Without a doubt, the journalism profession still has men and women of unblemished character; men and women who are beyond reproach: professionals able and capable of holding their end of the stick anywhere in the world. But the number of such men and women are dwindling, they are in the minority. A reliable source within the profession puts the number of such decent and respectable professionals at less than ten percent of today’s practicing journalists. The same source intoned that because journalists are products of the society they live and practice in, it is delusional to expect otherwise.
If that is the case, then, we as a nation are in trouble and are at risk of loosing our humanity. Journalism, along with the Judiciary and the intellectual class, is the soul and the conscience of self-respecting societies. Consequently, if our journalists are corrupt, then, we are in trouble; if our judiciary and the intellectual class are corrupt, then we are in bigger trouble. In the scheme of things, we can afford to hang our politicians, but not our journalists. In yester years, the aforementioned group — journalists, the judiciary and our intellectuals — shined light on our soul and on our dark passage ways.
Maybe what has become of Nigerian journalism shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, journalists who used to rail against government and corrupt practices have now found it expedient to join hands with corrupt governments (more so in the last twenty years). The Nigerian Congress has a dozen of such men — men and women who traded their pens for power and pounds. And in fact, more than a dozen of such men and women have wined and dined in the cafeteria of the Presidency. Anti-corruption crusaders of a time long gone are today apostles of debauchery, mismanagement and abuse of power.
In spite of its occasional fouls, media houses hired mostly the brightest or the most promising. And most who applied to practice the trade had “a calling,” or a deep respect for the craft. But that’s no longer the case; today, most journalists are poorly trained and behave badly. There are those for whom journalism is an afterthought or something they fall into after years of idleness and or criminality. Frankly, it is not unusual to walk off the streets and walk into most of these media outfits and become a journalist. A letter from a well-placed mentor will get you an endorsement to become a member of the press. Thereafter, your NIJ badge allows you to shake down the guilty and the innocent.
And then there are the owners and management of the various Media Houses. Some of the proprietors are themselves of shady character, with dubious means of income and questionable startup capital. It is an open secret that the pay scales of most of these media houses are unconscionable: low pay, late payment, poor benefits and without life insurance. But as depressing as the pay scale is, media houses like ThisDay may go on for months without paying salaries (which accounts for why workers at that station are the most susceptible to underhand and underground practices). Unethical behaviors are rarely frowned upon at “Obaigbena’s world.”
If Thisday is a den of shadiness, the Guardian is a house of hypocrites. For several years now — and in fact ever since it came into existence some twenty-five or so years ago — the paper and its owners have been at the forefront of moralism and pontifism. The paper could do no wrong. As the “flagship of the Nigerian press” and the “Conscience of the Nation,” the Guardian directed successive governments, and the reading public, on how best to govern and live its life. And indeed, for the Guardian folks, it was all about justice and the public good. For quarter of a century, Rutam House was like the
When the Guardian busted the chops of labor, almost no one batted an eye. There was silence! There was a noisy silence in regards to the unjust treatment management meted out to her aggrieved workers. Nobody, it seems, wanted to take on Rutam House; nobody wanted to offend the omnipresent and omnipotent Ibru Family. Even men and women of conscience who generally speaks up and speak out against inequality and iniquities, kept quiet. Disgracefully, even the Editorial Board of most competing media houses kept silent. They didn’t have the courage to take on the Guardian; they didn’t have the audacity to face injustice. They kept quiet and looked away when it mattered most.
Nobody wanted to take on Rutam House; nobody wanted to point accusatory glance at the Guardian even though the Guardian engaged in Soviet-style practices — practices that are beneath human decency. The Guardian did to their former and current employees what draconian governments habitually do to their justice-seeking workers: chop off their heads or asphyxiate them. But here is the irony: if what happened at Rutam House had happened somewhere else, oh heavens, the Nigerian sky would have rained snow.
What happened? First, the Guardian was said to have provided a sweat-shop like workplace environment; second, the paper was said to have underpaid its workers and refusing to give reasonable raises and other deserved benefits; third, management refused to negotiate in good faith; fourth, it fired all those who refused to obey management thereby sending several hundreds into unemployment, poverty and misery; and fifth, the paper refused outside intervention that could amicably settled the matter. Apparently, what is good is good for the Guardian and the Guardian only! Hypocrites!
What Rutam House has demonstrated is that it is very much like most other organization that has been oppressing and exploiting its workers. The Guardian, when it is all said and done, is no better than ThisDay and several other media outlets in the country that’s committed to localize slavery. Several years of meritorious service to the Guardian and its proprietors, and that’s all their workers get? Is this what the Guardian is all about? Throwing her justice-seeking workers to the deep end of the ocean without life-saving jackets? The next time The Guardian editorializes about injustice, shady deals and poor governance, she should not be taken seriously. Nobody should pay attention to hypocrites.