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With the coming of the digital media, the profession of journalism has been threatened by ethical crises.  This was the observation of a foremost journalism teacher and the Dean of the School of Communication of Lagos State University, Professor Lai Oso, in a media conference in Lagos.

Professor Lai Oso told a group of media practitioners gathering under the auspices of a Media Conference organised by a media training outfit, Enterprise CEO in conjunction with the Microsoft Africa Development Centre in Lagos.

The media expert therefore charged media practitioners to live up to the expectations of their calling to defend their profession from the digital onslaught.

Professor Oso sharing on Journalism and Ethics in the Digital Age: Navigating Ethical Challenges and Opportunities, under the theme The Future of Journalism, Ethics, Entrepreneurship and Technology posited that Journalism is presently going through a lot of crises of which one of them is ethics.

He told the participants to live to protect the ethics and the respect their profession commands, saying, “Let those who remain and believe in journalism stay on,” predicting that “the fakes would soon fade away, and the professionals should stay true to the calling.”

He said, “Journalism is very powerful. Journalism is a way of making meaning to the society and it is a way of defining our reality. Journalists must live to the expectations of the profession. Journalism must be done in responsible ways in public interest.”

The media guru who also condemned the way the presidential pronouncement of ‘Fuel subsidy is gone’ was handled by the media said it made it generate its consequences. He explained, “Every profession has its ethical codes for social responsibility and journalists should weigh the consequences of what they are publishing. Without the society there cannot be journalism. Ethics prescribes journalists to do good.”

Professor Oso who also identified with some basic things about the ethics of the profession like “gate keeping, ensuring accuracy, verification, impartiality, fairness, independence and objectivity, separation of personal opinion from facts,” told the conference participants to always stay with the facts in news, seek the truth, minimise harm, and don’t publish all in their arsenals, as he also considered self-regulation of members by the supervisory professional organisations like the Nigerian Union of Journalists.

In terms of objectivity, the media scholar asked, “Who defines what is objective? Facts are collected and analysed by human beings, on controversies, there is no ethical code free from contention,” noting that “Between left and right there is the middle.”

Professor Oso also took time to look into the Pre-digital and digital era of media practice.

“In the digital era, the practice is ethically coming to an end, due to the fundamental changes as technology, commercial imperative, changes in practitioners, interpersonal relationships, news sourcing, production, content and consumption with formal organisation with structure and hierarchy.”

In effect, he pointed out that “These create problems, there is no more formal employment for reporters, everybody is a journalist. Technology has created identity crises for journalists. Who is a journalist? The citizens journalists don’t care about ethics but trends. All media outlets are now convergent, all into one. Now, one must be multi skilled to be relevant.”

The university don also listed some basic developments and characteristics of the new media as “Brand journalism, paid product promotions, collapse of geography, no more boundary, high competition for audience and advertisers” terming it as “an era of ‘we journalism,’ a journalism of everybody, where consumers are producers.”

He added, “Digital era has given way to end analogue journalism, the atmosphere has become very unruly. The border has collapsed. Entry has become so open and unrestricted with the collapse of gate keepers. There is multiple interpretation of journalism, the atmosphere is now chaotic.”

On what to expect, the guest speaker explained, “There is very little we can do, should the ideals be abandoned? Credibility is on the line. The social media has done a lot of damages to journalism.

“We need some kinds of integration. Some core values can still rescue the situation. The role-serving of the society responsibility of the media must be factored in as the watchdog of the society. Practitioners must be conflict sensitive, consider diversity and pluralism, objectivity, transparency, and confess their biases. It gives way to a new form of journalism, it allows in depth analysis and interpretation,” he stressed.

He was also quick to mention the challenges of development journalism.

According to him, one of the challenges is about regulation. “Regulation is very difficult, there is no identifiable location of reporters, there is too much openness of the digital system. One of the side effects is Solution Journalism.”

The communication expert also mentioned identity crises, and protection of the profession which according to him was troubling, as it makes it difficult to protect journalism from invaders.

He however believes the digital media opens some doors of opportunities for the practitioners, saying, “It allows good interpretative journalism.”

He called on journalists to be ready to do more than what they are doing now. “With digital technology, we can report more of conditions of the poor, against where emphasis used to be placed on the elites,” adding that representational power of the media can be enhanced by new technology.

Professor Oso also advised practitioners to look inward by Africanising the ethics of reporting. “Ethics can be Africanised like the Omoluabi idea among the Yorubas, and the ‘I am because you are’ ethos in South Africa,” noting that “any ethical code that does not consider the consequences of reports was not useful.”

Concluding, he called on media practitioners in the digital age to be conflict sensitive by thinking about the consequences of their reports before publishing, calling on them to be careful of what and how they do their reports, especially when it could have damaging consequences.”

Other papers were presented on Mindset and Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Revolutionising the Media, and Content Creation by other guest speakers like Ezekiel Solesi, Jacquelyn Ekwueme and David Afolayan.

Among leading practitioners at the seminar was the host Seye Joseph, with Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin, Mrs. Funke Treasure and a host of others.

The event was hosted by Seye Joseph and his Enterprise CEO Team, with supports from the Microsoft Africa Development Centre.  

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Julius Adegunna, a writer, and publisher of good news and reports. He is also a trainer in Writing and Publishing, a Media Consultant and an Entrepreneur. A 1987 Graduate of International Relations of the University of Ife, (Now Obafemi Awolowo University) with Post Graduate Diploma in International Relations, and Master in Communication Studies of Lagos State University. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

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