Of late, the Nigerian press has been unfairly blamed by many state actors for the multisectoral tragedies bedevilling the country. Journalists are becoming scapegoats for the failings of government. Pressmen are guilt-tripped at every turn. In fact, government’s stock in-trade is gaslighting the masses and guilt-tripping the press
On September 15, 2021, Information and Culture Minister, Alh. Lai Mohammed, was on air, while anchoring the re-naming of NAN Headquarters after Wada Maida, chiding Nigerian journalists to shun “negative reportage” and be “fair” and “balanced” especially in reporting our chronic insecurity woes. On the surface, it might look like a sheer homiletic advice. But if you prod the statement further, you will be confronted with the question: “what really constitutes “balanced reportage” or “negative” impressions to the government?”
It is paradoxical how the government tags all reports that expose its shortfalls biased, negative and more often than not, “hate speech.”
The Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, and Nigeria Guild of Editors’ perception can safely be likened to that of INEC. Dearth of honesty and spirit of sportsmanship lure our politicians to make mockery of themselves each time election is conducted. Those who are favoured by the result extol INEC as unbiased umpire. But once they are on the losing side, will befoul the electoral body as a compromised, spineless entity unworthy of its name.
In like manner, for every news, editorial or column published by news outlets, two parallel reactions trail. Those it favours will praise it, but to those who feel exposed by the material will curse the media organisation as warped and unfair.
Ike Abonyi captured such loathsome situation well in his October 26, 2017, column in New Telegraph: “In Nigeria the only time people are favourably disposed to the other person’s view is when it tallies with their own aspirations. The real challenge inhibiting healthy and robust political debate in this country is that your view can never be right if it contradicts the other person’s view.”
Spin doctors in the presidency fall squarely into Ike’s analogy. They go all out against any dissenting opinion in the media space.
.On his independence day broadcast to mark 61 years of our nationhood, President Muhammadu Buhari found himself struggling to indict media practitioners as causes of the perennial distasteful atmosphere in the country. He said: “…Our media houses and commentators must move away from just reporting irresponsible remarks to investigating the truth behind all statements and presenting the facts to readers.”
Why blame the media for a situation they didn’t create? Is it not a global knowledge that our economy is incapacitated, poorly managed, with marginal inflation ubiquitously plaguing us? Is our debt profile ever hidden? How was that a media creation? Is it the media that does all the kidnappings and extrajudicial killings around the country? The answer is emphatic no! They only do the reporting. And reporting, they do in the best ethically acceptable manner. If the administration wants to hear only good things in the news, let it do the needful and foster unity and faith, peace and progress as engraved on our coat of arms.
Like Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna state would tell then President Goodluck Jonathan, “if you don’t want the Chibok girls kidnap be politicised, then put in effort to get them released, so that you don’t give room for anyone to politicise it.”
If after several attempts to censor both social and traditional media and gag the press, this government wants positive endorsements on news reportage, it must get our country safe, peaceful, united and economically viable. It shouldn’t expect newspaper front pages to make cases that our road and rail transports are safe while kidnappings and explosives are going on and off on them. That is not patriotism. It is parochialism.
Nigerian reporters owe Mr. President nothing, but owe the country everything. They are to hold public office holders accountable, and not the other way round. But the reverse is becoming the case. And you would ask when will our leaders be free-minded like the erstwhile 65th US Secretary of State Colin Powel who advised his subordinates: “when we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not. Disagreement, at this stage, stimulates me. But once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.”
By and large, this may not be a great time to be a journalist in Nigeria. So many scary factors pushing them into self-censorship that will not serve public interest. The other day, a reporter merely asked FFK, “Sir, who is bankrolling your tours?” and he rained a hell of insultive remarks on the innocent journalist.
AIT, Arise TV as well as Channels TV have at one time or the order been indicted for phantom ‘breach’ of broadcast codes. Few months ago, in Kano, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje vilified his media adviser, Salihu Tanko Yakasai, a courageous journalist, over what he (Ganduje) called “unguarded” utterances on the person of President Buhari on his social media handle.
Nigeria may need to review her definition of freedom of press? Otherwise, if government succeeds in making our press a rookie that it can dictate to what to say and how to say it, then there is nothing left of our democracy. The judiciary in the current dispensation is as good as cowed, with the legislature tagged “rubber-stamp” and now the venom is directed towards the media, the fourth estate of the realm. The reproach is not restricted to local newsmen only. Foreign news journals are not left out. They have faulted Wall Street Journal and The Economist.
Since the three ams of government that should serve as checks and balances in democracy are forlorn, there are three major extrinsic pillars of truth in any republic that ought to save the day for us. These are the media, the religious body and electoral referee. They serve as the conscience of democracy. They are resorts of succour for the masses; the oasis of hope in the arid desert of our polity. Our democracy is in a shambles because these sacred institutions are beggarly, warped and inclined to serve the lust of those in power.
Journalists all over the world are the watch dogs of any nation — the voice of objective reason. Gag them and you would have weakened one of the critical stakeholders of our corporate entity. The ethics of their profession mandates them to be on the side of truth, independent, objective and crusaders of social justice, but the environment is hostile and unsafe for such lofty vocation. So in such crossroads what can an average practitioner do?
He need to be smart, wise, discreet and unbending, for according to Warren Buffett: “the smarter the journalists are, the better off society is. For to a degree, people read the press to inform themselves – and the better the teacher, the better the student body.” NUJ and NGE should therefore evolve homegrown solutions to these teething reproaches to their profession
May daylight spare us!Ogechukwu writes from Abuja