Watching The Watchdog

Nigeria (Blank NEWS Online) By Julius Oweh– 
For the past three weeks or so, I have wrestled with the idea of writing this article. Theissue is not the absence of the muse`s inspirations or materials to write on but I was caught between professional loyality and solidarity and the urge for the truth and high ethical standards that could advance the progress and development of the fourth estate of the realm and by implication the social, political and economic run of the nation. If the professional dilemma conquers and allow the rot and inertia to continue, the Nigerian vibrant press shall be the loser. As a former editor of a state owned newspaper, I experienced the pains and agonies of media ownership and I was a victim of town crier journalism, the euphemism of not seeing anything wrong with the activities of those in government. That is one of the reasons state owned media are not viable and depend on government for financial stability. That plague is subtly creeping into the so called independent media houses. I am talking about the fallout from the former national security adviser overture to newspapers owners.

The news gaining currency is that sometime ago, the Jonathan administration in its avowed bid to stamp out the Boko Haram insurgency decided to confiscate newspapers because of the security report that some terrorists were using them to transport arms across the country. It turned out to be false alarms and to mitigate the consequences of court action against the government, the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and government agreed on out of court settlement of N120 million for the twelve newspapers affected. This deal was under seal until the trial of the former national security adviser and the cover was blown open. Some of the affected newspapers have distanced themselves from the affairs. Peoples Daily, New Telegraph, the Leadership, Tribune and the Guardian have totally denied any relationship with the money and the leadership of NPAN. The Sun newspaper has returned Nine million naira and promised to pursue the case in court. On the part of Punch newspaper, it has suspended its membership of NPAN.

Mrs Funke Egbemode, the managing director and editor in chief of New Telegraph came out with a statement denouncing the NPAN leadership. Listen to her views on the matter :`Therefore, it is nothing but sheer falsehood for the NPAN president who claimed he received the money on behalf of the association, to have included New Telegraph newspapers as one of the beneficiaries of the funds, which as it has now emerged was disbursed by the former NSA`. On the part of NPAN, the executive secretary Mr. Feyi Smith maintained that it was a collective decision of the body to accept the N120 million compensation from the government and that the meeting was held at Daily Trust office, Abuja on March 17, 2015. Smith further said thus on the resolutions of the meeting :`That each member organization accepts to donate N1 million from the compensation to the association for the upkeep of the secretariat and that members should bring their membership account current, by paying all past dues to the secretariat before collecting their cheques`.

Despite the defence of NPAN leadership and the latter day denial of the newspaper houses affected, the whole scenario is very unfortunate and brings to the mud the reputation of media houses. The logic is that if the highest leadership of the fourth estate of the realm can be compromised, what moral authority has the press to lambast political leaders, public office holders and public figures should they stray from the path of moral rectitude. It is highly unfortunate that members of the fourth estate of realm who are supposed to hold the government accountable to the mass of the people are also swimming in the gutter of corruption and dark corners deals. Even more unfortunate is the conspiracy of silence by senior members of the pen fraternity, those opinion and editorial writers who are always around to pontificate on how society can progress. Today they cannot summon enough courage to criticize the activities of NPAN and those newspaper houses that compromised. The danger is that if the society loses its trust of the mass media, the way some senators have passed a vote of no confidence on the social media, then we are in serious trouble. There are ethical standards which the media houses are supposed to obey and the captains of the industry ought to know better. If it was a collective agreement that media houses affected by the seizure of their newspapers should be so compensated, there was no reason to link that to payment of dues to run the NPAN secretariat. If this slip can be forgiven, how do you explain the non-disbursement of the money to some of the affected newspapers houses? Even more scandalous is the inclusion of a newspaper that was not given a dime and not on the list of the original twelve newspapers that were supposed to benefit from the federal government compensation.

There are many shades of journalism practice round the globe. In the advanced countries of the world, there is a brand of journalism that protects the national interest and security of such countries. That is why the press in UK tried to pull wool over eyes some years ago that a man that was found in the bedroom of the queen was a madman. It is this strand of journalism that CNN and other important media houses would not talk about the ghetto in Washington, the gun violence in America and the assimilation of the Red Indians but would rather focus on Ajegunle and crimes in Lagos. The truth of the matter is that there is no ideal mass media in any part of the world and the advent of the internet and social media is making it more complex. In Nigeria, the journalism varieties are many. We have pepper soup journalism, brown envelop journalism, yellow journalism and even corporate blackmail journalism. But the ethical standards of some journalists are the saving grace. That is why committed members of the pen fraternity should condemn without reservations the mess which the one hundred and twenty thousand naira has put the press. As watch dogs of the society, we should have higher ethical standards and the members of the society should not doubt our commitment in the pursuit of truth and justice to benefit of the society. As the English writer, Geoffrey Chaucer once said that if gold should rust, what would happen to iron. The self imposed duty of the watch dog of the society places the burden of living above board on all journalists. It is not too late to correct this professional transgression.
***Read *Julius Oweh, a journalist, Asaba, Delta State.08037768392.

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