Ibrahim Jirgi is the managing director of Triple CEE Media Nigeria Limited, Abuja. He is a seasoned journalist, who is passionate about the profession. He craves for a return to the old ways of integrity, balance, truthfulness and all that the ethics of the profession stipulate. The biggest challenge for a return to these paths he said is the online media, whose stock in trade is publish and be damned. Jirgi served in various capacities in various media including the British Broadcasting Corporation; and was the special adviser on Media and Public Affairs to the then Yobe State Governor, Bukar Abba Ibrahim. He spoke to select journalists. Hassan Jirgi was part there.
You were a renowned journalist. How did you settle for the profession?
I can say that my interest began right from my school days. As you can see, I read journalism for MSc after my earlier schooling mainly on public relations/advertising, and an initial diploma in journalism from the International Institute of Journalism (IIJ) Abuja in 1996. Before then, I read for a diploma in journalism/mass communication in the Institute of Journalism and Continuing Education, Enugu, same year after obtaining a Certificate of News Reporting from the University of Maiduguri in 1993.
By way of experience, I began as a reporter with the Amana Newspaper, Concord Press Limited, Zaria from 1980 to 1982. Then I became state editor, Yancin Dan-Adam Newspaper, Plateau Publishing Company (PPC), Jos from 1982 to 1983. From here, I moved to become the Current Affairs Assistant of Radio Kano from 1983 to 1985, then senior translator/caster (Hausa) in NTA Maiduguri from 1985 to 1986.
I was also senior reporter, Borno Community Concord, Concord Press Limited, Maiduguri from 1986 to 1987 and regional editor, Telex Publications Limited, Zaria, Maiduguri Regional Office from 1987 to 1989. I later became chief correspondent, Borno/Yobe states of the Daily Times of Nigeria from 1989 to 1997, and the BBC Correspondent in Maiduguri/Abuja from 1990 to 2001. I also served as special correspondent (North-east) of the National Interest Newspaper, Lagos from 2001 to 2003 before becoming the MD/CEO of Triple CEE Investment Limited, Abuja from 2000 to 2003.
I was then made special assistant on Media and Public Affairs to the Governor of Yobe State in 2002 until 2003 when I became Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs and served till 2007. I am currently the MD/CEO Triple CEE Media Ltd, Abuja and member, board of directors, Abuja Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Based on your experiences how would you characterise the journalism profession?
Journalism is increasingly becoming a difficult concept to define because of some contemporary developments having direct effects on its practice.
The invention of the new media, especially the Internet, has revolutionised and redefined the scope and practice of journalism all over the world. The emergence of the concept of ‘Citizen Journalism’ has compounded the problems of first who is a journalist, second,what is journalism, third, what are the ethical requirements for the practice of journalism, fourth, what are the roles expectation of journalists in the society, as well as many other questions begging answers.
However, regardless of the seemingly changing outlook of journalism in the present time, it is basically concerned with the gathering, processing and dissemination of information regarded as important and critical to the operations of the different components of the society.
The professional ethics of good journalism as we were taught, include, in particular, truthfulness, objectivity, neutrality and detachment. A crisis of confidence, however, rocked journalism which gave birth to the development in the 20th Century, the concept of Social Responsibility Theory, which ascribed to the press some responsibilities in addition to the professional requirements and responsibilities of the profession.
Most people and particularly media practitioners don’t seem to grasp the real import of the social responsibility you just mentioned. What does it really entail?
To me the social responsibility theory is mainly academic but in practical terms, especially with the current onslaught by the new media on the conventional or mainstream media, you find that the meaning of that social responsibility is lost on most practitioners. The requirement for the media to serve the political system by making information, discussion and consideration of public affairs generally accessible is missing today. The media is today steadily losing that inherent ability to inform the public to enable it take self-determined action, to protect the rights of the individual by acting as watchdog over the government, to serve the economic system, and to provide good entertainment. The media has also lost their ability to preserve financial autonomy in order not to become dependent on special interests and influences.
Is there any basis for comparison between the journalism practice of the past and what obtains today?
No basis whatsoever. None. In our time, all the ethics and norms were fully respected and observed. Today people’s attitudes have changed. Even though things have been made much more easier than what they used to be, quite unfortunately the Internet has brought with it a serious challenge globally to the operation of the media. As recently as 10 years ago, there was no internet here, not even the services of the fax machine were available. The practice of journalism in our time was crudely difficult, yet we were able to observe the maximum level of decorum. We had to go out to hunt for real solid news, balance our reports before filing them. And I think the practice of having professional gatekeepers; I mean line editors, copy editors and so on, has become a thing of the past. These days, one man can make up a whole newsroom – the editor, line editor, reporter and researcher all by himself. This is the reason why the quality of reportage is dropping drastically globally. You find a blogger dishing out news from the garbage, things that are not even thinkable, no credibility of sources of news, no attempt at balance, no decorum. It is really sad. It is my candid belief that for the media institution to perform its social responsibility functions, it must be peopled by professionals who understand and can uphold the media tenets such as impartiality, truthfulness, balanced reporting, fairness to all parties, etc. It is only through this that journalism can live up to the expectations of a profession.
But this ugly trend is believed in some quarters to have manifested in Nigeria long before the intervention of the Internet?
It is true that journalism practice in Nigeria has raised a lot of questions as to the proprietary of referring to it as a profession. The loose criteria for membership has made the profession an all-comers-affair. Also, the absence of a prescribed qualifying test has made it difficult to moderate the standard of journalism practice in Nigeria.
There is also the reprehensible brown envelope journalism whereby monetary inducement is given to journalists to make them write a positive story or kill a negative story. The name is derived from cash inducements hidden in brown envelopes and given to journalists during press briefings.
Nigerian journalists claim the observance of the professional tenets of objectivity, neutrality, impartiality, and the rest, it is however, doubtful whether it could be said that they practice them in the real sense. And it is also true that due to individual, organizational, environmental and societal challenges, most of the cherished norms and values of the profession have been abused, violated and debased. In short, Nigerian Journalism today, is in deep crisis of credibility.
Is it possible in your opinion for the glory of the profession to be restored in Nigeria?
Yes, of course it is possible. We must be optimistic. But to restore credibility to the profession, there is first of all the need to get stakeholders together to concisely look into the issues and challenges facing the media industry.
Genuine stakeholders must come around with a framework to revisit the existing code of conduct to explicitly state those who can practice journalism in Nigeria and an acceptable remuneration package comparable with other professions must be worked out.
I also believe that for journalists to live up to their expectations in the society and to acquire appropriate knowledge and skills to perform those functions, they must be properly trained. The process of detecting news, gathering news, sorting news, processing news and dissemination of news require both education and technical skills. Only those who are sufficiently trained and grounded in journalism or mass communication can perform the expected social responsibility functions satisfactorily. I strongly believe that a return to the values of truthfulness, neutrality and impartially may return the lost glory; and the code of conduct should be reworked to state clearly the qualifications necessary or required for journalism, especially as they relate to the present demands of the profession.
Nigerian institutions offering journalism or mass communication should do more than just teach students how to write, they should teach them to think, to verify, to acclaim, to criticize.
Above all, the issue of remuneration must be adequately addressed. Wages commensurate with other professions must be paid to journalists to boost their ego as professionals. The world is becoming highly competitive, and for any profession to remain alive, it must create opportunity for career advancement and satisfaction.