By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Across the sphere, citizens of every nation whether democratic or otherwise hunger for ‘public sphere where the issues of the public interests are appreciated as central, and openly considered, discussed or debated. On their part, the politicians and public office holders also have a great interest in how the media covers their behavior. They depend on the media to provide the information they need about the people and the society. The media professionals, in turn, depend much on the authorities (public office holders) for their information.
Increasingly, by choice or by accident, a number of issues (strained relationship) daily emanate from this mutual dependency.
A typical impression of aforementioned issue between the public office holders and media professionals is the recent decision by The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Warri Correspondents Chapel, to boycott all Delta State government’s activities, berating the state government over its failure to give proper account of its activities to the people, especially in Delta south and Delta Central senatorial districts of the state which falls within the jurisdiction of the chapel.
Peripherally, the group enjoys the right to such decision, particularly as the section 22 of the nation’s constitution provides that; The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.” This is in addition to the fact that without reliable, intelligent reporting and viable media practice, the government cannot govern because there is no other adequate way in which it can keep itself informed about what the people of the country are thinking or doing.
It will, however, be antithetical to support a movement based on sentiment or allow sentiment to determine our actions especially as the present move by the Warri Chapel is devoid of process and outcome fairness. Rather, the content of their communique more than anything else portrays an argument that cannot hold water when faced with embarrassing fact because, it is in full resemblance of the handiwork of the fifth column in the fourth estate made up of propagandists, political apologists pretending to be journalists.
As subsequent paragraphs will show, it exemplifies a group that does not understand that the function of the press is very high. It is almost holy; a decision to misstate or suppress the news is a breach of trust.
At this point, this piece will highlight particulars of error evident in the communiqué circulated by the Chapter.
First and foremost, the Group fundamentally claimed that ‘the chapel is kept in the dark as to government functions and activities within the Delta Central senatorial districts’
In applied sense, this declaration is not only a self indictment but in the views of this piece an open blandishment of failures by the Chapel.
If this present move by the Chapel were not politically propelled, why should a trained Journalist who knows his/her worth in this season of Freedom of Information Act (FOA), wait for the public office holders to inform him/her about the progress or successes the state has recorded or the challenges it currently faces? Do they really understand the meaning and demands of being a Journalist?
Are they not aware that across the world, journalists don’t wait to be informed, updated or addressed by the government officials? That Journalists are trained to employ creative ways for extracting information from individual, corporate organizations as well as government quarters? Are the leaders of this Chapel not aware that the essence of training journalists in investigative and interpretative reporting is to ensure that they are never hindered or starved of news by any individual, group or institution? As media professionals, have they forgotten that Information generation, gathering or management are not predicated on the public holders making it available but a function of media professionals using resourcefulness and ingenuity to make the government speak on their policies and programmes.
From the above, if the leadership of Warri Chapel are saying that they are kept in the dark, it will again elicit the question as to; where lies the professionalism?
Ideally, this piece needs not express itself further on the moral inner weakness of our present day journalists doing the work in Delta state. The truth is that their general weakness are in part grounded in a matter of professional laziness, and in part lie in the nature of the leadership of the various Chapels or attributed to their hunger without restraint or decency to occupy a high ground they do not understand. This sordid reality has more often not led to their failure to spot or study the various propositions presented by the state administration in the past.
In the same vein, the communique assaulted reason by its claim that The Delta State government appeared far from the people in Warri, saying that there were a lot of issues that needed government’s attention that were left unattended to’.
The above argument is on its own self defeating.
At a glance, what the Chapel glaringly failed to remember is that globally, the role of the media in every evolving democratic society like ours is to inculcate and reinforce positive political, cultural, social attitudes among the citizenries and the government while creating a mood in which all parties become keen to acquire, skills and disciplines of developed nations. This is a role instrumentality of participatory democracy and election of leader confers on media professionals. Majority of the media players are yet to come to the recognition that viability of democracy depends upon openness, reliability, appropriateness, responsiveness, and a two-way nature of the communication environment. And democracy depends upon the regular sending and the receiving of objective signals.
From the above, flow other gaps inherent in the communiqué.
Regardless of what others may say, it is shameful on the part of these journalists to say that “What the Delta State Government is good at is to keep churning out press releases upon press releases about issues and programmes bordering on governance in the state with journalists not given an ample opportunity to ask first-hand questions.
The questions that beg for answers are; when did churning out of press releases become a wrong communication strategy or bad tool in the hands of the public office holders like the state government? It is of fact that any journalist, who knows his/her worth, will see press release as a blessing as it is not an end to itself. Rather, it opens the opportunity for the journalist to know what the government is thinking, wanting and doing. And through the process assist him/her prepare further interrogation/investigation to confirm or contradict the veracity of such claims contained in the releases.
However, whatever the true position may be, it’s crucial for all to note that media organizations must not undermine but support the fundamental needs of the country, and, the positive purpose of the elected government if it will not in any way dent/obstruct the media’s primary responsibility to the masses in a democratic society which among others includes -inculcating and reinforcing positive political, cultural, social attitudes among the citizenries.
Finally, this piece admonishes journalists in Nigeria to shun this ‘culture’ of adjusting the “goal post’’ to accommodate vested interest and muddle professionalism with politics, as Nigerians with discerning minds are aware that ‘a free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in a society.
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;email@example.com/08032725374.