Why Good Journalism Truly Matters




By Adewale Kupoluyi

Media, democracy and development are tripartite partners that should drive any modern society. To nurture and sustain this synergy, the place of journalism comes in. Not just any kind of journalism, but good journalism that strengthens and consolidates the democratisation process. These critical issues formed discussions at the just-concluded 67th General Assembly and the 2018 IPI World Congress of the International Press Institute, held in Abuja; the very first time in history of Nigeria. The annual congress is usually attended by over 300 leading editors and journalists, to discuss quality journalism.

Themed, “Why Good Journalism Matters: Quality Journalism for Strong Societies”, this year’s congress coincided with when IPI would hold its flagship global press freedom event in West Africa. Welcoming all, IPI Executive Board Vice-Chair, Dawn Thomas said hosting the  congress was an acknowledgement of the country’s historical importance to the institute and that Nigeria became a key focus of IPI’s Africa programme in the 1960s and 1970s, when IPI established the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), which remained a respected journalism institution. The IPI Executive Director, Barbara Trionfi disclosed that the congress was a reminder of the power of solidarity in the global media.

Later in the day at the Presidential Villa, there was a panel that was moderated by John Momoh, President, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Channels Television, comprising the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun; Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd); Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; and Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr. Okey Enelamah, who spoke on what Nigeria was doing in transforming its economy by providing first-hand insight into tax evasion, border surveillance, desertification and other matters.

As the panel session was ongoing, President Muhammadu Buhari joined the congress to present his keynote address. He underscored the importance of quality journalism to building strong societies, saying good journalism always promotes good governance. Buhari also sought to draw a distinction between quality journalism and what he described as hate speech and ‘fake news’ while enjoining participants to continue to promote good journalism, after which participants were treated to a welcome cocktail reception hosted by the Minister, Federal Capital Territory, Alhaji Muhammad Bello and IPI Fellow, Mallam Ismaila Isa, before departing the villa.

The second day of the congress featured a town-hall-style discussion on “Why Good Journalism Matters: And How to Make People Like It”, consisting leading editors and media executives from BBC, The Associated Press, Al Jazeera, South Africa’s Mail and Guardian as well as The Philippines’ Rappler while the afternoon session was the Africa Media Forum on the future of press freedom and independent journalism. The Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and other panelists spoke on “Covering Elections, Advancing Democracy”. The INEC boss said there would be collaboration between the media and Civil Society Organisations, so that 2019 general elections would witness high level of credibility. “The relationship between an Election Management Body such as INEC and the IPI is, therefore, organic”, he disclosed, just as the revised edition of the 35-page Nigerian media code of election coverage was unveiled and circulated at the occasion, which had the endorsements of about 100 media stakeholders in Nigeria.

As the congress progressed, the African Media Initiative’s CEO, Roukaya Kasenally, spoke on the imperative of shaping a new African narrative. Lisa Anne Essex of the European Journalism Centre also presented the centre’s guide for African journalists covering development issues. She tasked university journalism students to write the ‘top story’. On the future of African journalism, John Momoh, and Google’s Country Director for Nigeria, Juliet Ehimuan, spoke on the possibilities of having independent and digital-driven journalism on the continent.

Gwen Lister of the Namibia Media Trust; former BBC Africa Correspondent, Mark Doyle; Nation Media Group Editor-in-Chief, Tom Mshindi; and Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Africa Editor, Khadija Sharife discussed the relationship between African media and their audiences, whereby they expressed concern about loss of trust and support. During an open dialogue on “Understanding Terrorism and Conflicts in Africa”, covering of Boko Haram terrorism took the centre-stage, as such assignments caused great trauma for many journalists, according to Hamza Idris, the Political Editor of Daily Trust newspapers, Nigeria. Victor Bwire of the Media Council of Kenya further explained that local Kenyan journalists too had a tough time learning how to cover security without engaging in mongering and polarisation.

Many African governments were alleged to be repressing free press and critical voices. Deodatus Balile from the Tanzania Editors’ Forum; Barbara Kaija, Editor-in-Chief, Uganda’s New Vision newspaper; and Joan Chirwa, Editor-in-Chief of Zambia’s The Mast newspaper spoke on why this is so. At this point, I made a case for why local journalists, especially in Africa, should be better assisted by international organisations like IPI to overcome many dangers being faced on the job. Similarly, a Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Lagos, Ralph Akinfeleye; Funke Egbemode, President, Nigerian Guild of Editors; Mohammed Idris, Publisher, Blueprint newspapers; and Abdulwaheed Odusile, President, Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), gave candid advice on what can be done to enhance the living conditions of journalists during the session on “Why Nigeria’s Journalists Struggle to Make a Living and What We Can Do About It”.

