Many have argued that
journalism is not a profession. Quite surprising and disappointing, those who hold this view include senior journalists and sometimes teachers of journalism or mass communication.
Their argument stems from the history of journalism which started as an all comers affair without any form of training or qualification relating to the profession. According to them, it does not happen in other professions such as law, engineering and medicine, among others.
Given the high number of quacks in the profession, one may be tempted to concede to this argument. However, the fact remains that journalism is a profession.
The word profession is defined as a type of job that needs special training or skill, especially one that needs a level of education.
Anyone belonging or acquiring a special skill or qualification in a vocation or job is a professional. Professionalism is referred to the high standard expected from a person who is well trained in a particular job or trade. This implies, therefore, that one could undertake a profession without attaining professionalism .
Journalism is a noble profession since the training of journalists falls within the standards stipulated by the Nigerian Media Council, which adopted a code of conduct of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) to guide the practice of journalism and journalists in the performance of their duties. The training meets world standard.
The Media Council Act, Section 16 (1) provides that a person must attend a course of training approved by the council under section 21 of the Act, conducted at an institution so approved, or partly at one such institution and partly at another.
The Act also stated that a journalist must hold a certificate so approved, a certificate of experience issued in pursuance of Section 22 of the Act and must posses a general professional orientation which covers the basic ingredients of information art leading to a qualification not less than a diploma. He must also have a good knowledge of the politics and socio-economic affairs of his society acquired from an approved institution, among other rules.
Most people however, find it difficult to distinguish between a writer and a journalist. In the Nigerian concept, a person is recognized as a journalist only if he or she is employed as an editorial staff in a recognized media organisation as a reporter, editor, sub-editor, features editor or writer, proof reader, photojournalist, etc.
Simply put, a journalist is one engaged in the journalism profession, that is, those involved in news gathering and editorial production of any news. One spectacular thing about journalists is that they are bound to uphold the truth. The task of journalists is to serve the truth since it is the right of the public to get the truth.
I believe strongly that Nigerian journalists have continued to maintain high level of professionalism in spite of the ever difficult situation in which they practice. The watchdog role of the press is enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution, requiring that the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media hold the government accountable to the people.
The profession has imparted great ideas, information and knowledge to the people and government and plays an intrinsic part in the development of the country.
Journalism is a very noble profession when it is properly conceived in terms of its role as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, a term first applied to the Press by Edmund Burker in a parliamentary debate in 1787 on the inauguration of Press reporting of the British House of Commons. Ever since then, the Press has maintained its role as the public’s watchdog, by keeping a watchful eye on the three traditional estates of the realm and informing the public about their activities.
Historically, the three estates of the realm consisted of the clergy (Lords Spiritual), the nobility (Lords Temporal), and the common people (Commoners). Today, we talk about the three arms of government-Executive, Legislative and Judiciary, as the three estates. Journalists, who constitute the fourth estate, engage in a variety of tasks, including informing, educating and entertaining the public. Such firsthand information are useful to the public and in keeping government officials in check.
Therefore, any argument condemning or challenging the professionalism or professional status of Nigerian journalists is disparaging and brings the profession and its practitioners to ridicule and disrepute.
The journalism profession even more than some others, has unarguably played a very prominent role in human endeavour and has been able to change the world via information dissemination.
With the existing rules binding Nigerian journalists, it now behoves the appropriate media professional bodies in Nigeria and media executives to work towards strengthening and making the Press take its rightful place as professionals. Journalists must begin to see themselves as belonging to a very noble profession that is recognized and respected all over the world. They must play by the rules of their profession to maintain their integrity while charlatans should be flushed out. The NUJ must take the issue of its members’ professional misconduct serious and foster the spirit of professional consciousness among them.