The media in a polluted society By Alex Enemanna
The media is the unofficial forth arm of government besides the executive, legislature and judiciary. This has propelled the popular saying that the media is the forth realm of the estate, therefore is shouldered with enormous responsibilities apart from information dissemination, education of the masses and awareness creation and setting the agenda for entertainment and lifestyle.
The media is also laden with the burden of watch-dogging, check-mating the activities of the official arms of government as well as determining which topical issue occupies the front burner in the political, social and economic atmosphere of a given society.
Over the years, just like the kingdom of God in the era of John, the media profession has had a lion share of violence and burning spear targeted at permanently gagging it and cow it away from its core mandate. From the early press (1800-1920) to the nationalistic press (1929-1960) to the modern times (1960-date), the journey has not been a palatable and easy one. The forth realm has known and tested nothing short of ferocious attacks, fierce intimidation and callous treatment that saw some journalists pay the supreme price in the course of performing their professional responsibilities.
Notable among the martyred journalists is Dele Giwa, one of the brightest lights to have shone in the firmament of journalism in Africa and classical evidence of the military intolerance to the freedom of the press. He remains one of the forces to reckon with in the media generally and investigative journalism in particular which horizon he summoned enough temerity to broaden even at the expense of his life.
Sadly, 31 years after he was gruesomely murdered by some monstrous characters in military uniform through a parcel bomb, the faces of those merchants of death are still shrouded in mystery and the hope of unraveling whom they are to the world enveloped with melancholy and despondency.
Five years after the freedom of information (FoI) bill was signed into law, we are yet to see it fledge off in its full regalia. One would have thought with the leeway offered the press to enquire into any information that is of public interest by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration after it was deliberately frustrated and trampled upon by previous administration, the open harassment, the summary arrest and detention of journalists for no just reason would abate. That has not been the case. Instead, what we see is the invasion of media houses by overzealous security operatives apparently acting a script written by powers above, especially when the media publishes or broadcast information they find unsavoury and offensive.
Prior to the signing of this bill into law in Nigeria, access to information, especially the hybrid public authorities was no go area for the journalist. People view some information as being sacred with the belief that it is not meant for public consumption. Journalists or media houses that have at one point in time exercised their rights on issues bordering on “sacred information” have dearly paid for it. The case of assault on journalists is still the order of the day; arbitrary detention and mass confiscation of newspapers are yet to stop.
Still very oven fresh in our memory and trending is the brouhaha that has greeted the monetary compensation of ThisDay Newspaper over the bombing of its Abuja office some years ago by boko haram and indeed other newspaper companies that had their newspapers brazenly seized by the Army thereby preventing them from raking proceeds from the sale of newspaper and delivering advertorials on behalf of their clients.
From a layman’s understanding, one would think what the government did then was a hallmark of responsibility and indeed what is expected of it to avoid legal issues that would linger forever to the discredit of the government and the disfavor of affected newspaper houses. It probably would have been a different ball game altogether if it was not the media that was affected.
The media will not forget in a hurry the supreme price some of its men have paid in the North East hotbed of boko haram. They are just like the sheep laid to the slaughter of the insurgent’s crossfire. The death of Zakari Isa of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Enenche Akogwu of Channels Television will remain evergreen in the memory of those who value the sacrifices the press has made in this struggle and war against terrorism. The kidnap of the Lagos state chairman of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) Wahab Obum financial secretary Adolphus Nwankwo and the state secretary Sylva Okereke in a Gestapo style in Abia State on their way to the union’s NEC in Akwa Ibom state is a sad reminder of the unfriendly environment where the body has found itself, not forgetting the adoption of the wife of an erudite editor with The Sun, Steve Nwosu in Lagos last year by some marauding monsters.
Poor pay, non-prompt payment and sometimes no pay at all exposes the journalist to undue long-throatism and temptation. It’s not only an idle mind the devil uses as workshop. He also uses a mind that is preoccupied yet has nothing to feed his stomach. A hungry journalist portends a looming danger to our democracy as he could be merchandised for a mess of portage.
Poor pay gave birth to brown envelope journalism that has spread like a wild fire across the length and breadth of the journalism landscape. If not checkmated, it could be elevated to a norm and integral part of media practice, just like some pessimists have opined that bribery cannot be separated from our nation policing. Nothing corrupts the mind and hampers a viewpoint like payora and Greek gifts.
Moonlighting, holding multiple jobs at a time has dealt a heavy blow to the industry. A profession so demanding in terms of time and commitment as journalism cannot be moonlighted about. The profession calls for uttermost concentration and seriousness. One cannot be a vulcanizer and at the same time a journalist. No one serves two masters at the same time. In journalism, part-timing is not considered.
Materialism and greed of few characters has also exposed the profession to public ridicule. Unquenchable appetite for acquisition and self-aggrandisement will only further make mockery of the body. In as much it is believed that the desire for self actualization is in-built with humans, throwing the professional ethics to the dogs should be highly discouraged. A labour man who distinguishes himself will someday be identified and rewarded handsomely.
The business of informing, educating, enlightening and entertaining the masses through newspaper, radio and television is a noble one and highly dignified just like other practices of human endeavour. The practitioners should therefore not be treated with disdain, disrespect and like the son of no man.
A reasonable welfare package such as life insurance, on-the-job-hazard welfare, pension scheme and other motivational measures that would incentivize would-be journalists should be set in place. The pressman should realize the vitality of the responsibility he shoulders and should therefore not trade his conscience, the people and the industry for a portage of mess. The media owner should refrain from using the press for personal and political gains to the detriment of the masses who the media is out to serve.