The most egregious lie Nigerians may cuddle is that our collective fate as a nation is independent of the press. If journalism dies, Nigeria dies. Good journalism to be precise.
Now, you may define and paint ‘good journalism’ in whatever fancy hue appeals to you but if your definition perpetually highlights the press as a mongrel to your ogre, you are part of the elements whose deviousness has triggered a flurry of conflict and crime, death and disillusionment across the country.
Disenchantment with the status quo: economic depression, power failure, and persistent insecurity, – to mention a few – all caused by a mediocre leadership, its criminal negligence, and corruption by its patron-oligarchs, has triggered dissent and revolutionary cries among political segments across the country.
As Nigeria marks its 60th independence anniversary today, for instance, certain civil society groups have resolved to march in protest against the government’s perceived failures.
Of course, the press has taken sides. The ‘foremost’ media, ‘owned’ by politicians, understand the clamour as a necessary performance of will by the disgruntled citizenry. They also know that many dissenters will retire home to cuddle familiar grief while their leaders cut a deal with the predatory oligarchs – as usual.
In ideal circumstances, the press would side with the truth. But to do this, the journalist must emerge unsullied in practice and endowed with unimpeachable character. This is impossible where he is kept hungry and morally bankrupt.
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The journalistic cult of poverty has a supreme theme; the morally-deficient journalist. This theme is pitifully projected by government and big business, using ‘hungry,’ domesticated journalists as courtiers, within and outside the corridors of power.
Courtiers’ truths are always dubious and never heartfelt. They wander in logic and polemic, like untamed gypsies, burnishing a world they ought to serve as bastions of love with hate.
Of course, there are the ethicists who are never compromised by greed and lack of pride – they will not serve on any governor or president’s propaganda train. But they comprise a negligible few.
Nigeria devalues her press; in the eyes of big business and the ruling class, the journalist is the manipulable pawn, the necessary evil that must be courted, tamed, tolerated, or ‘put down.’
Media salaries are atrocious and this has led to the metamorphosis of the journalist into a sell-out and a courtier, that neither defies nor question the excesses of government and the corporate business sector.
The latter, in return, let him into their ‘inner circle.’ Even so, he would never amount to much; he dies in name and repute, several times before his actual death.
No class of courtiers, from the eunuchs behind the Manchus in the 19th century to the Baghdad caliphs of the Abbasid caliphate, has ever transformed itself into a responsible, socially productive class.
Courtiers are hedonists of power, argues Hedges. And this truth resonates jarringly by Nigerian journalists serving as courtiers to the ruling class. The manifestations are severe for the larger society.
Courtier journalism ennobles and protects mass murderers, treasury looters, armed robbers, warmongers, bigots comprising the incumbent oligarchs. It is understandable that the ramification of a looted public fund often manifests in mass deaths on a bad road to which the funding ought to have been committed or carnage between neighbouring villages duelling over communal wells or fast vanishing estuaries.
Thus courtiers, like their principals, are responsible for mass ‘murders.’ The menace extends beyond the newsroom on to the corridors of power; several governors, lawmakers, and even the president may pretend to serve the public while they are courtiers, serving the whims of tribal cabals, foreign governments, and corporations.
At the centre of the turmoil is the journalist whose fate is so critically bound with the country’s but rather than pose a challenge to the system that domesticates and enslaves him, he chooses the easiest way out, and serves the corporate cabals and predatory oligarchs, for a token.
Occasionally, he assumes the role of a poseur and pretends to fight for the interest of the public. This sad charade is continually perpetuated across esteemed writers’ polemics in foremost newspaper columns.
The compromised journalist trades in all manners of truth, deploying sophistry and impressive fallacies in the interest of whatever social divide fulfill his lust for relevance and economic survival.
If Nigeria chooses to exist as a land of savages, it’s the press’ responsibility to nudge her back on to the path of humaneness and progress. Our failure as journalists indicates severance from a progressive, moral culture.
The traditional, conscientious journalist is going extinct today along with a dependable news culture because Nigeria embraces the pseudo-reality of the internet and reality shows. It is no doubt ironic that the masses would turn around to blame the press for not fulfilling its roles in society.
It’s about time we stopped narrowing the debates and spotlight to the shenanigans and petty differences of the ruling class and instead serve as a true voice of the voiceless. Real progress will manifest in the country when we start demanding that the ruling class march in virtual lock-step with promises they make. Whatever the tone and dialect of intellectualism that characterizes our news culture, posterity will judge us by how truthfully we fulfill our roles as the conscience and watchdog of the society.
For the traditional press, the goal must be to evolve a journalism business model sustainable via readership; this will be achieved through print unit sales, paid subscription, content contribution, and ingenious forms of audience engagement.
‘Short, punchy and brief’ is hardly the future of journalism; oftentimes you will find that its chief advocates are quacks seeking the dumbing-down of journalism to cover their inadequacies.
Even the global press is aware that the problem is hardly the traditional press but the increasingly mindless, critical, dumb, savage society that the press serves.
The Nigerian press must begin to stimulate radical, progressive debates about power structures, laws, privileges, industry, and justice, and thus signal the end of an outdated culture designed to serve corrupt sentimentality and power structures.
So doing, journalism may regain trust and Nigeria can see the overall story that is being told, the problems that are being highlighted, and the practical solutions to identified issues – while balancing the costs of such practice against the reality of new media and a severely commercialised media industry.
We have more questions to contend with as journalists: How can long-form journalism operate a business model attuned to the precepts of new media? Should the Nigerian newsroom be funded by non-profits?
Many have expressed fears over the downsides of NGO-funded journalism yet its beneficiaries have fulfilled crucial roles continually jettisoned by the traditional press.
Lest we forget those journalists, who, having reinvented themselves as online publishers and ‘journalist trainers’ continually badmouth their former platforms for sport and to score cheap points as new hippies on the block. They must understand that the media’s fate is bound across all platforms and that neither journalism nor Nigeria’s future is digital.
If it doesn’t ennoble the citizenry; if it doesn’t expose the corrupt, and divest society of its tumourous burdens, it is not journalism.
The future isn’t digital. The future is humane. It is ethical.