Ndifreke Enefiok, Uyo.
In a world where immediacy of reportage seems to dominate fact-checking and precision, members of the pen wielding profession and other news purveyors have been charged to anchor their reportage on truth and veracity, as it can help curb Cyber Crimes and other infractions in the virtual space.
The call made on Monday, 2nd May, by a cross breed of University Dons, legal experts, security personnel and other stakeholders during a 1-day workshop organized by the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Akwa Ibom State, tasked journalists to uphold the ethos and principles of the pen profession, particularly as the nation winds into the electioneering season.
The workshop with the theme, Cyber Crimes and Other Press Related Infractions: The Legal Implications was held at Nelson Mandela hall, Watbridge Hotel and Suites, IBB Way, Uyo.
To set the tone for the day, the Commissioner Ministry of Information and Strategy, Comrade Ini Ememobong hinted that time has come for experts from different spectrum to address the issue of cyber crimes and the many infractions on the virtual space by news purveyors, so they don’t fall short of the law in the cause of reporting and expression.
Ememobong who explained how the continued advancement of technology and the non- address of infractions by information disseminators can affect our daily lives, said, ”as a people who are affected by certain legislations, we needed to come together in order to look at the legal implications of these laws, so that we can properly guide and guard ourselves, especially in this political season”.
Chairman on the occasion, a University Don and Dean Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, University of Uyo, Prof. Peter Esuh in his opening remarks explained that cyber crimes pose a serious threat to the fabric of society, stating that the world is projected to lose 10.5 trillion dollars by 2025 to cyber crimes.
Esuh, Nigeria’s first Professor of Marketing Communication and Applied Rhetoric, explained that Cyber Crimes also known as Cyber Wares which take the form of viruses that are traded on, are crimes committed on the virtual space, hence,s the need to critically look into what constitutes cyber crimes.
While listing poverty, unemployment as part of the four major areas of cyber crimes which he said has been expanded to include 10, Prof Esuh said time has come to question the practices of cyber crime, root causes of cyber crimes, x-ray the activities of journalists. While dissecting on who should be called a journalist, he maintained that only these honest appraisal will help curb further encroachment from untrained persons.
In his paper presentation, the keynote speaker, Ekemini Udim Esq who elaborated the topic from the legal perspective defined cyber crimes as the use of computer as an instrument to further an unlawful end, stating that the legal implications means the consequences of one’s actions or inactions.
Udim Esq, in explaining the various provisions of the Cyber Crimes (Prohibition, Prevention Etc) Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2015, pointed out that there are belly in the provisions which every journalists must be mindful of, as violation can attract severe penalty of not more than three years imprisonment or fine of seven million naira or both as the case may be.
The lawyer said though there are provisions in the law that allows for free publication and dissemination of information in any medium, pointed out that section 24 of the Cyber Crimes Act which is the first of its kind in the history of law making ‘is like a dragnet that can accommodate a lot of items and can send many people to jail’.
He stressed that editors of publishing houses must as a matter of duty, task themselves to proofreading, rewriting and editing articles before authorizing the publication of such, noting that publishing houses as corporate entity can be made liable for an online publication adjudged to be insulting, inconveniencing, grossly offensive or injurious to character and contrary to Section 24 of the CyberCrimes Act.
Udim Esq who enquired if the law is totally bad, revealed that the law was made to tackle fake news purveyors and mischief makers. He advised journalists to be deeply concerned by subjecting their reportage to thorough investigation, truth and not fabrication.
While recommending and proffering the way forward, he advised journalists not to entertain fear as the law is there to protect them, maintaining that the NUJ which is the umbrella body for all practicing journalists should put up a good mechanism and disciplinary measures in place to restore the image of the profession.
Earlier, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Akparawa James Edet, in his opening remarks, said in an era where citizen journalism precedes mainstream information dissemination, there’s need for infractions in the media practice to be addressed.
Edet disclosed that the colloquium, was more like the gathering of egg-heads to form a singular network of ideas so the cause for better harmonization can be chart in line with the mandate of the ministry vis-à-vis government policy.
In an opinion during the panel discussion, Dr. Nsikak Idiong, HOD Journalism, University of Uyo, who expressed dissatisfaction over the activity of those he described as ‘collaborative media practitioners’ called for circumspection and decorum in news and information reportage.
Speaking on the processes of prosecution in cases of Cyber Crimes, the Akwa Ibom State Police PRO, Mr Odiko MacDon noted that Section 4 of the Police Act gives the police the power to act in cases of criminal breach, adding that the processes of prosecution starts with an official complaint to the Commissioner of Police by the injured person.
He advised journalists not to take Section 24 of the Cyber Crimes Law for granted as the police has the prosecutionery power to prevent the publication of libelous content if notified.
Speaking on petitions and defense, Enwongo Cleopas-Akwa Esq, said that appropriate sources, truth and honest opinion remains a veritable tool of defense for journalists in situation of being sued but insisted that they must always seek the services of a good lawyer if situation arises.
In his own opinion, Clifford Thomas Esq, a Human Rights Activist, noted that the Cyber Crimes law was not made for only journalists but for everyone and that the failure of NUJ to regulate its ethics and principles of practice will continue to breed the spread of false information and other infractions in the virtual space.
Also, Comrade Cletus Ukpong, the South South and South East Regional Editor of Premium Times in his opinion on the place of journalists in curbing infractions in the media practice, said that journalists should be held accountable for the infractions and disruption in the profession. He advised that journalists must separate truth from facts, put in layers of checks for stories before publication, follow Standard Operating Procedure and quality assurance if the issue of infractions is to be curbed.
The workshop also featured goodwill messages from Nigeria Union of Journalists, Nigeria Institute of Public Relations, League of Veteran Journalists in Akwa Ibom State.
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