By Israel Ebije
It is already 31 years since one of the most fiery, tenacious, patriotic journalists in Nigerian history Sumonu Oladele Giwa was cut down by a parcel bomb. The death of Mr Giwa was not only a loss to the profession, but a loss for Nigerians craving for people based investigative journalism. He blazed from all cylinders in an attempt to tame governments of his day. He was relentless even as pioneer editor-in-chief of Newswatch, a magazine he co-founded. In the era of the Giwa and others like him, journalism was honourable, the institution was impregnable and practitioners were noble in the discharge of their social responsibility to educate, inform and entertain.
It is instructive at this point to recall that pre and post-independence media organisations owned by regions in our geographical entity were largely cleavage based. It is also instructive to intimate the younger generation that they served interests of the regions for the greater good of the country. To illustrate how the early press in Nigeria was based on regional ideology was not meant to last forever, most of them fizzled out after satisfying their relevance, which were largely for agitations. The point I am trying to present is, politicians, bigots, regional warriors have taken over ownership of media organisations in Nigeria, crafting editorials along particular bias instead of working towards a patriotic agenda. Sadly, the media has become politicised, taking sides along ethno- religious underpinnings.
Responsible journalism has faded away, and that is not akin to untrained hands on social media platforms alone. While those who control the media are driving their agenda to suit interests, reporters working the wheel of news production are constantly shackled in slavery. Dele Giwa was killed to satisfy interests, today journalists are destined to suffer psychological deaths to satisfy institutions interested in promoting parochial interests instead of holistic national agenda. With no hope for job anywhere, many journalism graduates hold tenaciously to their jobs, where they are forced to work without salaries and report unprofessionally. It is no longer news to find media organisations who only give reporters identity cards instead of pay slips. It is no longer news several media organisations have stopped payment of salaries to staff for more than two years.
Just like the silenced voice of Giwa whose pen was drained of its ink before his time, many journalists are alive today but dead. They see the truth, can’t say it based on puerile house interests. They have facts about prominent newsmakers they cannot publish to avoid hurting their benefactors. It is instructive to intimate that many journalists survive on the goodwill of people. Interestingly, their judgment is compromised based on the unfortunate brown envelope syndrome – which by the way is not restricted to journalists alone but many media organisations who do theirs on a large scale with government and corporate institutions.
The dearth of professionalism and humanity in media organisations today has promoted hate journalism, ferried along social platforms to fragmented citizen reporters under payrolls of their masters. A look at reports across mainstream media organisations shows how fragmented the media itself is within itself. Front pages are crafted based on underpinnings, hence ridiculing the prestigious profession. In the era of the Dele Giwas, it was firebrand journalism, programmed to tame beastly leadership. Today, we can identify media organisations along political party interests. Just like the pre and post-independence media organisations, the trend is to protect and promote agenda. While the earlier media worked towards a national freedom from their divergent trenches, politicised media of today only have narrow minded interests.
An average journalist is made to believe he or she is nothing outside the confines of the media organisation they work for. That may not be true but many practitioners are scared to explore newer frontiers. There are so many cases media organisations abandon their reporters to swim in litigations alone. Most media organisations do not take responsibility when it comes to legal issues even when it is glaring editorial additions unconnected to the journalists impute are responsible for the legal actions.
It is indeed instructive for media practitioners to imbibe the proper spirit of comradeship. For some, unionism starts and ends with sharing formula of gifts from governments, organisations and individuals they are expected to be reporting. After devouring whatever their beats has to offer, the relationship ends until next feast. Most times, practitioners do not close ranks to defend themselves. Yes, journalists are vulnerable and endangered. Most with little or no education has no second hand value. The less fortunate succumb to deaths, which their poor financial status cannot maintain.
For Dele, it was a parcel, for many other practitioners its ideological bomb. It is time for journalists to unite against mental slavery. The profession must be sanitized of quarks and crooks. Unions managing journalism in Nigeria must defend members in trouble. Until journalists are well paid, allowed to be independent minded and treated with respect, the profession will not have its pride of place and many will continue to die emotionally and psychologically.
– Ebije a public affairs commentator can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org. Culled from The Will