Tyranny is brought to ultimate refinement in the news columns; this brings to mind that memorable jest by Norman Mailer that “Once a newspaper touches a story, the facts are lost forever, even to the protagonists.” Journalists are often the butt of the most demeaning jokes and premeditated put-downs in the social arena. Nobody thinks much of a journalist; in the eyes of big business and the ruling class, the journalist – whatever his designation or job title – is the manipulable pawn and necessary evil that has to be courted and tolerated.
The descent and humiliation of the journalist however, begins in the hands of his employer; very few media today are paying fairly. Many are not paying at all and among the few establishments that pay, salaries range from N15, 000 per month at entry level to N70, 000 per month at managerial level. Just three media houses endeavour to pay fairly and across the three; journalists are oft treated as vermin by administrative/human resources and advertising staff. The latter conveniently forget that without the editorial staff, they will be jobless. More worrisomely, in the few newspapers that exist, senior editorial teams collude with administrative staff to maltreat journalists in their employ. While The Nation Newspaper, Punch newspaper and perhaps one or two others may claim exceptionality in this respect, the reality is known to the government, big business, advertisers and general public that the Nigerian journalist is an endangered species, haunted by his employer and tormented by the public he serves. These sad realities lead to daily exodus of skilled and promising hands from journalism and a daily influx of quacks into the profession.
This resonates badly for the Nigerian mob; the nation’s critical mob to be precise. Mob culture requires that he who would adorn the cloak of defender of the masses’ rights should be upright and flawless in character, work and personal ethics. Such admirable traits are rarely attributable to the Nigerian journalist manager and the press in general.
The Nigerian mob, like every other rabble, seeks fulfillment of tyrant fantasies; such fantasies often vary between the destruction of an unpopular government, despot or worn-out civilization. Reality however, affirms the impotence of the Nigerian mob. The latter is continually tamed and kept on a leash by a ruling class that capitalizes on its obvious handicaps: its impulsiveness, insensibility to reason and judgment, poverty of soul and intellect, its irritability and overt sentimentality – which are undeniably characteristic of beings belonging to inferior forms of evolution, like savages and carnivores.
Despites it handicaps, the Nigerian mob conveniently picks on a scapegoat for its infinite timidity and cluelessness: the press. The journalist is expected to serve as the conscience and moral compass of the society, challenging the government and checking the excesses of the ruling class, uncompromisingly and selflessly.
As utopian fantasies go, these are noble expectations of the journalist but the Nigerian mob ignores the cultural shift of the society from conventional morality to unbridled hedonism. It assumes, hypocritically, that the press will continually give it honest and developmental news even as every segment of the society strive to unmoor the journalist from his role as a crucial appendage of the nation’s critical mob. The public, comprising big business, the government, and civil societies among other mob segments, vilify any journalist or news medium that seeks to educate and engage rather than entertain and perpetuate their biased definitions of reality.
Contemporary Nigeria embraces the emotional pageant that has turned news into paid publicity and mindless entertainment and the journalist in response kowtows to lusts and vanities of modern society. Beneath the mindless glamour and cultural decline however, an insidious reality festers in the death of hope and incandescence of tragedy. Prevalent socioeconomic tragedies necessitate the emergence and elevation among the citizenry of the bungling and sadistic, and the beginning of a differentiation cum tyranny of social grades.
At the centre of the turmoil is the journalist whose fate is so critically bound with the country’s but he obviously does not know that hence the cluelessness, treachery and brazen recklessness that characterizes his work. Consequently, the Nigerian journalist manifests as an accident to society. He perpetually loses his grasp of the issues at stake; fundamentally hollow and benumbed to valor, he shamelessly resigns to the powers that be, blaming the tyranny of the ruling class and the proverbial ‘system’ for his inability to fulfill his professional and moral obligations to the society.
Rather than pose a challenge to the system that domesticates and enslaves him, he chooses the easiest way out and plays junkyard dog to tyrant cabals and the predatory bunch constituting the nation’s ruling class. 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 leader-writers’ polemics in foremost newspapers’ columns.
The contemporary journalist trades in all manners of truths, deploying sophistry and shades of impressive fallacies in the interest of whatever social divide fulfills his lust for relevance and survival. I am a journalist and I shamefully acknowledge that my clan and I hardly epitomize hope to our world. Not yet. Rarely does our work signify hope, self-sacrifice or a promise of future honesty and gallantry in the interest of all. We can blame the society and advance all forms of isms and ostentatious arguments to justify our descent the steep slope of amorality and socioeconomic expediency; it wouldn’t excuse our treachery to our calling and the Nigerian citizenry.
If Nigeria chooses to exist as a land of savages, it’s our responsibility to nudge her back on to the path of humanity and progress – for only in such clime can we positively evolve and prosper. Our failure as journalists indicates severance from a progressive and moral culture while we institutionalize bigotry, lies, depravity, base sentimentality and pitiful fantasies.
The traditional, conscientious journalist is going extinct today along with true, dependable news culture because Nigeria obsesses and migrates to the pseudo-reality of the internet and reality shows. It is no doubt ironical that the masses would turn around to blame the press for not fulfilling its roles to the society.
The only profiteers from the status quo are those skilled in the art of manipulation but this despicable band can rarely function without the support of the journalist hence the urgent need for the Nigerian press to retrace his steps. Journalism will thrive and Nigeria will prosper if we neglect the culture of the news spectacle to focus on progressive pursuits, like development and socially responsible journalism.
It’s about time we stopped narrowing the debates and spotlight to the shenanigans and petty differences of the ruling class and instead aspire to serve as a true voice to the voiceless. There is no magical antidote to our decline and death as a crucial part of the nation’s critical mob.
Real progress will manifest in the country when we start demanding that the ruling class march in virtual lockstep with promises they make. Whatever the tone and dialect of intellectualization that characterizes our news culture, posterity will judge us by how truthfully we fulfill our roles as conscience and watchdog of the society.