Practice Journalism In Nigeria Without Media Degree, Go To Jail! Inside the bill seeking compulsory media degrees for journalists

 

Members of the House of Representatives are considering a bill that would outlaw the practice of journalism in Nigeria without a degree in journalism or related discipline. This, according to the lawmakers, is an attempt to sanitize the profession and rid it of quacks and fake news merchants. This bill entitled “Nigerian Press Council Amendment Bill 2019” was sponsored by Francis Agbo, the lawmaker representing Ado/Ogbadigbo/Okpokwu federal constituency in Benue state. So what is he bill all about and why is it causing outrage among media practitioners who have condemned it in strong terms. Take a quick look at this analysis of the content of this bill to understand what it is all about.

The ANALYSIS

Anyone practicing journalism in Nigeria without having journalism or media-related degree or higher national diploma certificate may face up to two years in jail or a fine of N200,000, if the Nigerian Press Council Amendment Bill 2019, in the house of representatives is passed and signed into law. The bill is also seeking to raise the minimum qualification for journalists in the country to bachelor’s degree or higher national diploma (HND) in journalism, media art, communication or related courses.

For people interested in practicing journalism but have a first degree in any other course, they will have to obtain a postgraduate certificate in the aforementioned courses of study. The bill which has passed first reading and slated for second reading seeks to amend some key sections of the Nigerian Press Council Act Cap N128 LFN 2004.

The proposal seeks to amend sections 19(1)(a)-(b), 21(5)(a)-(b) and 35 of the Nigerian Press Council Act Cap N128 LFN 2004. The Nigerian Press Council Act Cap N128 LFN 2004 was first enacted in 1992 to repeal the Nigerian Media Council Act 1988 and established the Nigerian Press Council (NPC). Under this Act, the NPC is recognised as the body charged with the responsibility of overseeing the activities of Nigerian press.

An interesting analysis of this bill was done by TheCable. This was after obtaining a copy of the bill in order to analyse the sections and compare them with assented sections of the Nigerian Press Council Act Cap N128 LFN 2004.

JOURNALISM OR MEDIA-RELATED DEGREES MANDATORY

The first casualty of the proposed amendment is section 19, which is titled: “Registration as Journalist”. The proposal seeks to delete section 19 (1)(a) of Nigerian Press Council Act Cap N128 LFN 2004 and replace it with a new clause for registration as a journalist.

The section 19 (1)(a) states:

  1. Registration as Journalist

(1) Subject to rules made under this Act, a person shall be entitled to be fully registered under this Act if-

(a) he has attended a course of training recognised by the Council so acquired,
with the cognate experience recognised by the Council; or

But the proposed legislation states that:

19 (1)(a) he holds a first degree, higher national diploma certificate or its equivalence in Journalism, media art, or communication from any higher institution in Nigeria or elsewhere

  1. Registration as Journalist

(1) Subject to rules made under this Act, a person shall be entitled to be fully registered under this Act if-

(a) he has attended a course of training recognised by the Council so acquired,
with the cognate experience recognised by the Council; or

But the proposed legislation states that:

19 (1)(a) he holds a first degree, higher national diploma certificate or its equivalence in Journalism, media art, or communication from any higher institution in Nigeria or elsewhere

19 (1b) in the case of a person who has a first degree in any other course, he shall within five years obtain a postgraduate certificate in journalism, media art, communication, or related field from any higher Institution in Nigeria or elsewhere.

IMPLICATIONS OF THESE PROPOSED CLAUSES

Journalists who do not hold a bachelor’s degree or higher national diploma (HND) in journalism, mass communication, communication art, media art and other related courses may not be allowed to practice journalism or be recognised as a journalist.

The section 19 of the Nigerian Press Council Act Cap N128 LFN 2004 did not clearly state the course of study required for the registration of a journalist, but the proposed amendment spelt out the course of study for registration and recognition as a journalist.

Many journalists excelling in their fields do not have any degree in journalism or related courses. Some studied science or social science-related courses. A typical example is Fisayo Soyombo, multiple award-winning journalist and pioneer editor of TheCable, whose investigative works have won many national and international awards. He is famous for carrying out a risky undercover investigative report to track corruption in Nigeria’s criminal justice system. He spent two weeks in detention – five days in a Police cell and eight as an inmate in Ikoyi Prison – while carrying out this investigation, beginning from the moment of arrest by the Police to the point of release by the prison. Soyombo holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Ibadan. He does not have any degree or certificate in journalism or related discipline, yet he is one of the best investigative journalists in Nigeria. Soyombo is not alone in this issue. There are several others like him who do not hold media-related degrees but are doing well in the Nigerian media space. IT then means that if the bill is passed and signed into law the likes of Soyombo will have to obtain a postgraduate certificate in journalism, media art, communication or related field to practice.

