Making Ethics Go Viral for Online Journalism


Yinka Olatunbosun

The viral nature of news and information dissemination through the online media platforms has been an intriguing feature. Add to this the online media’s efficiency at breaking news on the go. Needless to say, many online media today lack credibility which is part of the reasons why the traditional media such as print and television have continued to dominate the industry.

On the flip side, the traditional media have developed online media platforms to compete favourably with the online journalism movement that marks this period in human history. That inter-relationship between the online and traditional media had made the existence of the former inevitable in spite of the huge criticisms against its operation.

To sanitise online media that is currently unregulated by laws or policies in Nigeria, the President Online Publishers Association of Nigeria, OPAN, Austyn Ogannah, has revealed that a one-day conference for stakeholders with the theme, “The Future of the Fourth Estate’’ is set for February 7, 2018 to deliberate on the rules of engagement that must guide online media practitioners. Without the conference, the virtual space will remain a nursery for pseudo-journalists, giving way to parasitic effect for the professionals in the business.

In a breakfast meeting with THISDAY, Ogannah disclosed how the association has set out to reform online media. The Grill room inside Wheatbaker was the meeting point. In more ways than one, the pizza atop the centre table looked like a prototype for what the online journalism should be – a compact, colourful well-mashed up piece with variety of content. Ogannah, a 43-year old Editor-in-Chief and President, The Will Media, is the newly elected President of OPAN who is committed to changing the landscape for online journalism. In line with that objective, he is working towards ensuring that the conference is sustained in subsequent years.

“The conference is an annual event,’’ he began. “What we are trying to do is to create the platform or movement that will reform digital media. It will be an intellectual party. It has not been done before. We will wrap it up with some form of entertainment. The first edition will kick off on February 7. It will be the flagship event for the association. We have big brands that want to be part of it. We have workshops and mini events that expose our members to training and learn the business of journalism. This conference is about discipline, raising the standards, restoring trust and improving content among members. We want fairness in what we do.’’

Recalling how it all began, Ogannah said OPAN was formed in 2010 and registered a year later with Corporate Affairs Commission by some discerning professionals who felt the need to define standards for the fastest growing engagement platform for this generation. Thus, the idea of OPAN was conceived after founders recognised and understood the shift in the mode and means of social engagement, disruptions and changes that would challenge the existing legal framework for publishing and broadcast.

“Before you can be part of us, you need to swear to an oath which is that you will not blackmail or publish what you cannot defend. We have certain standards to help sanitise the sector to gain more credibility. Our laws are still grappling to understand the new media. Some of our laws that we have were made when we didn’t have the internet infrastructure. Our policy makers have not made laws that look into the future. Some of the laws we have for the media cannot control the digital or social media. Before you can publish a newspaper today, you must go and register. But before you start a website today, you don’t need to talk to anybody.

“When the online media came, it arrived on the vehicle of self-expression. If you then want to regulate the online media, it means you want to regulate free speech. That was the argument. The institution is then caught within that argument. But where your own right ends is where another’s right begins. There must be a balance. That is why we are for some kind of regulation and sanity,’’ he said.

Meanwhile, the representatives of this association have two meetings with the senate on regulatory issues. Like other existing trade unions, OPAN is set up to self-regulate members but there are no instrument of the law to deliver on this objective.

“We want our lawmakers to give us a legal backing to enforce our own laws within the laws of the state so that we can punish defaulters,’’ he said.

He said the conference would attract top legislators, private sectors, media and advertisers.