Journalists' Ethics and Self-Regulation
IFJ - WAJA Conference
Abuja, April 3 & 4, 2000
THE ABUJA PROCLAMATION
An important conference on Journalists' Ethics and Self Regulation, the first of its type in Nigeria since the return of civil rule, was held in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, from April 3 to 4, 2000. The conference, held under the auspices of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the West African Journalists Association (WAJA), brought together journalists and representatives of regulatory bodies in the sub-region who agreed on the following declaration.
That there are three types of self-regulation journalists will be prepared to work with:
Statutory press councils, which though they shall have a government representative, will however be independent of government in terms of selection of members and funding.
Voluntary Press Councils set up by journalists and their organizations themselves.
Ethics committees of Journalists' organisations.
Generally however, the following principles on press regulatory bodies should apply:
Powers to be derived from the constitution.
Subsidiary regulations to back up constitutionally guaranteed rights.
Constitution to explicitly guarantee press freedom in addition to general provision for freedom of expression.
Composition of regulatory bodies to reflect nominated and competent representatives of diverse sections of society including the Judiciary and other media stake holders.
Officials of the regulatory bodies are to be appointed by the members themselves and not by government or external bodies.
Financing should either be independent of government or guaranteed by constitutional provisions so as to make the bodies self-accounting.
Sanctions that regulatory bodies will apply should not be draconian such as not to undermine press freedom. Press councils must never be mandated to impose substantial fines or prison sentences. This can only be done by the courts.
Conference was of the view that:
Journalism as a profession emphasises the principles of ethics.
Journalists' ethics relates particularly to individual conscience; journalists should therefore show self-respect, respect for the profession and above all respect for the society in which they operate.
Communication professionals should create in their respective countries the enabling conditions for the practice of the profession namely:
(i) Drawing clear code of ethics
(ii) Create a framework which is appropriate to everybody.
Public authorities are responsible for creating a legal framework in conformity with the constitution and guarantee of fundamental human rights especially freedom of expression and media freedom.
The communication & press professionals in collaboration with civil society must be in congruence with public authorities to embrace laws that will allow for the free exercise of journalism.
Information & communication professionals must do their work with the will to be free from political, economic, financial authorities as well as other pressure groups.
There must be a curriculum of courses for schools of journalism and journalism associations in which the issue of ethics must be raised in all the domains of journalistic education.
DEFAMATION AND PRIVACY LAWS AND THE PRESS
After exhaustive deliberations which took cognisance of trends in international human rights law, jurisprudence and institutional legal regimes, the conference resolved that:
All Laws which inhibit the growth of a vibrant press, particularly those which provide very harsh penal sanctions for journalistic activity, including criminal defamation should be abolished forthwith.
Public officials, servants and politicians should be susceptible to a higher degree of scrutiny by the media.
Statements of opinion or value judgements should not be subjected to the test of strict proof.
The prevalent culture of awarding damages in defamation suits should be discouraged. Damages awarded in such suits should be proportionate to the injury suffered.
Bearing in mind the importance of having the society well informed, media reports on matters of public interest should be protected from defamation suits.
The practice of responsible journalism should be upheld.
RECOMMENDATION AND COMMENDATION
Conference recommended to journalists in Nigeria, being the largest body of the press confraternity in the sub-region, to create an enabling environment that is conducive to the development of the media. The organisers - IFJ/WAJA - were commended for organising the forum which proved useful in exploring new frontiers for the promotion of ethics and professionalism, with the suggestion that a follow up event should be organised.
Abuja, April 4th, 2000