N200k FINE AND TWO YEARS IN JAIL FOR “UNTRAINED” JOURNALIST

The proposed legislation also seeks to replace the provisions of sections 21(5)(a)-(b) of the Nigerian Press Council Act Cap N128 LFN 2004. Section 21 of the Act is titled: “Offences”, which highlights the penalties for offences committed by journalists who are not registered by the council.  But in the new legislation, the ”penalties” are for journalists who do not hold degrees in journalism or other related courses.

Section 21 (5) of the Act states:

(5) Where any person has been convicted of an offence under this section of this Act-

(a) in a High Court, he shall be liable to a fine not exceeding N5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both such fine and imprisonment and to an additional fine of N200 for each day during which the offence continues; and

(b) in a Magistrate Court, he shall be liable to a fine of N3,000 and to an additional fine of N100 for each day during which the offence continues.

The proposal seeks to repeal the clauses of the above section and stiffening the punishment for journalists who do not hold degrees in journalism or other related courses.

5 ( a) in a High Court, he shall be liable to a fine not exceeding N200 , 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both such fine and imprisonment and an additional fine N500 for each day during which the offence continues; and

(b) in a Magistrate court , he shall be liable to a fine of N 300,000 and to an additional fine of N500 for each day during which the offence continues.

IMPLICATION OF THESE CLAUSES

If the lawmakers succeed in passing this bill and implementing it, journalists who do not hold degrees in journalism or other related courses, may risk a fine of N200,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. What this legislation seeks to do is to stiffen the punishment and fine for untrained and fake journalists. Journalists, who do not hold degrees in journalism or other related courses, will be treated as “untrained and fake journalists’’ and punishment for offences stated in section 21 of the Act will be applicable to them.

Unlike sections 19(1) and 21(5) that the proposal seeks to delete certain paragraphs; for section 35, it seeks to add a new subsection to make the subsections three. Section 35 of the Act is titled: “Submission of annual performance returns”, which highlights how publishers of newspapers and magazines should submit a return on the performance of their organisations.

The bill adds this subsection to section 35:

Subsection 3: A journalist shall be entitled to monthly salary payable by the publisher, owner or printer which the report of payment of the salary shall be included in the return of performance of newspaper, magazine or journal to be submitted to the council.

IMPLICATIONS ON WELFARE

There are good sides to this bill, one of which has to do with payment of salary of journalists. The bill may be a beneficial provision to Nigerian journalists because it states that they are entitled to monthly salary payable by their publishers. But the bill did not make any specific statement on the timing for the payment. This is very essential because irregular payment of salary is one of the problems faced by journalists working for media organizations in Nigeria. However, one very laudable development is that if the bill is passed and signed into law, media owners will be accountable to the council as regards the payment of journalists’ salaries. This is one good step towards improving the welfare of journalists, that is, if well implemented.

RATIONALE FOR THE AMENDMENT

So what informed this bill? Andrew Agbese, media aide to the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, said the bill will redefine journalism practice and curtail quackery in the profession.

“The Bill has aroused interest in the media, given the extent quacks and fakes have infiltrated the industry, bringing the image of journalists to an all-time low in Nigeria,” he said in a statement.

“The Bill, when passed into law will address these challenges by redefining and refining the media industry and by extension, strengthening democracy and hence the need to define who a journalist is, what qualification qualifies him to be a journalist, and stipulates punishment for defaulters and quakes.”

PREVIOUS FAILED ATTEMPTS TO AMEND OR REPEAL THE ACT

There have been failed attempts to either amend or repeal the Nigerian Press Council Act Cap N128 LFN 2004 in the past. In 2009, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), proposed a bill seeking to repeal the Act when she was a member of the house of representatives.

Dabiri-Erewa’s bill was titled: “An Act to Provide for the Repeal for the Nigerian Press Council Act 1992 and Establish the Nigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Council.” The bill sparked controversy as stakeholders in the media rejected it, saying it is a move to gag the press.

In 2019, Odebunmi Olusegun, a member of the house of representatives, representing Surulere/Ogo-Oluwa federal constituency, Oyo state, sponsored a similar bill, which is currently at the committee stage. Two years later, the bill is yet to proceed to the next stage.

FINALLY!

This bill would have been better if it focused on welfare of journalists and improvement of journalism profession in Nigeria. Telling people without a degree in journalism not to practice might not be in the interest of the profession. Those who have flare for writing and passion for news gathering and dissemination should be allowed to practice even without certification. Having a certificate in journalism is not a bad idea at all but making it a prerequisite for practicing in Nigeria will remain controversial, especially in view of the quality of education in the country. There is no guarantee that those who studied mass communication, journalism or related disciplines learnt any meaningful thing regarding the basics of journalism. This is a reflection of the falling standard of education in the country. This bill might end up glorifying certificates instead encouraging people to develop skills, in this case, news gathering and writing skills, including other theoretical aspects of the journalism profession.

 

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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