By Abdulwahab Oba
It is often said that everyone is a leader until tried. Either correct or incorrect, events over the years have proved that the ability to lead, perhaps, a group, corporation or country, is not actually what matters, but the ability to act decisively and take the right steps in moments of challenges, whether such decision hurts or not.
Unfortunately, this is the most critical part, and not many have acquainted themselves creditably in this regard. This apparently explains why fingers are steadily pointed at leaders for failures in groups, professions and country, as the case may be.
While nearly all professions – banking, journalism, medical or legal – and, society or country – whether developed or underdeveloped, have their low moments, what, however; distinguishes a profession or a country on the right path, perhaps, is consistent self- rediscovery.
Without doubt, the Nigerian media industry is currently in a state of inability to pay staff salaries, low copy sales, crippling sycophancy, massive shutdown, poor welfare packages, among others. Yet challenging, as that might be, the inputs of the media play an important role in the effective performance of any government or society. Put simply, the media plays strategic roles towards initiating, as well as, ensuring that there are some levels of sanity in the way the political class conduct itself.
From ages past, the media; though incapable of throwing physical punches or making deadly and phlebotomic impacts in governments, military or civil, in peace or trial times; has, in many innumerable ways, toppled governments or changed the way government businesses are conducted by agenda setting and critical analysis of government policies. More often than not, where the people feel helpless and failed in monitoring the government of the day, the media has always stepped up and helped in looking over its shoulder to ensure it is constantly on its toes and working in the interest of the larger majority and good of nation. That is how powerful a force the media is, and has been, and reason its place is sacred and enshrined in country’s law statutes as the fourth estate of the realm.
Interestingly, however, while a whole lot is changing in the world today, the media roles have remained constant, though methodologies have widened to include the steadily evolving social media force in addition to the traditional print media electronics. Today, away from gluing to television screens or flipping through the pages of newspaper, internet based social communication networks such as Facebook, Instagram, twitter, Imo, WhatsApp and others are increasingly growing information super highways, have since caught the fire, extracting information from a whole gamut of sources around the world and placing same on the world village table.
No doubt, the advent of the social media has brought with it so much to chew in terms of way and manner information is sourced, and the measure of the value placed on media practitioners. In the last few years, so much has happened in the Nigerian media and, still, almost at the same time that it becomes a huge challenge trying to understand these developments without touching on their negative effects on society.
From issues bothering on professionalism to unpaid salaries often running into several months and years; from poor working conditions to lack of training and re-training opportunities; from the near absence of visionary leadership in the newsroom to poor remuneration; from unlawful dismissal of members of staff to compromise of standards, the list goes on and on. But the worst of all, is the increasing cases of media houses fuelling mediocrity in an attempt to reduce costs, and ultimately reducing the journalists to mere errand boys and this has seemingly condemned them to survivalist sycophancies, like it or not.
These, though largely economical, sum up journalism practice in Nigeria. But as always, rather than simply raining as they say, it once more poured hopelessly when recently, a major newspaper, a flagship media organisation, added salt to injury to an already beleaguered industry. The newspaper seemingly following in the footsteps of other media houses whose relationship with members of staff had gone unchecked by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the umbrella body of all journalists, by unilaterally disengaging its chunk of Correspondents across the states.
Typical of giving a hopeless situation a quick makeover, the newspaper offered those willing to continue reporting without serious obligations and commitment to it, the chance of freelancing. Interestingly, only a few years ago, journalists, most of whom had been with the company for years, were laid off in a similar shock. A circumstance that was followed by a lockdown with staff over what they considered the company’s warped labour policy.
But it is not only the newspaper State Correspondents that are going through a state but also many journalists, today, are in court over unpaid salaries and unfair dismissal. Two recurring issues that have been consistent with the Nigerian media recently. This explains why it has become expedient to set an agenda, especially for NGE members peopled by editors as they look forward to a seminar focusing on balancing professionalism, advocacy and business, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State this September.
One recalls that the birth of the NGE was lavishly celebrated in the belief that though it is an exclusive club of editors, the group would fill the apparent void left by NUJ as news room leaders, who, more than anything else, are primarily journalists. Today, years on, it remains to be seen how well the NGE has been able to give leadership direction in the Nigerian media beyond high profile meetings with politicians and government officials. But this seminar will potentially provide a moment for sober reflection on the crisis rocking the industry with a view to advancing effective ways through which its glory will be restored, particularly in areas such as minimum capital investment timeline, operational guidelines and enforcement procedures, minimum standard remuneration for journalists, monitoring, among others, so as to arrest the increasing cases of journalists being at the receiving end of the stick, perpetually.
While it is understandable that a combination of the current economic crunch and the wild-fire influence of the new media, have impacted heavily on the traditional media, it has become paramount as it is critical, for the purpose of rescuing the industry from imminent extinction, to dissect, as well as, review the causes of and solutions to the growing slave camps most media companies are fast becoming. But more than anything else, to salvage the speedily fading influence and dignity of the Nigerian journalist.
It is expected, too, that as the NGE are converging, efforts would be made towards critically examining the growing notoriety and excesses of the new media often used as blackmail and propaganda tool by anyone and everyone capable of paying the bills, as opposed to advancing the course of investigative journalism and quality news reports.
It is without emphasis, the enormous danger the new media pose, especially as nearly everyone who can read and write, has become a journalist with the online platforms, mostly unregistered as they are without monitoring by government agencies or NUJ, providing them a stay. Only recently, and in recognition of their menace, the National Assembly (NASS) considered ways through which the activities and ownership of the new media can be regulated in line with basic acceptable operational standards across the world. The NASS, in taking the decision, pointed to the fact that most online media were becoming tools for a cheap blackmail, extortion, and character assassination. It has been particularly proved that lack of reportorial hands has forced most online media to needlessly churn out more often than not, unsubstantiated and unverified gorging reports.
No sane society allows anyone, not even the media, as powerful as they are, to misinform the public or engage in practices that negate the basic standard practice all over the world. And, the reason is simple. It is a clear threat to peaceful co-existence as enunciated in a democratic government like ours.
Again, as the editors meet, there should be conscious efforts to genuinely dissect the underlining issues that have brought the noble profession of journalism to its knees. The meeting should be seen to finding a lasting solution to reasons the gathering became necessary in the first place. The NGE should genuinely re-examine its roles and align itself to the uplift of the journalism profession. More also, it must play the role of internal check, as well as, partner in progress with the NUJ.
To justify its curious mute role and seeming lukewarm attitude to the plight of journalists they supervise directly on the premise that NUJ and NGE are separate bodies, is unacceptable and points to failure in leadership. It is expected that the decisions reached at the meeting will be communicated to government agencies and bodies responsible for the regulation and practice of journalism for implementation. And, it will go a step further by constituting itself into a pressure group in the interest of the profession. To do otherwise will be tantamount to blowing the bridge on reporters’ faces after a safe crossover. Let the Nigerian media rise again in the interest of our democracy.