Good journalism will continue to matter as it plays the critical role of informing the citizens and keeping those in power accountable

For almost a week, Nigeria hosted the cream of journalists and communication scholars at the 2018 World Congress of the International Press Institute (IPI) in Abuja. Under the theme, “Why Good Journalism Matters: Quality Journalism for Strong Societies”, the 67th Congress marked the first time in the 68 years history of IPI that it would hold its flagship global press freedom event in West Africa. And at the end, there are many lessons to be learned by the Nigerian media from the theme of the discourse.

It is a given that no society can thrive without a robust, virile and vibrant media to gauge the pulse of the public, offer institutional check on government’s abuse of power and make the powerful accountable to the people. The media is the fourth estate of the realm and its watchdog role is clearly captured under Section 22 of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution, which provides that, “the press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.”

The ability of the citizenry to make sound judgment about policy is the fulcrum upon which an informed society leans and such would be almost impossible without the news, information and analysis that the media provides. However, for good journalism to truly matter in our country, the Nigerian media practitioners must stand and be counted in the service of justice. At all times and in all circumstances, they must ask salient questions, tell interesting stories and inspire those in power to do the right thing. But above all, it is also important to be mindful of the operating environment and the need for balance and sensitivity to the culture and diversity of our people.

President Muhammadu Buhari appeared to lend his weight to the theme on good journalism, when at the opening ceremony of the IPI Congress, he charged journalists to use their platform to promote good governance in an increasingly competitive field and in a world where the borderline between hate speech and free speech has become blurred. However, in spite of the exhortation by the president, the Nigerian environment remains hostile for the practice of good journalism as many practitioners still risk their lives in pursuit of truth and holding the people in power accountable. In many instances, especially in some states, reporters are repressed and detained even without any court warrant for their critical reporting. We call on the government, at all levels, to uphold the right to freedom of expression reflected in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 and in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the General Assembly in 1966.

For good journalism to truly matter in this clime, government should take appropriate steps to curb violence, threats and attacks against journalists and media workers. Government must also refrain from actions that could be seen as instigating violence against journalists. But the onus is also on media organisations to set editorial templates that will mitigate the effect of fake news and occasional breaches of professional standards. Nigerian media owners should also ensure the working conditions are right.

We commend the organisers of the IPI conference in Nigeria for a successful hosting. But it is important that the lessons endure. While the advent of social media may have raised serious questions about the future of traditional media, there can be no doubt that journalism as a profession will continue to matter, as it plays the critical role of informing the citizens and keeping those in power accountable. It is precisely for those reasons that good journalism matters!