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Being the text of address delivered by Hon. Kolawole Lawal (KLM) MHR representing Yewa South/Ipokia Federal Constituency at the 2020 Lecture and Award Night organised by the Federated Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Ogun State Council on Friday 18th December, 2020.
First, please permit me to commend the leadership of the Federated Chapel of Ogun State Council of NUJ for this timely and proactive programme.
This is an indication that the Federated Chapel is awake to its professional responsibilities of public enlightenment and promotion of good governance.
In addition, this programme is timely, because as we have seen with recent events, which include the Endsars protest, the paradigm has now shifted in the way society – including our youths now respond to societal issues.
Therefore, there is an urgent need for professional and organisational review of recent events to independently and objectively put everything in perspective and take steps to address the challenges. This validates, the fact that that Journalists/media practitioners are change agents.
Secondly, allow me to commend your choice of topics and Speakers. You could not have chosen better topics at this time. Yes, the Endsars protests exposed significant challenges and sad security implications which we must addressed as a nation.
On the heel of this, is the need to critically analyse the roles the media played or failed to play in the events before, during and after the protests.
It will be recalled that the protests started peacefully but quickly progressed to the sad, unfortunate and fatal event it turned out to become, no thanks to social media which churned out both verified and unverified facts.
One specific point from the protest, if anything, the advent of social media has changed the dynamism of news reporting. It is a fact that genuine news now constantly engage in a battle of wits with fake news globally.
However, in all these and in the midst all these, the trained media practitioners should continue to be a reliable and veritable source of information that the public can turn to for facts about vital issues affecting their lives (Savrum & Miller 2015).
Against this backdrop, it is pertinent and right that we examine the role of the media in curbing fake news in our society.
You have commendably chosen the right persons as Speakers to do justice to these salient topics. The Speakers are seasoned and experienced professionals whom, I have no doubt in my mind will perform beyond expectation.
Before I take my seat, let us briefly spare a thought on the low ratings of media practitioners; the causes and remedies.
Tracing the evolution and development of media practice from the 16th century, Riaz (2017) concluded that the 21st century media has become very powerful to the extent that it can deploy its power to expose, tame and shame errant individuals or leaders in government, expose unethical practices by multi-national corporations, influence government policies, or unravel anything for that matter.
This power of the media was recognised by leaders including Malcom X who noted that the media is the most powerful entity on earth because it can control the minds of the masses in such a way that can make the innocent guilty and the guilty innocent (Alexander & Jones, 2012).
The media no doubt is a powerful tool in promoting good governance as well as in promoting peace and harmony in the society. But the key to societal harmony is responsible journalism (Riaz, 2017).
However, Cushion (2007) clearly argued that in the practice of their profession, Journalists are supposed to be independent of the government of the day as they reflect and engage with the interests, anxieties and concerns of citizens both when they investigate but most importantly, when they report on any risks or threats to social, economic and political order (Cushion, 2007).
As a consequence, the role of Media practitioners extend beyond just being the agents of communication and representation to a vital one which strengthens normative societal values while they also fight against deviant tendencies which are detrimental to social equilibrium (Riaz (2017).
Thus the expectation of the society is that the media will be independent of the government of the day and will be a veritable source of reliable, accurate, and unbiased information regarding both internal (domestic) and external affairs (Savrum & Miller 2015).
However despite these plethora of roles, and the significance of media practice in our society, Cushion (2017) laments that public level of trust and appreciation of journalists remain sadly and disturbingly low.
Why this low rating you may want to ask?
Coronel (2003) proffered that the low rating is simply because the media contributes to public cynicism and democratic decay. How? In the article “The role of the media in deepening democracy”, Coronel further reasoned that the low rating of the media is a consequence of its meddling in politics, not as an independent adjudicator but as a complicit, biased and compromised arbitrator.
The author argued further that as a result, media practitioners end up being used as tools in the tussle between rival political groups, thereby fanning the embers of divisiveness rather than of objectivity within political groups, promoting hate speech instead of encouraging issue based & critical debates, and ingraining suspicion rather than establishing social trust on public consciousness.
Consequently, to redeem their reputation and improve on their current low rating, our media practitioners need to be professional and work with integrity at all times.
Their role as independent practitioners must remain consistent, otherwise, Riaz (2017) cautioned that the biases in journalism towards a certain ideology, political party, individual or even towards a social issue will have detrimental effects and polarise the society.
So importantly, exploring a new route to trace the connections between journalists, their sources of information, the stories they cover and the consequences of how they report the stories in an impartial and unbiased manner is sacrosanct.
It is of utmost importance that Media practitioners must not forget the principles of professional ethics: Adherence to the highest standards of professional conduct, ensuring impartiality and objectivity when dealing with others, open and honest communication with with colleagues and customers, Maintaining confidentiality in professional relationships, Fulfilment to commitments in a reliable, responsive and efficient manner.
I enjoin your organisation to constantly provide a platform – such as this – for critical and objective discussions on the role of media practitioners in the promotion of Peace, dispute resolution and particularly in being an unbiased umpire in the midst of politics.
I also encourage you to develop a framework that will facilitate the concept of balance, fairness and accuracy in news reporting (Riaz, 2017).
Ladies and gentlemen, once again let me thank you for this opportunity to share these few thoughts with you.
Thank you and have a lovely day.