GUEST Column by Dr. Bisi Olawunmi
Femi Fani-Kayode is not a stranger to controversy. In fact, he thrives on controversy, perhaps as a publicity stunt. Except that his vitriolic, verbal assault on a newspaper reporter, Eyo Charles, in Calabar on August 20, 2020 breaches all decency. But then, when you get ‘high’ on your assumed power status, the tendency is to throw caution to the winds. Charles, a reporter with the Daily Trust, had asked Fani-Kayode who was bankrolling the ex-minister’s junket in South -South states. It was a classic ‘Trigger’ question, a probing question that got the beefy former minister into roiling anger following which he launched into infantile, invective vituperation calling the reporter ‘stupid’ among other expletives. With a menacing look, he had threatened the reporter : ‘’ I will hit you hard’’, a threat which understandably made the Daily Trust management to alert the police that Fani-Kayode will be held accountable if anything, god forbid, happens to the young man. Poor Femi, apparently, he was hit hard by the reporter’s question which got him into a rage and in misplaced sense of self importance demanded whether the reporter knew who he was talking to. A distinguished American journalist and Columnist who later became a U.S ambassador, Carl T. Rowan, had noted that in a reporter-source encounter in news interview or press conference situations that there are no embarrassing questions but embarrassing answers. Fani-Kayode’s reaction showed the truism of that statement with the former minister’s embarrassing response to a legitimate question that exposed his flawed character. In his blind anger at the question, he got repetitively abusive, almost to the point of incoherence. To imagine that such character, who lacks emotional intelligence and control as to even arrogantly boast that he has a short fuse, could attain ministerial position speaks volumes of the irrational political leadership selection process and the flawed judgement of those who appoint such person to high office.
But the reporter’s question remains unanswered and the former Aviation minister must still be pinned down for a response. On what basis, under what auspices or platform is he undertaking a tour of states in the South-South as a guest of state governors? Or does he want us to believe he is an altruistic, one-man Projects Verification Squad to those states ? What is the take for him ? There are those who indicted the reporter for timidity in the face of such onslaught. I beg to disagree. The young man is apparently handicapped by a culture of good breeding not to talk back to an elder. But then, there are elders and there are elders – decent and indecent – and the latter are undeserving of respect.
The Fani-Kayodes of this world belong to the genre of media manipulators who capitalize on and exploit the media’s hunger for news by becoming ready sources, always with instant opinion on any breaking issue, thereby making captives of journalists. You see, the laziness of many journalists to independently generate news have made them fall prey to media manipulators. According to Prof. Daniel J. Boorstin, the news conference at which Fani-Kayode got his danders up is a contrived pseudo-event, purposively staged for the attention of the reporting media to get such event featured as news. This is what S. Cohen and J. Young described as ‘’ the manufacture of news’’. It is a twin with the Interview, another pseudo-event, which is a one-on-one purposive conversation to generate contrived news – the reporter gets a story, the news personality gets publicity bonus. Femi Fani-Kayode is a maverick at exploiting the media for publicity advantage and as noted by Boorstin, ‘’ the more controversial the personality, the greater the heightened news interest’’ by journalists. Fani-Kayode fits this description. This former spokesman of the Obasanjo presidency must be a student of U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy from Wisconsin, in media manipulation, who was a master in exploiting journalists’ hunger for news to impose himself on the American media. In America’s heady days of ‘Red’ scare, Sen. McCarthy created controversy for his person as a leading anti communist hater who saw ‘Red’ conspiracies in all manner of situations and was calling press conferences to announce his discoveries. He attracted so much media interest such that Richard Rovere, a Washington-based correspondent, said reporters ‘’respond to his summonses ( to press conferences ) like Pavlov’s dogs at the clang of a bell’’ . Prof. Boorstin had observed that Sen. McCarthy ‘’ had a diabolical fascination and an almost hypnotic power over news-hungry reporters’’. Fast forward and note how Fani-Kayode had positioned himself as a controversial, irreverent government critic and outspoken spokesman such that every of his inanities get reported, LAVISHLY, in the media, a manifestation of his ‘diabolical’ fascination for Nigerian journalists. Journalists are in a dilemma on how best to relate with so-called news makers. In the beginning, media manipulators exhibit humility as they deliberately court the friendship of journalists and readily supply them information which reporters convert to news. With repeated mention in the media, these persons gain name recognition- become well known and prominent. In the build-up of their personality in the media, these characters need the media more that the media need them, but once they realize they have attained a high level of prominence and relevance, they now lord it over the media. The media has become the sorcerer who willed a spirit from the ether but lost control, thereafter. This, apparently, explains why a Femi Fani-Kayode, an apparent media creation, could impudently, arrogantly declare that he owes nobody apology for his verbal assault on reporter Charles. Nigerian journalists are ending up being denigrated, across board, by the monsters they created, as it were, in their eagerness to get cheap news supplied by these manipulators who now seek to set agenda for the media.
The Nigerian media suffers two major disabilities which have rendered it vulnerable to exploiters – poor pay and inadequate professional training – both of which lower self confidence and self esteem. Poor pay creates a beggarly reporters’ corps, some of whose scramble for refreshment at news events is demeaning. The other disability is that many who parade themselves as journalists do not deserve the title as they lack requisite educational qualification, which is possibly why Fani-Kayode could boast of his being a lawyer. In fairness, one has to concede the fact that lawyers go through prescribed training, often at university level, which cannot be said of journalists’ training. But even then, one can still say lawyer, my foot ( apology to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo ) given the hungry looking, tattered suited ‘charge-and-bail’ lawyers who hustle at court premises. So, let no Femi Fani-Kayode over flaunt his being a lawyer. Anyway, the emerging trend in the media is that there are Nigerian journalists today with superior academic qualification and exposure than Fani-Kayode.
Ultimately, the relationship between the Nigerian media and news sources would need to be continuously reviewed to reflect the dynamics of change, with emphasis on mutual respect, such that aberrant conduct, as exhibited by Femi Fani-Kayode in his verbal assault and threat of reporter Eyo Charles, is censured. A Femi Fani-Kayode with a threatening, volcanic temper is a public danger.
Dr. Bisi Olawunmi, former Washington Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria and Fellow, Nigerian Guild of Editors, is Acting HOD, Department of Mass Communication, Adeleke University, Ede. Osun state. Email: email@example.com Phone (SMS ONLY) 0803 364 7571