Controversy rages over fee for press conferences in Uyo

By NBF News

Should the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) stop charging fees on press conferences because it is 'illegal'?

That is the raging controversy in the union in Akwa Ibom State . It was actually raised by the former state secretary of the union and currently, the deputy director of news and current affairs in the radio service of Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation (AKBC), Mr Godwin Okon.

Okon was given, or he had voluntarily chosen the topic 'Merits and Demerits of a News Conference' at a media forum organised by his AKBC Radio Chapel of the NUJ. According to him, all through the 25 pages of the NUJ constitution, there is no mention of the term press, news or media conference.

'In fact, a news conference is not recognised as a source of revenue for the union. For instance, article four of the constitution which deals with finance, sub section 4(vii) stares; 'The main source of funds fir the union shall be dues paid through the professional fees system, subscription, levies, donations, and proceeds from economic and social activities.'

'From the above scenario, it is my submission that it would even be safer and lawful for the Nigerian (sic) Union of Journalists whether at the national, state or chapel level to solicit for (sic) funds from the government, individuals, groups or establishments than arrange a news conference… In my days as the Akwa Ibom State secretary of the Nigerian (sic) Union of Journalists, I came in contact with some of my professional colleagues who out of exigency or the need to justify an action, defined news conference as a gathering of two or more like-minded journalists at the instance of a client to announce a new product or position, deny an allegation and generate information for public consumption.

'The contact could be made via text messages to a select group and the venue could range from one's bedroom to a makeshift office of one of the media professionals but certainly not the NUJ Press Centre.'

Going ahead to  give the dictionary definition of news conference, Okon gave his opinion about who should call a press conference, those to attend and how to prepare for the event, which he said should be attended by senior editors and not cub reporters or media attachés.

He also stressed that press conference allows 'the person addressing it to pass on his message to several reporters at the same time rather than engage a marathon runner to deliver the messages to media houses. That way he will not have to repeat himself to several different reporters at separate interviews. It also means that the message being sent out, will have maximum impacts by being in all the media at the same time - that is if the reporters at the event, think it is news worthy.'

But to him, there are demerits of news conference all the same. It does not give the reporter scoops which are the hallmark of distinct journalism practice.

'It is almost impossible to have exclusive story from a news conference unless the reporters that covered it, could in addition to whatever happened openly, be able to nose for news there. Organisers and promoters of news conference sometimes try to convince journalists that by getting them all in one place at the same time, the topic is of great importance, when in the real sense, nothing more than free publicity and advertising is all that is at the back of the promoter's mind.'

But was Okon allowed to go only with applause; no. People reacted. One of them was the former chairman of the state council of the NUJ, Mr Israel Umoh, who said charging fees was not legal but organising press conference by a few people outside the press centre was equally illegal.

The special assistant on security matters to Gov. Godswill Akpabio, Capt. Iniobong Ekong (retd), who was conferred with an award of excellence on the occasion, said the controversy was not necessary because even though the NUJ constitution does not classify press conference as a distinct means of generating revenue for the union, it could be assumed as 'economic and social activities' prescribed by the constitution.

The current NUJ leadership in the state appeared not ready to be drawn into the controversy.

But it was not only Okon who delivered papers or spoke on the occasion. Two senior lecturers from the department of Communication Arts, University of Uyo, Prof. Des Wilson and Nkereuwm Udoakah, Associate professor, also delivered papers on media coverage of socio-economic activities of the state since it was created in 1987.

 The verdict was that not much has been done in that direction as the media were concerned more with politics than economic activities of the state. Wilson specifically said; 'My view from what I have seen, is that there has been no co-ordinated  effort to promote the socio-economic potentials but rather there has been excessive fixation by the media on political issues, a great deal of which border on the trivial. There is a kind of staccato treatment by the media through the occasional employment of academic approach to practical issues.'

The chairman, House of Reps committee on rules, business and ethics, Otuekong Ita Enang took the electronic media in the state to the cleaners. He said the electronic media had defaulted in the kind of advertisements they air at certain times of the day.

The chairman of the state council, Mr Joe Effiong while congratulating the chapel leadership for blazing the trail in retraining of members of the union, asked other chapels to learn from the AKBC radio chapel. He also asked journalists to always take time out from their assumed busy schedule to re-sharpen their professional knowledge in the ever changing world of information management because 'all works with no retraining make a retired journalist a tired veteran.'

The chairman of the radio chapel, Mr Samuel Jonah had in his welcome address, said apart from the training to which the media forum would expose journalists, the chapel also decided to honour deserving individuals who had contributed to the socio-economic and political development of the state.

The theme of the media form was 'Media in Akwa Ibom State: Masterminds of Peculiar Development Concept'. Mass communication students in the three higher institutions in the state even wrote essay competition on the topic and won several prizes.

Will press conference henceforth be organised free of charge in the state or will the union insist on those who have something to say paying to be heard? Then how much should one pay to give real news and who determines what news is – the subject of the news conference or the media? Maybe real news does not need payment to be heard as it automatically attracts reporters to itself; but can free publicity claim to be news? The controversy continues.