“Good faith with the reader is the foundation of good journalism.” so says the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in the introduction of its Code of Conduct. I do not know if the Nigerian Guild of Editors has a similar code, but if it has, this is definitely the right time to find a way of enforcing it.
The Nigerian media has come a long way since the debut of “Iwe Iroyin” in the early 1920s. It has consistently been what a thinker called “ the strong sword arm of justice, the bright sun -beam of truth.” It did these pre and post colonial period and took it to highly commendable patriotic, courageous levels during the military era. It performed its role so well that it was easily seen as the authentic hero of the struggle. But should it end there?
I remember a newspaper cartoon some thirty years ago about a political giant whose stature had shrunk so miserably. The caption of that cartoon was: My son, I have been to the mountain top, it is quite slippery there.” This has always made me shudder at what happens to a well respected person or a system when the soul is lost to the world. The other time when former President Olusegun Obasanjo announced with relish that he was not a reader of newspapers, those of us in the media took offence and wanted to present him as food for our gods. We had forgotten that he had the right to say what he said. We also forgot that Obasanjo had the right not to read newspapers. The man had his reasons and these are what we should have sought to know.
We should find out why leaders in contemporary times doubt what they read in newspapers. I also read a former US President somewhere where he was put on record as having said at a time that he loathed reading newspapers. But why? And they would gladly answer “Why not?” Why not if it is true as some elements in the Action Congress boasted recently, that they used the media to re-brand former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and made him look as if he was never part of the Obasanjo presidency? Has the media become so cheap, ready tool of branding and re branding of politicians?
Why believe what you read when you are an eye witness to an event that was reported upside down?
While it is refreshing to see new publications spring up across the country, it is necessary for all who should to take interest too in setting minimum standards of qualifications and code of conduct for those manning them. In Osun state, for instance, there is a publication by the opposition AC which does not appear to know at all that in journalism there are ethics. It is called ” OSUN DEFENDER” Any common street talk qualifies for its headline and the laws of libel are alien to the understanding of those editing it.
Journalists are supposed to inform. However, you wonder what information a “newspaper” gives the public when what you read in it reeks of crass ignorance. Imagine this Osun “newspaper” saying last week that President Umaru Yar’Adua had barred governors from travelling out! I think this is the time to wake up and act to save the image of journalism and genuine journalists in this country. Because members of the Action Congress in the state must be prevented from migrating to the ruling party before the local government election, this publication must go to town to announce that the defeated AC governorship candidate would be sworn-in on 14th August, later 14th September and when the date approached, the writers had no sense of shame as they shifted the swearing-in date again to October 14. As at today, the new date according to this publication is end of November! What journalist would put his name as editor on the imprint of a rumour-mill like this and still expect to be respected.
Even when all indications from the election tribunal point at a waterloo for the Action Congress legislators in Osun state, five of whom may lose their seats at once any moment from now, this publication would still dishonestly boast that the verdicts in other states point at a possible victory for the AC in Osun.
Why would a person who claims to be a journalist not consider the cases and draw comparisons or see the difference in them before arriving at a media prediction? The truth of the matter is that there are no similarities between the decisions of the tribunals in Kogi and Kebbi and the petitions challenging the election of any of the governors in the PDP South West.
Indeed, if there is any need to fear because of the rulings, it is the AC that should start preparing for the Court of Appeal. In Osun state for instance, five of its eleven lawmakers will likely fall at once as direct victims of the Kogi judgement because candidates of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) are challenging their unlawful exclusion from the election after being duly nominated by their parties.
Newspapers are market place of ideas, not of lies and half-truths. They are to make the readership better informed and more knowledgeable about their environment. Newspapers are not supposed to be purveyors of idle talks of street urchins. If anything, newspapers are to make the disabled whole.
If the person being lied to cannot read through the smokescreen, at least the liar himself knows what he is doing. It is not possible for the two sides to be victims of this lying business. So, in this case, the losers are those willing to play the fool. They are those willingly opening their mouths to the acrid smell from the fart-holes of lying quacks in journalism.
Propaganda has always been an inseparable part of politics, unfortunately, so are lies. While the latter clearly conflict with the basic foundation upon which journalism is built, there is really nothing wrong with politicians employing the act of propaganda to get to their goal. The wise propagandist knows, however, that there must be platforms of truth for him to place his stuff if he must get it bought consistently by the public otherwise, his propaganda ware will become what those of us in newspaper business call “unsold.”
As we all labour to see the Nigerian media and their editors emerge from whatever challenges they currently face, (some are regularly harassed and threatened with sack by their politician -publishers), nothing should make us deviate any further from agreeing with the ASNE when it concludes the code of conduct by stressing that “every effort must be made to ensure that the news content(of newspapers) is accurate, free from bias and in context, and that all sides are presented fairly.”
*Olagunju is Chief Press Secretary to Osun State Governor.