The field of journalism has undergone significant transformations in recent times. According to experts, the traditional print media is facing severe challenges due to the emergence of the internet. In an attempt to survive, newspapers are downsizing and reducing expenses, while magazines are shifting their focus to online platforms. Nevertheless, for individuals who have a keen interest in writing and a nose for news, journalism remains a promising career option.
However, Comrade Stanley Job Stanley and Ikechukwu Wigodo, who were re-elected as Chairman and Secretary of the Rivers State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) for a second term of three years in 2022, may not share the above perspective. As hosts of PointBlank, a Super 93.3 FM programme in Port Harcourt that covers politics, current affairs, and newsworthy events anchored by Segun Owolabi, they maintain that a university degree in journalism is a prerequisite for practicing journalism in the state, as stipulated by the NUJ.
“On our part, we initially required a diploma from a journalism institution as our standard. However, we have now revised it to mandate a university degree for aspiring journalists,” they explained.
During the radio broadcast on May 6 in Port Harcourt, they revealed that they were collaborating with law enforcement agencies to apprehend individuals they referred to as “quacks” and “unqualified professionals.”
In their misleading “standard” they failed to distinguish between a member of the NUJ and a journalist. Nevertheless, they clarified that their requirement applies to individuals who seek membership in their union and those who aspire to become journalists in the state and nationwide.
Verdict: Do you need a degree to be a journalist?
You can’t tell one with say, a certificate from London School of Journalism (which may not be a degree awarding institution) not to raise his head high and say he or she is a journalist. Why Nigeria!
The NUJ’s scribes’ position wasn’t even backed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and we shall understand what the law says later.
Understanding who is a journalist according to Wikipedia, a journalist is someone who gathers data in the form of text, audio, or images, processes it into newsworthy content, and disseminates it to the public.
Journalists operate in a variety of settings, including print media, television, radio, and online media.
Some start to practice even from secondary school. The objective of a journalist is to report the news in a truthful, impartial, and equitable manner.
Journalists collect information from various sources, such as interviews, observation, research, and personal experience.
According to Oon Yeoh, a previous editor who identifies himself as a journalist and holds a degree in economics, journalism is not a profession like engineering, medicine, or accountancy, where a specific degree is necessary to work in the field, but rather an art and a science.
“To excel in journalism, one must possess the ability to write skillfully, ask intelligent questions, be attentive, and so forth.
“These abilities do not require a specific degree. While there are technical aspects and best practices to consider, they can all be acquired through on-the-job training,” Yeoh said.
On another note, a journalist must be capable of composing clear, succinct, impartial, and accurate pieces of writing quickly. They must also have a comprehensive understanding of general knowledge, a keen interest in current events, the capacity to learn keyboard and shorthand skills, and the ability to speak clearly when working in radio or television.
“Though a professional degree is not necessary to become a journalist, it is recommended to pursue training courses to expand your knowledge in the field and develop your portfolio, which can help you demonstrate your skills and capabilities to potential employers,” said in “How To Become A Journalist: Steps, Skills And Career Data” by Forbes Advisor Cecilia Seiter.
“You can consider taking online courses or attending classes at a local community college. One of the most effective ways to learn about journalism is to gain experience.
“This can be achieved in numerous ways, such as by applying for internships that offer the opportunity to work with experienced journalists or getting involved with student media organizations, which allow you to try various journalism roles,” she added.
Then again, these sources added that it is essential to be honest when gathering information for public consumption, not just to belong to a union or hold a degree.
“There are writers, audio professionals, and photographers who do this. Especially in the age of social media, many groundbreaking stories have been revealed by individuals who are not even thinking about journalism.”
Nevertheless, some unionists like the NUJ insist on a 17th-century understanding of unionism before anyone can collect news, record audio or images, and distribute them for public consumption.
Has NUJ the power to checkmate journalism practice?
The NUJ lacked the authority to determine who could engage in journalism in Nigeria.
There are only two bodies known to law in the country that regulate the media. They are:
- The National Broadcasting Commission Act (the NBC Act) regulates the broadcasting sector in Nigeria.
- Wikipedia says that the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) is the statutory body that governs ethical standards in the Nigerian press. Not the NUJ.
The former was established by the Nigerian Press Council Act No. 85 of 1992.
NUJ can’t stop free press
In an editorial titled Who is afraid of free press? on July 13, 2021, The Guardian noted that both the media and the public expressed apprehension and rejected the media regulation bills in the National Assembly, Abuja, sponsored by politicians.
As per the newspaper, the proposed changes in the National Assembly (not NUJ) aim to grant complete media authority and regulation to the president of Nigeria, through the Minister of Information and quasi-public organizations like the NBC.
The paper examined that this would render the media non-independent and subject to the presidency’s moods and discretion.
