By Emmanuel Onwubiko
David Alachenu Mark is a retired senior military officer who left as Brigadier General after serving Nigeria in different capacities.
A salient attribute which is so well known to be an inherent part of David Mark both within and without his military Profession is his knack for honesty and 'saying it as it is' tendency not minding whose ox is gored.
Since the emergence of civilian rule in 1999, David Mark has played very active role as a notable national politician who has consistently represented his ethnic nationality as the Senator of the Federal Republic in the National Assembly and he has enjoyed the confidence and trust of his colleagues who have favored him with the position of Senate President in two different sessions of the Senate since 2007 which makes him one of the most experienced political office holders in the National legislature of Nigeria.
In his capacity as the current senate President, David Mark is noted for making some remarks that some persons who may not have the temperament to read through the said statements, as controversial. Most people believe that David Mark's middle name is controversy.
I have had the opportunity to always read through any of the presentation that he makes with the hope of digesting the contents and possibly analyzing the merits and demerits of such public presentation by the man who has built a formidable reputation for himself as a courageous and brave political office holder who speaks out his mind at every given time.
David Mark was in his elements when he recently lampooned Northern political, traditional and religious elite for not doing enough to stop the genocide and mass killings going on in the North by the armed irreligious extremists understandably came under attack by certain reactionary forces who wrongly concluded that he was being clever by half by washing the dirty linens of Northern political establishment when he (David Mark) is one of the greatest beneficiaries of the Northern political hegemony.
My take on this unnecessary debate is that Senator David Mark was right to have spoken out his mind at a time that the unity and corporate existence of Nigeria is currently facing the worst threats from the terror-related violence tearing apart the North and gradually spreading to other parts of the corporate entity called Nigeria. It is right and just for David Mark to have cautioned the Northern elite to do more to restore law and order in the North and stop the bloody violence because as the philosophers say “the only thing that would make evil to thrive in a society is for good men to do nothing”.
On July 26th 2012 in Umuahia, the Abia State Capital, the Senate President took the opportunity of the retreat program of the Senate media team drawn from diverse media houses across the country to raise alarm about the unethical and unprofessional activities of some persons who are making bad use of the social media to slander/libel and defame some persons in and out of government. The Senate President also canvassed the strict observance and adherence to the professional ethical code by media practitioners. But shortly after he delivered his speech, some media houses reported that the Senate President has canvassed that the noose be tightened around the use of the new social media in Nigeria.
I took the intellectual pain to go through the speech in question and I found it difficult to pin point any place whereby the Senate President stated that tighter restrictions be imposed on the use of social or new media.
In order not to be misunderstood, I will say straight away that I have had issues in recent times with certain positions adopted by the Senate president and I have had to write to critically state my position as against the well known positions canvassed by the Senate President.
For instance, I kicked against the total absence of women senators in the top hierarchy of the Senate currently and I questioned the gender sensitivity of senate President David Mark and I even suggested that one woman Senator be made a member of the ruling hierarchy in the current Senate. I also opposed the decision of the David Mark-led Senate to pass the legislation on payment of property tax in Abuja which I still believe will work against poor tenants because Home owners like the Senators will simply transfer the burden on their tenants who are mostly struggling law abiding Nigerians.
But on the ethical question raised by David Mark, the Senate President, on the abuse of the social media by most untrained minds, I think his position is sound, qualitative, objective and should therefore not be dismissed as canvassing for tighter laws on use of social or new media in Nigeria similar to what obtains in China and places like Iran or even Saudi Arabia.
The Senate President stated thus; “The emergence of social media like facebook, twitter, blackberry messenger, YouTube have changed the face of media practice by making information sharing easier, faster and quicker. But this is not without its demerits. Social media has become a threat to the ethics of media practice and good governance because of its accessibility and absolute freedom. Every freedom carriers a responsibility. Even in advanced democracies, where we all agree that good governance is practiced, there is no absolute freedom.”
