Recently, the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) requested each newspaper establishment to institute a self-regulatory mechanism commonly referred to as an Ombudsman Committee. This is aimed at ensuring that every newspaper organisation discharges its statutory duties in a responsible and responsive manner. New Telegraph is full of gratitude to NPAN for this laudable initiative.
The advantages of an internal regulatory mechanism are enduring, to say the least. By this landmark phenomenon, NPAN has advertently or inadvertently provided a realistic alternative to the media suppression laws and assisted the Federal Government to wear a new garb away from perceived as been exceedingly intolerant of media surveillance and criticisms despite having utilised the media space in a profoundly offensive manner to capture political power in 2015. Another advantage of the activation of the Ombudsman Committee in every newspaper establishment is that it will likely help journalists to have improved understanding and appreciation of the different scholarly drivers of their professional work especially the Libertarian and Social Responsibility Theories of Mass Communication.
Such a new twist will likely make more journalists have a deepened knowledge of their statutory obligations and how to hold the governing elite more accountable, even if it means delivering painful punches without necessarily dropping them below the belt. Another fallout is that given the whittling down of the media suppressive disposition of the Federal Government, the desired atmosphere would have been created for the nurturing of a vibrant democracy. And because democracy has been nurtured to a vibrant level, there would be enhanced cross-fertilisation of ideas and unrestricted pluralism, which are among the defining elements of any consciously-advancing society and the chief lubricants of development in the different sectors of the economy.
Persons within and outside the government who feel aggrieved about the publications of any newspaper establishment would be encouraged to explore the option of the self-regulatory mechanism put in place by NPAN without having to go through the complexity of litigation in a court of competent jurisdiction. Complainants are likely to become more enlightened about the work of the journalists and the newspaper organisations which the courts of competent jurisdictions may not have the technical competence to do. There is a looming prospect that some complainants will likely be discouraged from frivolous petitions thereby helping to yield a win-win situation to all stakeholders.
We enjoin the Executive and Legislative Branches of Governments to back down from their recurring moves to initiate additional media regulatory laws. Such laws are likely to portray the two arms of government in a negative light as being opposed to the right of the people to free speech. Additional media regulatory laws would end up to be the tools with which some political gladiators would utilise to subject the populace to their whims and caprices, which ultimately result in misgovernance and socio-economic stagnation. New Telegraph recalls that NPAN requested each newspaper house to set-up its own Ombudsman on or before November 1, this year.
It should impress it upon the defaulting newspaper organisations to comply with the request. For the self-regulatory structure to be well-respected by all stakeholders and stand the test of time, each newspaper establishment should set-up an Ombudsman made up of male and female journalists and media scholars of doubtless character and demonstrable professional proficiency.
While some of them may come from within, others should be drawn from outside. Distinguished journalists, who have retired from the daily newsroom runs, and serving as well as retired lecturers from the Departments of Mass Communication of different universities should be approached to make the Ombudsman of each newspaper organisation.
The Ombudsman of each newspaper organisation should go to any imaginable extent to address readers’ complaints including recommending specific professional training to help upgrade the proficiency level of journalists found to be on the erring path. Where such journalists refuse to be purged of their professional misdemeanours, they could, on the recommendation, of the Ombudsman be asked to drop their pens and seek livelihoods elsewhere, only to be allowed to make a return to the Fourth Estate, on the condition that that they have returned to the classroom to remedy their professional defect, and are now able to exhibit the demonstrable resolve not to return to the inglorious past. The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) should support the Ombudsman, initiated by NPAN, in order for the self-regulatory mechanism to be nourished from infancy to adulthood. The Executive and Legislative Arms of Government may seem unwilling to lend the desired support.
The synergy among NPAN, NGE and NUJ will go a long way to checkmating the dictatorial tendencies of the referred branches of government likely to compromise the vibrancy of the newspaper houses considered key to producing politically- conscious populace needed to constantly lubricate the country’s democracy.