About the delay in journalists' salary and issues around it
Had the holy writ scripted that workers should be given their pay as at when due, then would Nduka Obaigbene, the Chairman of ThisDay newspapers and his ilk have no lacuna to hold on to. But, "as at when due" was conspicuously omitted since it can be inferred from what was already stated. With that being the case, Obaigbene and co have no lacuna to latch to.
It is a misnomer for a person to be addressed as an employer of labour yet not be able to pay the salary that goes with labour when it is expected. Not be able? I am not buying. Obaigbene, the flamboyant publisher of ThisDay and other titles, truly appears able to offset the wage bill of his employees even before each month gets to the midfield. It then becomes a puzzle of inexplicable proportion why the well-to-do entrepreneur has taken to this attitude.
Last Thursday, the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists and the National Union of Printing, Publishing and Paper Product Workers grounded printing and other activities taking place at the premises of ThisDay newspapers headquarters in Apapa, Lagos. It was even reported that the chairman narrowly escaped a mob action as irate staff of the company moved to beat him up when he showed up at the scene.
Their grouse? They have been owed four months salary without hopes of when it would be paid! If one stomach this from a local monthly paper still struggling to break even, it can and should not be reported of a highly successful national daily like ThisDay.
This is as a flip through the pages of the medium gets you lost as to why the publisher of such a newspaper with high number of adverts and advertorials would shabbily treat the workforce that is responsible for the success of such an elite publication. The connection is basically not there.
One ordinarily expects staffers of ThisDay to be the most prosperous journalists in the country considering the market success of the ThisDay brand and the luxurious lifestyle of its publisher. This in the recent past accounted for why a staff used the twitter handle of the medium to denigrate the chairman going as far as labelling him a crook. This must have been frustration at work.
But do u blame him? You don't need to because if you do, you will also have to denounce the rest staff of ThisDay who last week flew off the handle into picketing the company reportedly booing and rough handling their chairman in the process. Even Obaigbene in his reaction was quoted to have said he respects the rights of his workers to air their grievance. So, why blame them?
The rest part of the publisher's response demystifies his personality.
In his words, "they are not being owed for four months but just a couple of months and we said we are settling everybody and we are in the process of doing that." Hmm, what a good tale for the marines!
What unsettles me is the conspiracy of silence of major national newspapers regarding this story, excluding the online media. They made use of their gate keeping window to banish the story into unconsciousness but thank gracious that gone are the days when they alone have the monopoly to break news.
But, it is possible their reticence was because they are as well guilty of the same offence. As the Secretary General of NUJ Abuja, Emmanuel Ogbeche, remarked: "ThisDay is not the only newspaper that NUJ is set to go after following default of staff wages... We know that Peoples' Daily is in arrears of workers' wage, we intend to go there as well. Blueprint is in default of two months, we will also go there."
Perhaps the taciturnity of the conventional print media was based on Obaigbene's towering status as the Chairman of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria(NPAN). Wait, you must be kidding me. So NPAN has an Obaigbene as its Chairman? What kind of example is he setting for other members of the association? Little wonder he isn't the only culprit.
The foregoing betrays the claim by the Nigerian media of being the conscience of the nation as flawed. The media in Nigeria is widely reputed for its predilection to utterly criticise and excoriate the government for not doing things the right way.
It then becomes hypocritical for the media to always seek to remove the wood from government's eye without seeking to first remove the log from its eye. Since they are known to be unequivocal in speaking against injustice in the land, they should as well have spoken out in clear terms against this hubby of the ThisDay Chairman.
Those who turned a blind eye to the story should put themselves in the shoes of such journalists who are being owed to better appreciate their travails. These are people who have families to take care, for crying out loud! Why should what they need to take care of them and theirs be delayed for not one, not two, but for four months? It's pathetic!
The publishers who owe staff their salaries should be in the know of the implication their inaction has on the society. A hungary journalist can be a menace to the society. He can become a tool in the hands of dubious but wealthy individual who would use them to write and publish stories that are injurious to the society but sate the selfish ends of the moneybags.
Further, the delay in the payment of journalists' salaries boosts the collection of 'brown envelope'. For how can a reporter who is owed four months salaries be principled enough to turn down a brown envelope that will surely colour his report? Even when his spirit seeks to reject it, his flesh will definitely seek otherwise and should the flesh prevailed, objective reportage pays the price.
Employers of labour in the media profession should stop capitalising on the love journalists have for their job to take advantage of the cerebral pen professionals. This can cause the aggrieved to wreck reputation damage on the aggressor. Let's not forget that the pen is still mightier than the sword. The pen that served a publisher so well can in the same measure undo him.
The Nigeria Union of Journalists needs to be commended for its involvement in fighting for the right of its members. They shouldn't relent in this as what they are fighting against can destroy their profession. No egg head would want to get into a profession where his or her salary is not guaranteed at the end of the month.
It would be for the common good of all stakeholders concerned with the media to constitute checks on themselves. This is to ensure that the fourth estate does not lose the confidence and respect members of the public repose on it. The NUJ, NPAN, the Nigeria Guild of Editors(NGE) and others should always been on ground to curtail one another's excesses.
For those who would want to continue latching on to the omission of "as at when due" in the biblical injunction recorded in 1 Timothy 5:18 and Luke 10:7, let them search their conscience to know if what they are doing is right or not, that is if they have one.
Ugochukwu writes from Lokoja, please follow me on twitter via @ugsylvester