He spoke further; “I therefore believe that there must be a measure to check the negative tendencies of the social media in our country. I say this because media practice, particularly journalism, the process f its news gathering and dissemination also operates a feedback mechanism and where the practitioners err there is room for rebuttal. But in the social media a faceless character can post any information that is absolutely false and misleading but will never retract it. At the end of the day one is bombarded with questions over what one has no business with.”
David Mark suggested a simple solution thus; “I suggest that schools of mass communication and journalism should review their curricula to include the operations of social media.”
The Senate President, who profusely praised the Nigerian media for working to promote good governance, stated rightly that a duty imposed on the media by section 22 of the Constitution as the Vanguard of the nation also imposes greater responsibility to abide by extant laws and professional ethical code of conduct.
I completely agree with David Mark who rightly stated thus; “Press freedom, freedom of speech and civil liberties are indices for good governance. In a developing nation like ours, these alone are not the only requirements for good governance. Other freedoms such as freedom from hunger, poverty, diseases and ignorance are just as important.”
The Senate President tasked the media to work for social justice thus; “For instance a nation that is full of poor, hungry and ignorant people cannot claim to be on the path of good governance. It is therefore the responsibility of the media to use every avenue to educate the masses about their rights to food, security, shelter, education and healthcare. These are the freedoms and rights that the media can also fight for the strengthen our democratic institutions for good governance.”
As a pro-establishment officer David Mark said: “As you fight for these rights and freedoms that we are entitled to, you must balance out these rights of the individual against other rights of the State and other members of society because any right cannot be absolute or superior to the other. The rights of journalistss' must coexist with other group rights.”
Senator Mark sounded excessively pro-government when he stated thus; “In fact, the government also enjoys the rights to govern according to the mandate given to it by its citizens and the laws of the land. Such rights must also be respected.”
He candidly condemned media corruption thus; “On the other hand, if media practitioners connive with corrupt public officers, receive gratification that influences their editorial judgment or fail to promote public good at the expense of the fact, which is regarded as sacred in their profession, the media cannot be said to be propagating good governance.” As a journalist who has actively practiced for about two decades, I know that the fear expressed therein by the Senate President is germane and factual and it behoves on media workers to clean up our acts and resolve to be ethically correct in our journalism activities.
I will be among the persons that would stoutly oppose any subtle moves through legislative process to muzzle or scuttle press freedom and we are prepared to go out on the streets not minding any military or police threats if the current or future Senate attempts to transform the use of social media to look like what obtains in China or Iran.
But from available evidence the Senate President only raised his patriotic concern on the ethical questions and challenges that have emerged with the emergence on the global stage of the social media and I think trained media professionals are also as concerned as any right thinking person that there is absolute need for ethics to be observed in the use of the new or social media. The problem is that new or social media has made it possible for untrained minds to become major actors in the dissemination of information and the inherent danger i this is that the basic ethical code of conduct that ought to operate as checks and balances have been thrown to the dogs so to say. Do we sit bak and allow these charllatans to destroy our hard earned profession as media workers? Your reply is as good as mine if you trly love journalism.
From www.ojr.org we will learn that a lot of international media scholars have also raised concern regarding the ethical questions on online journalism and these scholars have canvassed respect and observance of the professional ethics of total avoidance of plagiarism; total disclosure of sources of information and the total avoidance of allowing bribery and gratification to influence what is posted online. Honesty is also an important aspect of the ethical code.
In the United States and United Kingdom, people who use the social media to libel some persons have recently faced the wrath of the law because the federal Bureau of Investigation and the Policing institutions are so sophisticated and competent to tackle these emerging challenges. Nigeria is not an exception because as a nation governed by law, those who practice the new online journalism or those who use social media must be aware that there are laws against libel and defamation which can b e used to check their excesses. The question remains whether our grossly incompetent police would be able to enforce the extant laws without breaching the time tested freedoms and media rights of these practitioners?
* Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head, HUMAN Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria, blogs at www.huriwa.blogspot.com.