By Abdulwahab Oba
Recently, the Nigerian Press Association (NPA) which comprises the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN). Rose after a crucial meeting to proscribe beat associations across Nigeria.
In making the decision, NPA pointed to the very disturbing reasons the beat associations are courted and loathed in indescribable measures by society’s low and mighty, including industry colleagues. From racketeering to blackmail; touting and unprofessional practices, and to the most absurd venture of award investiture to, as often is the case, persons whose history and value appreciation sum up a society stewing in notoriety, all for pecuniary reasons.
Perhaps, like most people, who have been watching in rude shock and displeasure at the growing sham and shame that is regrettably profiling the practice of journalism in recent times, NPA’S move captures the tipping concern over adherence to professionalism and fear that if nothing is urgently done, time might come where a role reversal might become inevitable between industry core and stakeholders, and the increasing army of touts in the profession over straying crumbs at dinner table.
Even more, the move, has once again panned attention to similar groups that line journalism corridors in Nigeria, but do little or nothing to deepen professionalism. Without doubt, journalism practice has witnessed low moments in Nigeria as practitioners go several months without salaries, a development that has helped nurture an army of charlatans and compelled unprecedented spiral drift to the ridiculous, as bodies entrusted with regulatory powers seemed overwhelmed and forced into mute modes.
For the purpose of clarity, beat associations are associations formed by practising journalists in their areas of assignments or responsibilities. As at last count, there were over 50 of such associations. Prominent among them are Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, Airport Correspondents, Maritime Writers Association, National Assembly Correspondents, Financial Correspondents and a host of others. While some are duly registered and recognised by the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, to which every journalists belong, others operate outside the confines of the union making them prone to unguided misdemeanor.
This is probably why NPA’s quick fix in some way deserves commendation, although a little too shallow to restore sanity in the industry, as it typifies chopping off the head in an effort to remedy a malignant headache. For the same ban imposed in 2003 was far from been effective, it is left to be seen how effective it will be fourteen years after.
Today, with most publishers only short of celebrating anniversaries over unpaid salaries and poor remunerations to journalists and running slave camps, that is most newsrooms, it is expected that the NPA would do more to restore sanity to the newsroom by championing the course of their reporters. In deed, in the last few years, one could safely make an alarming grid of media houses managed by journalists, which have the worst welfare and poor remuneration history of all times, and, that is, where they are still operational. The NPA, from my personal perspective, presents a perfect example of a gate-keeper, who has lost the key to the security gate.
Just a few months ago, I learnt that a newspaper based in Lagos sacked all its states correspondents except Abuja, Kaduna and, I think, Portharcourt while still retaining their by-lines. Yet, no arm was raised against the so called conscience of the nation.
Granted that the ban was in order, did NPA consider the activities of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), which has international affiliation? Or, online publishers, whose activities are more dangerous to society and journalism given their attraction to reckless reporting and a resort to propaganda? Or, again, Presidency Correspondents that barely query government efforts? Or, should we also be thinking of banning the NGE given the pervasive perception that it has not done enough to protect and regulate the industry and, especially check the excesses of media owners, other than being the publishers’ men or women? Really, if as many believe NUJ has not done well to protect journalists, how well have things changed with NGE?
Me think the ban was a little too harsh, hasty and selective, especially as beat associations provide platforms for idea ventilation on specific industry matters. Many journalists have attended local and international conferences and trainings that may never have been provided by their employers. More so, it tantamount to curtailing the freedom of expression and association as enshrined in the constitution of this potentially great nation.
One thought that rather than ban the sick dog, while the mad dog is allowed to roam free, NPA should have been more concerned about creating a more effective and functional ombudsman to thoroughly regulate the media. The NPA should compel NGE, for instance, to concern itself more with matters of the newsroom, including but not limited to negotiating a standard welfare package for journalists and seeking ways of ending the incidences of unpaid salaries in the media. To single out one group or association out of several misfiring groups for punishment, not only qualifies for administering a selective remedy to an otherwise rotten system.
At best, rather than bring the much elusive sanity to the industry, it would further embolden the groups, which see themselves as both the lawmaker and judge, and, untouchable, to deepen personal pursuits as opposed to the general interests of the journalism profession. If, as everyone strongly believes, it is high time a big stick fell on erring journalists and associations providing them cover, the NPA should treat persons and groups same way if it is determined to restore journalism lost glory. Rather than outright ban, the NPA should provide the ambit within which the beat associations must operate.
May God bless Nigeria and provide more sustainable means of decent living for its people.