The NUJ has assumed and is flaunting such authority. But its members should not usurp power because the media sector regulators, the NBC and the NPC, are the only regulatory agencies whose board appointments are not subject to Senate confirmation, unlike the National Communications Commission (NCC).
This is solely an interaction between the Minister of Information’s office and the President.
Media and battle with regulatory laws
Francis Agbo, the representative of Ado/Ogbadigbo/Okpokwu in the federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Benue state, proposed an amendment to the National Press Council Act 2019.
The Guardian reported in its editorial that just twenty years into the Fourth Republic, some of its beneficiaries and those in public offices are already displeased with its open-minded principles that permit examination of public behavior and demand for accountability.
“Despite its poor governance, the current administration is turning a blind eye to punish those who complain and suffer from its ineffectual leadership.
“A sneaky point of entry has emerged through the issue of “false information and hateful speech,” which lawmakers are currently attempting to pass a bill for amending the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Acts.
According to The Guardian, the irritating proposals were truly in existence before the Buhari administration. Nonetheless, in its present form, it is a reminder of the unpleasant past of the military regime.
“During his tenure as a military head of state in 1984, Buhari passed the Protection Against False Accusation Decree, also known as Decree No.4, which aimed to suppress the media.
“Some journalists were imprisoned for publishing reports that were perceived to be critical of the government. Although Decree No.4 was limited to the disclosure of sources of information, the Press Council Bill is more severe – going beyond what even the military was willing to do.
“The bill contains provisions that would require Nigerians to obtain a license before operating media organizations. It also allows the government to imprison journalists, fine newspapers up to N10 million, or shut them down for up to a year over a publication that the government interprets as “fake” news,” said The Guardian.
Experts rebuff NUJ’s position
The Nigerian Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) statement and body which were not backed by the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria were misleading.
According to Kemi Yesufu, Editor-in-Chief of frontline newspaper, “there are some talented people that have special education, very hardworking journalists.
“Some of the good reporters we have now actually come into the media with their secondary education.
“With time, they went to university (didn’t study journalism or related courses) and are still doing very well in the media.”
The NUJ forgot that many renowned musicians especially in Nigeria today didn’t even go to elementary school and by tomorrow, the body that sees to music (or a union of university graduate musicians) should place a ban on them not to practice except they possess a university degree?
Common! Do people in Nigeria look at the individual’s intellectual capabilities on something or just paper requisite?
There have been cases of video where teenage Nigerians here in Nigeria manufactured devices that generate electricity and other electrical feats. Are you going to stop their nature-given-prowess?
They should go to university before they should showcase their talents? The likes of Bill Gates should stop going about as technologists because they didn’t have university degrees (when they started?)
Journalism is about informing people
Even after acquiring the university first degree before Rivers NUJ or the national level can see and call one (as) a journalist, a person with a journalism degree still undergoes training or internship as an employee.
Although there are Independent Journalists, but an O-level holder, diploma, PhD can still undergo the training as standard placed by the employer.
So, what is NUJ talking about university degree? Only your degree can’t even make you a journalist.
“I’m just saying that if you have a young person that likes to write, and for certain reasons, he’s not been able to attend tertiary institution, I understand what people are saying with Law and Medicine, but when it comes to writing and informing people, you see that people go to social media, post recorded videos of newsworthy events. So, journalism is about informing people,” Yesufu explained.
Franklin Adebayo, a Lagos-based expert in real estate and a qualified journalist, believes that the modification to the legislation is a move towards cleaning up the industry. He stated that his stance is based on various aspects of journalism in the modern era, such as the prevalence of social media.
“The issue of quacks in the profession still rests on many of those factors that we have known for ages as students and practitioners. The only twist to it is the dimension it is taking, given the powerful emergence of social media.
The multifaceted matters that are needed to be dealt with in this fourth estate or fourth pillar of democracy have little connection with qualifications but much of proper training and adherence to professional ethics.
“This is because they are correlative and none of them can be addressed in isolation. An attempt to do that will definitely be an effort in futility,” he said.
This is where the focus should be and not who met the NUJ’s standard. The later being unionism.
NUJ is just a union like every other trade union spiced up with political interest.
The so-called “Quacks” in the writing profession should be those who go about defrauding and blackmailing people with their pen, and not necessarily those who study newspapers and opinions to make their informed reportage but are not NUJ members, who don’t have the NUJ created-prerequisites before they can write news, features, investigate, film, etc.
NUJ should be mindful that unionism such as theirs to stall free press can be ascribed to as dictatorial.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the United Nations on article 19, states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Meanwhile Nigeria ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 29 July, 1993. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 29 July, 1993.
People with the love and flare for writing are born, not created out of unionism. Some great novelists are those without any forms of writing tutorials or formal school.
Raising the bar before one can write and publish a factual data in the name of NUJ is not different from government shutting down Twitter or Facebook because those who use them were not originally certified bloggers.