Now That Rufai Oseni Has Made ‘The Ethics Of Journalism’ Topical


The interview and orchestrated spat against Rufai Oseni by Arise TV guest and APC chieftain Mr. Jesutega Onokpasa has created a contentious talking point for sundry analysts. The Village Square of Facebook, among others, has witnessed a mix of rants, tirades, verbal onslaught, denunciations, and broadside. We have also seen praise, accolades, citations, and panegyrics.

The uproar has brought journalism into focus. More specifically, everyone mentions journalism ethics. Those against allege that Mr Oseni has been unethical, while those on his side say he has been upfront.

Proponents and opponents reached the zenith on Sunday, 5 November 2023, still on Facebook. A contributor to one of those Rufai-Oseni debates submitted that Oseni was unethical because his submissions are made from “wanting to shine”.

Many are the pronouncements and declarations by commentators that now sound like the descriptions of the trunk by the blind men. Another contentious word has been objectivity. One man’s objectivity in the debate is the other’s subjectivity. The latest thinking in the profession is to avoid terms like objectivity in favour of fairness.

Grounding is necessary. What are the ethics of journalism that apply across broadcasting, print and now online? What do they prescribe?

The Ilorin Declaration of the Nigerian Press Organisation is Nigeria’s primary canon for journalism practice. Media organisations agreed on it in 1998.
The provisions cover editorial independence, accuracy and truth, fairness, respect for the privacy of individuals, and respect for and non-disclosure of privileged information. Others are to avoid plagiarism and reject copyright infringements, non-discrimination, a public interest obligation to enhance national unity and the public good, and the social responsibility pledge to “promote universal principles of human rights, democracy, justice, equity, peace and international understanding”.

Then there is Respect: Journalists should treat their sources and the subjects of their stories respectfully. This means being honest and upfront about their intentions and avoiding exploitation.

Individual media houses supplement this Canon with their prescriptions to tackle their peculiarities. Others agree with and subscribe to the four-point framework of the Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi. The principles are

  1. Seek the truth and report it.
  2.  Minimise harm.
  3.  Act independently.
  4.  Be accountable

What about broadcasting? The ethics charge broadcasters with the responsibility to provide their audiences with accurate, fair, and balanced information and entertain them non-harmfully.
Some of the most essential principles of broadcast ethics include:
• Accuracy: Broadcasters must report the truth as accurately as possible. This means verifying all information before it is aired and correcting any errors.
• Fairness: Broadcasters should strive to be fair in their programming. This means presenting all sides of a story and avoiding personal bias.
• Balance: Broadcasters should provide a balance of different viewpoints in their programming. This means not giving undue prominence to any one particular view or group.
• Taste and decency: Broadcasters should avoid broadcasting offensive or harmful content to viewers. This includes avoiding violence, pornography, and hate speech.
• Respect for privacy: Broadcasters should respect the privacy of individuals. This means not revealing personal information without their consent.
• Protection of children: Broadcasters should take special care to protect children from harmful content. This includes avoiding violence and sexual content that is not appropriate for children.

There is no mention of any of the issues that many, including broadcasters, add to the list of ethics because of their stand concerning Rufai Oseni. The codes leave punishments to either individual media organizations or their professional bodies. This limited intervention deals only with ethics and its alleged breaches. With this grounding, we can return to the debate better informed.

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