THE Nigerian media on Monday inaugurated a nine-member board of the National Media Complaints Commission (NMCC), otherwise known as the National Ombudsman, to strengthen public confidence in the media.
The commission was inaugurated in Ikeja, Lagos by the Nigeria Press Organisation (NPO), which comprises Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), and Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON).
“So, when the public is complaining, instead of waiting for the people who do not understand this job to pull us down, we will remember this commission and take the initiative to address the issue. People do not like their dirty stories being told in the public and there are too many dirty stories that have to be told, particularly in our environment, to make progress,” said veteran journalist, Emeka Izeze.
Malam Kabiru Yusuf, the President of NPO and President of NPAN, at the inauguration, said that the commission would ‘watch the watchdog’.
According to him, NPO is the umbrella body of owners, editors and reporters of print and online journalists in Nigeria, taking the responsibility of regulating its work and conduct.
“In deference to the dictum, that journalism is too important to be left to journalists, we have opted for a mechanism of co-regulation. This is done with the help of other actors like the civil society, especially the bar and non-media non-governmental organisations.
“Radio and television are already regulated, but the print, which is the oldest, and online, which is the newest, have escaped such control. The former warned by the lessons of history and the latter, by the amplitude of technology.
“Powerful and privileged Nigerians, irritated by the nosiness of the media, often express the wish for some checks on its powers. I sometimes think that such people take freedom for granted,” he said.
Yusuf, however, said that some journalists seemed all out to prove that their pen was indeed a sword for slaying real or imaginary enemies.
“The Ombudsman will call such people to order, to appreciate that the power of the press should be used for good, not for self-aggrandisement. To be effective, the physician has to heal himself, before he can apply the cure to others. We have selected a strong team to administer this medicine,” he added.
According to him, the nine-member commission will be chaired by Mr Emeka Izeze, former Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director of the Guardian Newspapers.
“Izeze is one of our very best. To work with him, we have selected other leading lights of our profession and that of our partners,” he added.
Yusuf listed other members of the commission to include: Malam A.B. Mahmoud, former President, Nigerian Bar Association; Prof. Chinyere Okunna, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Paul University, Awka; and Dr Hussaini Abdu, Country Director Care International.
Others include; Mr Lanre Idowu, Editor-in-Chief, Diamond Publications; Mrs Eugenia Abu, Veteran broadcaster and author; Mr Edetean Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda.
Mrs Dupe Ajayi-Gbadebo, lawyer and former Editor, and Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Information, are also part of the team.
“We expect the commission to serve as an independent forum for resolving complaints about the press quickly, fairly, and free of charge.
“It must maintain high standards of Nigerian journalism and journalists’ ethics; and defend the freedom of the press and the right of the people to know.
“We invite all stakeholders in the Nigerian project to support this initiative. The media is wary of government regulation because politicians tend to have short-term goals.
“We are happy to submit to peer-regulation, by collaborating with civil societies, business and the professionals,” he added.
Yusuf commended the working committee, made up of the NPAN, NGE, NUJ and the Guild of Online Publishers, which worked together to develop the ombudsman mechanism.
Responding, Izeze commended stakeholders for the initiative and the confidence reposed on NMCC members. He said that the commission was not to gag the media, adding that the stakeholders had fought for so long to keep the media unaffected by the shenanigans of those who were in government at one time or the other in the country.
According to him, since the military regime to date, there have been certain distastes for the media and people always look for how to keep the media in check.
“What has happened lately is that we (media practitioners) haven’t also been keeping ourselves in check. Our responsibility primarily is not to come and gag the press, we will not do that. We think that we have to be fair to ourselves. We must always do the right thing.
“So, when the public is complaining, instead of waiting for the people who do not understand this job to pull us down, we will remember this commission and take the initiative to address the issue. People do not like their dirty stories being told in the public and there are too many dirty stories that have to be told, particularly in our environment, to make progress,” the veteran said.
According to him, the job is to give the public a channel for seeking redress. “I assure you that with my colleagues here, we will attempt to do justice to your expectations and see how far we can go to help the media operate professionally.
“We will see how far we can go to help the media to observe some of those rules that we drew for ourselves and help the media to build what this nation needs. We cannot make progress in this nation without the media operating professionally, it is not possible,” he said.
The event was attended by the leadership of NPO, NPAN, NGE, NUJ, BON and the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers, along with other strategic media players and the civil society.
NAN reports that Mr Sam Amuka-Pemu, the Founder and Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, inaugurated the commission. (NAN)