In the evening of day two, a gala night and award dinner was hosted by the Ministry of Information and Culture, where the minister highlighted the achievements of the Federal Government and reassured that press freedom would be guaranteed in the country. At the event, IPI World Press Freedom Hero award was conferred on journalists that had made significant contributions to the promotion of press freedom while the Annual Free Media Pioneer award was to given to recognise media organisations that had made innovations, which promoted news access and quality. Angolan anti-corruption journalist, Rafael Marques and Philippine news website, Rappler were awarded, respectively.

During a special interactive session, Nigerian Nobel Prize Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka expressed his optimism about the future of press freedom in Nigeria. The don, who was interviewed by IPI Executive Board Vice-Chair, Woosuk Kenneth Choi, offered a rousing defence of press freedom and free speech, while expressing deep concerns over attempts to criminalise hate speech in the country without being able to clearly define what is actually ‘hate speech’, saying such a move cannot become a reality. However, the night did not end without colourful dance performances by the AfriTheatre Group and others.

On the third day, IPI’s Barbara Trionfi ruminated over theme, “The Story Lives On” alongside other experienced panelists just before the session on “When Lone Wolves Join Forces: Collaborative Investigative Reporting on Corruption, Financial Crimes and Abuse of Power” kicked-off with the likes of Anas Aremeyaw Anas, the renowned undercover investigative journalist, usually disguised in public with headcovers and beads to protect his face from recognition, is a mythical figure in the African media scene; Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher/CEO, Premium Times, Nigeria; Anita Ptratap, The Week, India; and John Githongo, an anti-corruption activist, who highlighted the various challenges facing investigative reporting and suggested solutions such as getting good and independent funding.

Thereafter, there was a special discussion on natural resources and the extractive sector in Africa; anchored by Prof. Martha Steffens, University of Missouri, Columbia, United States of America that featured Oludotun Babayemi, Connected Development; Umaru Fofana, BBC correspondent in Sierra Leone and CEO of FreeMedia Group, who highlighted the obstacles preventing local journalists from properly covering the extractive sector. Khadija Sharife, OCCRP’s Africa editor, stressed that poorly-paid journalists were easy targets, calling on media organisations to always pay their journalists well, just as I equally advised participants not to neglect the non-oil industry in their reportage because of the many unreported and illegalities taking place across Africa.

Before attending the general assembly, I participated in the discourse on “Innovative Ways to Fund Investigative Journalism: Interactive Conversation”, which attracted practitioners on how to improve themselves for better performance. Motunrayo Alakija, Coordinator, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism; Lisa Akiniyi May, Journalism Fund, Belgium; and Joshua Olufemi, Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism were on ground to give the intricacies involved and on how to carry out good investigative journalism.

The general assembly was presided over by the IPI Chair, John Yearwood, during which members unanimously passed four resolutions urging action on press freedom issues in Africa, Egypt and Turkey. They further called on African governments to protect the safety of journalists, repeal anti-media laws and promote rule of law, among others. The Executive Board appointed John Daniszewski of Associated Press, as vice-president for standards and editor at large, as IPI’s special representative for journalist safety.

An exciting and lively closing dinner that was hosted by the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Chairman, IPI Nigeria and Chairman, Daily Trust Nigeria, Kabiru Yusuf, who expressed his profound appreciation to all for the well-attended congress. On his part, Saraki urged media practitioners to be objective in their reportage, especially during the build-up to the nation’s general elections. While the participants were at their great moments, Markus Spillmann, former Editor-in-Chief, Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung, was named as the 34th chair of IPI, as he takes over from John Yearwood, former World Editor, Miami Herald, having served out two terms.

Before the IPI Executive Director, Barbara Trionfi left for Vienna; headquarters of IPI, both of us were invited to speak on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Good Morning Nigeria, anchored by Claire Adelabu Abdulrazak, where the fragmentation of the media was the topic of discussion, where the need to closely monitor the social media was stressed, despite their importance in today’s world. Months back, Barbara had visited Nigeria, where she met with top government functionaries and media executives on the congress, which had Nduka Obaigbena, President, Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and publisher of This Day newspaper titles, as Chairman, Local Organising Committee; while the Secretary of IPI Nigeria, Raheem Adedoyin, was Secretary while different planning committees were set up in Nigeria, after last year’s congress that was held in Hamburg, Germany. No doubt, the congress has come and gone, the thought-provoking discussions were robust and highly resourceful. It is only hoped all the stakeholders at the Abuja congress would truly ensure that good journalism matters for a strong and healthy societ