WEDNESDAY Column by Israel A. Ebije
email@example.com or @ebijeisrael.com
It is already 31 years since one of the fiery, tenacious, patriotic journalist in Nigeria 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 paper he founded. In Giwa’s era, journalism was honourable, the institution was impregnable and practitioners were noble in the discharge of their social responsibility to educate, inform and entertain.
It could be recalled that pre and post independence media organizations owned by regions were largely cleavage based, and they served the interests of the regions. The early press in Nigeria was based on regional ideology was not meant to last forever, Most of them fizzled out after fulfilling their objectives, which were largely for agitations. The point I am trying to make is, politicians, bigots, regional warriors have taken over ownership of media organizations in Nigeria, crafting editorials along biased lines instead of working towards a patriotic agenda. Sadly, the media has become politicized, taking sides along ethno-religious underpinnings.
Responsible journalism is fading off, worsened also by untrained hands on social media platforms. 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 organizations who only give reporters identity cards instead of pay slips. It is no longer news several media organizations have stopped payment of salaries to staff for upward of 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, cant say it based on puerile house interests.They have facts about prominent news makers they cannot publish to avoid hurting their benefactors. 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 organizations who do theirs on a large scale with government and corporate institutions.
The dearth of professionalism and humanity in media organizations today has promoted hate journalism. A look at reports across mainstream media organizations 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 Giwa, it was firebrand journalism, programed to tame beastly leadership. Today, we can identify media organizations along political party interests. Just like the pre and post independence media organizations, the trend is to protect and promote agenda. While the earlier media worked towards a national freedom, politicized 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 organization they work for. That may not be true but many practitioners are scared to explore newer frontiers. There are so many cases that media organizations abandoned their reporters to swim in litigations alone. Most media organizations do not take responsibility when it comes to legal issues.
Media practitioners should imbibe the proper spirit of comradeship. For some, unionism starts and ends with sharing formula of gifts from governments, organizations and individuals they are expected to be reporting. After taking delivery of 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. Those of them who have little or no education end up without second hand value. The less fortunate succumb to deaths.
For Dele, it was a parcel , for many other practitioners it is 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 lives in Abuja. Can be reached via; firstname.lastname@example.org or @ebijeisrael