BETWEEN FREE PRESS AND ROGUE JOURNALISM IN NIGERIA
Nigeria has one of the freest press in the world. The democratization of the press in Nigeria is however caught up in the dragnet of impunity by individuals avariciously out to make money by blackmailing politicians and heads of businesses in the country.
The recent trend fast eclipsing the nobility of the profession of journalism in the country is the blackmail for money practice Nigerian youths are engaging themselves on social platforms in recent times. Many are already succeeding in defrauding politicians who have something to hide while some are cooling their heels in detention, awaiting trial for daring those who have nothing to hide.
Rogue journalists use social media platforms to perpetrate their criminal journalism. They put up sensational headlines against government officials/business moguls, distribute across social media groups and watch it go viral, then wait for their prey to come and negotiate.
Rogue journalists thrive in their trade primarily on account of the systemic rot itself. The prey on the perception (based on failed leadership) of Nigerians mostly skewed towards hating their leaders on account of financial impunity.
Impunity practiced by the ruling class has however permeated all strata of the society including the jobless man on the street. While everybody hate impunity, most people wouldn't mind if they are at the benefitting end of it.
The media is expected to be the conscience of the ruling class, the advocate of the masses and the unconstitutional parliament where every view is offered equal representation. The media is expected to put the people and government in check with seamless information, entertain without sentimentality and educate without stains of cultural imperialism.
The systemic rot the media (social media) is expected to fight is becoming only a leverage to extort and assassinate character. Alas the free press enjoyed in Nigeria is being abused on a platter of greed by a few youths who have no idea of the ethos of the profession of journalism except for their own self based agenda flagrantly displaced on the cyberspace.
It is more worrisome that these young rogue journalists who are on social media platforms blackmailing government officials for money have strings of people feeding from their errands of blackmail.
Interestingly it's a game of hovering vultures in the entire mix as some self acclaimed rights activists barrel their way to defend a criminal minded social media practitioner to either establish relationship with rights organizations or show proof they are utilizing funds already received for rights violation (its all about the money).
The chain of those benefitting from any media faceoff between government and these miscreants stretches quite long. Politicians especially in the opposition use them too. Soon these mercantile online reporters on account of the 2015 election will be on the loose blazing from all directions with fallacious claims to extort.
The online mischief writers operate as a ring primarily set to benefit from a vulnerable client (however not in all cases). The ring also protects anyone caught in the dragnet of the law. Sadly, reputable rights organizations are blindly dragged into the squabble while the rogues are made to look like heroes.
This is however not to say social media practitioners are not helping to correct the injustices in the system. There are very credible online organizations helping as whistle blowers, setting agenda for mainstream journalists to beam searchlight on virtually every issue but the problem is the advent of junk journalism.
If the impunity in the profession gradually mutating towards corrupting the practice of journalism in Nigeria is routed, citizen journalism, will indeed partner very well with mainstream in agenda setting as earlier intimated.
Citizen journalism has given the ordinary citizen the power to be heard, the power to force government to conform with the general opinion of the masses. However, the abuse of this power is what must be addressed.
Lets therefore take it for granted that impunity created by the ruling class has permeated the profession of journalism in Nigeria, there must be conscious moves to guard against the possibility of the system of impunity clamping on the growing trend of rogue journalism practiced by these mercantile profession killers.
Just like the malaise of the 'yahoo, yahoo' boys, the mania of rogue journalists is gradually gaining strength especially as Nigerians are mostly interested in sensational news story.
Yes the concept of 'injury to one is injury to all' adopted by union of journalist is very important in protecting rights abuse of media practitioners, but this very concept is fast offering rogue reporters sanctum to perpetuate their criminal activities. Unions must therefore investigate and route the quacks.
Therefore, it is very important to protect rights of journalists, it is also instructive to avoid a situation where we offer internet fraudsters protection and at the same time create jobs for them in the fourth estate of the realm, where they will surely throw themselves in the errand of wrecking the 'estate' and the 'realm'.
North Korea, Lybia, Syria, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea top countries with the most gagged press. These countries literarily own the press. The case of North Korea, there is no independent press. In some countries in parts of Africa, every news item from private or public media organizations are submitted to a pool of government editors for 'compliance' test.
In some countries, the social media has serious restrictions. Government in such countries must permit personal facebook, email, twitter etc accounts, government in media gagged countries also has the right to see private messages of citizens across every platform. In such countries government must also approve mobile lines and telephones.
The above mentioned cases represent very hash media laws in a civilized and globalized world but the growing trend of miscreants taking over the cyberspace dishing out fallacious interpretation of the world for self gain is indeed a back-turn on the concept of free press.
There is need for caution in the way and manner social media platforms are used. With the 'share' button a push of the finger away, stories can go viral in minutes. There are situations where many innocent lives are lost over lousy posts on facebook for instance.
The recent SALT CURE for Ebola virus became an instant sensation in Nigeria. Laughable as it was some people bit the bait and the resultant consequence was disastrous in Plateau state – at least two people died from excessive salt ingestion.
The facebook (one of the social media platform) can speak more than any King, court or president. Within minutes it can attract interests from every corner of the world. Most of the issues today get to facebook before reaching mainstream media outlets.
Facebook's statement of Rights and Responsibilities provides: 'You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.'
While this is mostly perceived as mere guideline it is instructive people understand the pervasive nature of the new media of information and communication and use them responsibly.
Written by Ayegba Israel Ebije, Chief Press Secretary to the Niger State Government.