MUSINGS ON A TEETERING ESTATE
A modest proposal is, therefore, apposite. Let's make it a habit to assess and reassess the performances of our institutions, especially at those times they are called to higher and tougher duties and responsibilities.
Thus, if our military is involved in large-scale operations that put them in harm's way outside the shores of this country, it is proper time for its critical assessment. If, as is currently the case, terrorists are having a field day terrorizing the peace-loving citizens of Nigeria, it is ripe time to determine that the security agencies have the proper orientation, and the right instruments and assets for mastering and reversing the blight. That is the way to move forward.
The Nigerian media may not be moving forward despite its exponential growth over the past two decades. After all, growth is not exactly the same thing as development. There was just about one FM radio station in Nigeria some 25 years ago. Today, there is hardly a Nigerian city that does not boast about four or five of them. Until the 1980s, we didn't have private radio and television stations; today, they command more public attention than the publicly-owned ones.
During the Second Republic, typewriters were omnipresent in newsrooms, clattering away. We are now in the age of computers - desktops, laptops, palmtops, i-pads, androids, smart phones and other such devices that generate and transmit news, electronic mails and images.
Online publications are in assent. Today's journalist is most likely a university graduate, not the school certificate holder that started work after a three or four-week tutelage as a trainee-reporter. The electronic media previously shut down at midnight; the current vogue is 24/7.
Yet, despite the giant strides in the improvement of the instruments and infrastructure for media work - improvements not down our own innovations, by the way, - it is really doubtful that the Nigerian journalist of this millennium is a better or more principled species than practitioners of the trade in previous generations. It is true that privation generates corruption. It is equally true that standards plummet where the cutting of corners is rife.
But there is a basic minimum standard of operation below which any self-respecting organisation should not allow itself to fall. Unfortunately, the Nigerian media hit the nadir many moons ago. Not because the tools for the trade are in short supply. Not because the practitioners of the trade are not properly trained. But because the Nigerian journalist has allowed the rules to be confined and defined by interlopers. This is tragic because any entity without an essence is dead, more or less.
The media should be mouthing its own beliefs. The media should desist from uttering the messages of ventriloquists. The soul of the Nigerian media should be recalled from its leave of absence. Currently, any bidder, not even the highest bidder, gets a chance to disseminate rubbish, not directly by the bidder, but through media practitioners since flattened to the shamefully low estate of ventriloquists' dummies. Of course, the citizen, rich or poor, has a right to getting heard, whether or not they are verbalizing inanities.
That is what freedom of speech is about. The problem lies in citizens barricading their identities behind buyable media assets to unleash loads of rubbish on the rest of society. This creates the pathetic situation in which information, all kinds of information, are dumped on society, without society retaining the right to question such information. It is all deleterious to democracy.
Take this instance. A story appeared on page 3 of the Sunday Independent of July 3, 2011. Promoted on the newspaper's fist page, it bore this telling headline: 'Ohanaeze: Igbo leaders differ on call for Uwechue's removal'. Going through the story, it was immediately obvious that it was planted because the headline was unrelated to the story.
There hadn't been any calls for a change in Ohanaeze leadership, which leadership was not even interviewed for its side of the story. The Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, said to have spoken to some reporters by phone stood and still stands expelled by the Enugu chapter of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Thus, his jaundiced views of the body's leadership were immaterial. The story quoted a number of anonymous 'sources' averring to the 'death' of Ohanaeze Ndigbo! Yet the 'story' was found worthy of publication and worthy of special promotion! Of course, it was simply a broadside on Chief Uwechue's support for President Jonathan's election, period.
In the run-up to the nomination and appointment of President Jonathan's cabinet, media houses were awash with stories of nominees 'unworthy' of consideration. Mrs. Diezani Alison-Maduake, Professor Barth Nnaji and Dr. Ngozi Okojo-Iweala were singled out for special, remorseless but baseless pillorying.
How such unwarranted injustice became accepted as standard fare in the nation's media beats the imagination. No one dares suggest that candidates for public positions should not be subjected to sustained public scrutiny. It is a different thing when voices outside of the press utilize the same press to press ridiculous positions such as Okonjo-Iweala, Barth Nnaji and Allison-Madueke being unqualified to serve as ministers. But these voices are vested interests manipulating the national press for personal/group agendas.
Yet, they are shielded from public scrutiny by the pittance they hand out to hungry journalists. In places where the pursuit of truth is of cardinal importance, the right course of action is for people to substantiate their accusations and allegations.
Fortunately, we still have media moguls like Uncle Sam Amuka and Chief Ajibola Ogunsola who can move against the rot. Prince Nduka Obaigbena, the President of the Newspapers Proprietors of Nigerian, NPAN, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, and Mallam Garba Mohammed, the President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, should forge a common front for rediscovering and strengthening the ethics of the journalism profession.
Mr. CHUKS IIOEGBUNAM, a journalist, wrote from Lagos.