By Ali Sabo
All over the world, journalists are facing threats to their lives and are being assaulted either verbally or physically even in countries that claim to be the custodians of democracy. This has prevented or is preventing many journalists from carrying out their works freely for fear of being harmed by those in power and their friends who perceived them as enemies for exposing their dirty deals or holding them to account for their actions. In 2018 for instance, a prominent Saudi born journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who fled his country for fear of being killed by authorities there was brutally murdered and his body decapitated inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Of recent, in the most developed country which also claims to be the global safest haven for freedom of the press and expression, we have seen in multiple instances how its president consistently abused journalists for asking simple questions and expelling many of them from his media briefings. That president has successfully stratified the media in his country into those presumably hostile towards him and his policies and those sympathetic to him.
In Nigeria, the debate on the protection of journalists’ rights has been going on for so many decades, but as I penned this, we have yet to find a common ground and a common consensus that could address the challenges to journalism that have lingered for far too long that can be passed off as healthy. Journalists in Nigeria are some of the most disrespected and assaulted professionals anywhere by government officials, private individuals and media house owners who pay them meager amounts as salaries which can very hardly cater for even their most basic needs. As if that wasn’t bad enough, some media organizations go as insensitive as giving only ID cards to their staff as meal tickets. This unfair treatment of journalists by media establishments who collect huge amount of money as advertisements from companies and government MDAs – among other sources – have exposed many journalists to the dangers of corruption and made some of them to compromise even the most abiding ethos of journalism for the singular purpose of survival. These are some of the reasons why journalists are not respected and placed in high regards in Nigeria as they naturally should.
Last week at a media briefing organized by Femi Fani Kayode as part of his tour to some states in Nigeria, a journalist working with Daily Trust Newspaper in Cross River State during questions and answers session posed a question to the ex-minister about who is bankrolling his tours. In a normal and sane society, and if the interviewee had any iota of decency in him, he would have simply answered the question, but he resorted to unprintable insults and verbal threats. He rained abuses on that journalist and dressed him down to a point of dignity bankruptcy whilst his colleagues, the other journalists there, kept nodding their heads in apparent agreement to the ex-minister’s wanton display of moral deficiencies – on a live TV. The most disturbing part of that grim episode to me was seeing the other journalists sat in the hall completely self-muted without any of them rise in defence of his colleague and by extension, the remaining dignity of the noble profession. In fact, one of the journalists there was heard admonishing the insulted journalist on why he would ask such a question. Could journalists possibly go any lower than this on any self-embarrassing scale? This means that he, and the others in attendance too, actually found nothing wrong in FFK’s blurts of arrogance against their own colleague. However, what else could anyone had expected from brown envelope journalists who were waiting for the interviewee to finish his damned rants and give them transport money?
Look, I am not in any way trying to insult journalists or ridicule the profession because I am also a trained journalist and have many friends who are working with Media Houses, but many of our colleagues have contaminated the profession, thereby making it an easy prey for disregard by every mentally derailed person and morally empty societal imbecile. The cliché, brown envelope has done a great damage/injury to the spirit of journalism and will take us many years to repair. But we need to begin the courageous process of that repair before we get completely consumed by the lack of it. I have in the past discussed this with many media colleagues and senior colleagues, including the publisher of Premium Times Newspaper, Mr. Dapo at a Conference where I asked him about the possibility of banning or disbanding correspondent chapels in our states because they are the major contributors to this menace. These associations sometimes aid laziness in the profession, they have turned journalism into a boring copy and paste job. These days, it is disheartening how you will read a story in different papers, but with little or no changes at all to their headlines and the grammatical and structural composition of their contents. For us to restore the dignity of this noble profession, we must make journalists independent from one another and compel media houses to be paying these chaps reasonable salaries and close those organizations that cannot pay salaries to their staff, if not, we are going to continue witnessing similar or more of FFK’s ugly escapades.
Sabo is the Communication Officer with the Centre for Information technology and Development (CITAD). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or his twitter handle: @a_sabo12