Nigeria Matters

Amaechi’s Jet and Death of the Nigerian Newspaper

Central to permutations and the uncertainty surrounding the

presidential elections next year is the role of the press, especially those of

us in the print medium. We are a crucial arm of the fourth estate of the realm

and what makes us unique is the envelope that history hands to us long after we

are no longer there as journalists. It

is said that some of our colleagues

working in the audio and visual departments do not have the kind of

cerebral impetus ascribable to us pen pushers, and that perhaps is the reason

we are sometimes aloof, askance and seem to operate solely, and sometimes only

from a couch. We desperately court the attention of external aficionados who know

that most of us who write, write mostly because we want to educate, entertain

and inform. For most writers, this order

is reversed. Some are interested in the information first, the education next

and the entertainment last of all. Yet others are only there to be the ultimate

iconoclasts. To this end, most people see us as harsh, critical and unfair.

They also tell us that we are unable to accept the kind of unfair criticism and

biting sarcasm that we direct at others.

Most of us do not mind being at the other end of the

spectrum. We do not mind because if a true journalist is desirous of collecting

a generous envelope from history as reward for professionalism and ethical

conduct, he must be balanced and objective almost to a fault. Pundits argue

that there is a thin line separating subjectivity and objectivity with

reportage, and balance or imbalance in the way a news and its writing is

handled. I agree entirely and to put the matter in some perspective, I would

like to cite an example or two before we examine what has been happening

recently in our country.

Simply put, I am objective as a reporter if I do not allow my

emotions guide my reportage. I report the news looking at seven well known

parametres that journalism 101 has recommended. I want to look at the impact or

consequence of the event, its timeliness, the kind of people involved in the

event and whether or not it involves a

great number of people. If there are auspicious people involved with my

reportage, I would immediately call to mind a quip by Shakespeare that that

which great people do the less would prattle. Therefore, I would be looking at

whether or not what these great or big or successful or public figures would do

would lead to or has led to any kind of conflict of interest, of personality or

of issues.

Any responsible reporter, and who knows his onions would want

to balance his story against the tide of any perceived interest or those that

appear conflicting. He has heard from this side, and decorum beckons on him to

hear from the other side. He goes the hog, and tries to give the other party a

chance to respond to issues that are likely to cause him to be accused of bias.

What he should do in this wise is to put a call through to the party in

question. In most cases and because of the tightness of the schedules in the

business of reportage, it is almost impossible to get at the party in question,

and even if the reporter gets at that party, the party in question most of the

time as well may not be prepared to give a response. Therefore what the

reporter does is that in filing his story, he makes provision in his story for

the effort he made to get a response from the other party for the benefit of

his readership. One very good example of that kind of fairness and balance in

reporting a story played out in John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief.

But most Nigerian newspapers do not do this. Most of the

stories we read today about topical issues are so biased and so one-sided that

they look like the personal opinions of the reporter. Worse is that they look

like scripts written for or by one side and paid for to be published. For

instance, consider the rubbish that an esteemed magazine like The Economist of

May 10th – 16th JUNE did

on Nigeria (on page 30). Its title, A

Clueless government and its puerile verbiage gave it away as nothing more than a script written by persons who

do like the government, and who may have paid The Economist to get that rubbish published. Nowhere in that

verbiage did one read a rebuttal or response from the traduced. In one of my

articles, NIGERIAN JOURNALISM HEAL THYSELF, and published by Daily Independent

and, I

said that nothing is more dangerous than a compromised journalist if that is

the case with our papers, and even with those over the seas copying instances

of mediocrity that take place here.

Opinion writing is a stark contrast with raw reportage. Opinion

writing is basically from the heart and emotion-laden, while newspaper reports,

and in particular, features and investigative reports should be from the head and

based on cold hard facts on the ground. The

recent reports concerning Governor Amaechi’s plane which was allegedly

‘imprisoned’ at the Kano Airport is a bad case bad reportage. It is equally

irresponsible because many of the papers that carried the story did not bother

to check with the other party to get its own perspective on the so-called

‘imprisonment’. If newspapers continue to do this and appear partisan in their

reportage, we would find out that we become compromised and exposed to be used

and bombed. If that is the case, the envelope we would have received is the one

from those who are helping to dig the grave of the journalist when the

newspaper eventually dies.

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