Nigerian lawmakers are amending a bill that will disqualify practising journalists without media degrees. The bill, titled 'The Nigerian Press Council Amendment Bill, 2019' will update key provisions in Nigeria’s Press Act.
If implemented, it will have the most impact on journalists playing in the online media space.
The Nigerian Press Council Act Cap N128 LFN 2004, was first enacted in 1992, and it established the Nigerian Press Council. The aim of the council is to, among other things:
- Promote high professional standards for the Nigerian press
- Deal with complaints from the public about the conducts of journalists
- Deal with complaints from journalists about the conduct of persons or organisations towards the press.
Nigerian lawmakers have been trying to effect different amendments to this Act in an alleged bid to ‘promote press freedom’. Most recently, the Act faced amendments in 2018 and 2019 with the same goal.
Dr Francis Ottah Agbo, a member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives (the lower lawmaking house) representing the Ado/Ogbadigbo/Okpokwu constituency of Benue State is spearheading the latest amendment that will make media degrees compulsory for journalists.
Per Punch, the new law will provide that “only a person who has a first degree, Higher National Diploma (HND) in Journalism, Media Art or Communication, or postgraduate certificate shall practise as a journalist.”
The bill, which passed second reading in February 2021, will also increase punishments and fines for untrained journalists.
For persons with a first degree in other courses, the new bill will demand that they obtain a postgraduate certificate in Journalism, Media Art, Communication or related field from any other higher institution in Nigeria or elsewhere.
Who bears the brunt of this rule?
A cursory glance will reveal that people with actual journalism/media related degrees will be found more in print media.
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In the online media space, you would find a more diverse range of qualifications other than journalism or media. Sometimes, people do not get started with any degree.
Tackling fake news
Today, the internet is filled with lots of information and fake news has become a pressing issue for the public, businesses, and world governments.
Though questionable, the likes of Facebook and Twitter have started implementing subtle measures to help tackle the menace.
Twitter introduced a feature that prompts you to read an article before sharing.
Facebook launched a fact-checking program for posts on its platforms. Nigerians tasted a sordid side-effect during the EndSARS protest of October 2020, as the tech giant censored footages from the horrible Lekki toll gate massacre.
The Nigerian government has also been busy. In 2019, it fast-tracked the Social Media Bill which contains several provisions that could restrict press freedom and freedom of speech in general.
In 2020, the government approved the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) code which increased fines for what the government perceives as hate speech to $13,000.
During the #EndSARS protest, it fined the likes of AIT, Arise News, and Channels for using live social media footage of the Lekki massacre.
Where is the problem?
The Nigerian lawmakers seem to believe that journalism's major flaws would be solved if practising journalists had media-related degrees.
In Nigeria, however, some of the biggest media houses do not have founders with media degrees, neither do some of the country's most celebrated journalists.
In the tech space, founders of media houses like Techpoint Africa, Techcabal, Technext, or BenjaminDada.com do not have journalism degrees, neither do they emphasize it when recruiting.
Some of them have done stellar works which have been recognised by reputable bodies across the globe.
- Victor Ekwealor, former Senior Editor at Techpoint Africa and Managing editor at Techcabal won journalism awards without having a media degree.
- Fisayo Soyombo, a multiple award-winning investigative journalist holds a Bachelor's degree in Animal Science from the University of Ibadan.
- Kiki Mordi, another award-winning and Emmy-nominated journalist reportedly dropped out of the University of Benin.
- Idris Akinbajo, Head, Premium Times Investigative Desk won journalism awards as a graduate of Food Science Technology from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) before heading for a Masters in Journalism in Europe.
The media space is filled with stories like this across the globe. In fact, journalism did not exist as a degree until the 20th century.
Though Dr. Agbo claims journalism has lost its glory, some of Nigeria's pioneering journalists, Obafemi Awolowo, Anthony Enahoro, and Nnamdi Azikiwe did not hold media-related degrees. Anthony Enahoro, in particular, did not have a degree while practising as a journalist.
In 2020, the Nigerian University Commission (NUC) unbundled Mass communication degrees in a bid to revitalise university education in Nigeria.
Consequently, this move by the lawmakers deserves a closer analysis, keep your eyes peeled.