification; and
(d). Qualification privilege

Apart from the above defences that are more popular and easily enforced, another defence appears to be emerging. It is referred to as the defence of innocence.

The defence of innocence generally avail newspaper vendors, booksellers and libraries whose main thrust of business is disseminating information materials. If therefore in the course of their business, they got involved in disseminating libelous defamatory matters, they can raise the defence of innocence.
Claiming among other things that:

i. They are ignorant of the libelous matter at the time of their business.

ii. They are not ordinarily negligent in not discovering the alleged libelous matters in the normal cause of dissemination.

The burden of proof therefore is on the person complaining to lay evidence in order to prove his ignorance to the libel and lack of negligence in not discovering the libel.

Finally, what can you say about defamation?

Defamation is a transmission of words to a third party, either orally or written, of information which tends to damage the reputation of another person. It is the . It is the publication of a statement, which exposes a person to hatred, ridicule, contempt and/or causes him to be shunned or avoided by right-thinking members of the society.

The phraseology right thinking members of the society involved above was equated in meaning to refer to reasonable and not unreasonable members of the society.

Defamation can be at once a civil as well as a criminal act. Criminal defamation is defined both in the criminal and penal codes. Section 373 of the criminal code defines defamation of the matter as matter likely to injure the reputation of any person in this profession or trade. Even a dead person can be defamed according to the law, provided that no prosecution for the publications of defamatory matter concerning a dead person shall be instituted without the consent of the Attorney General of the Federation or of the State. Chapter 23, of the Penal Code deals with Defamation sections 391 and 392.

In section 392 of the Penal Code, “whoever defames another shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years or with fine or with both. Section 375 of Criminal Code provides that any person who publishes any defamatory matter is guilty and liable for imprisonment for one year, and any person who publishes any defamatory matters knowing it to be false is liable to imprisonment for two years.

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