By Babatunde Jose
The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny. – Wole Soyinka
When the public’s right to know is threatened,
and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk,
all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered. – Christopher Dodd
The Press is the last leg of the quadrilateral called the Devil’s Rectangle; although it was intended to be a “watchdog” for the country and the last bastion of vox populi, with its functions spelt out in the Constitution, it has had difficulty fulfilling that role due to the demands of the various competing special interest groups.
“Anywhere in the world, the press has always been involved in politics, formation of public opinion, perception of images of candidates for political offices, the definition of social reality and social norms, the education, information, enlightenment and entertainment of the public, as well as the presentation and clarification of issues, values, goals and changes in culture and society.” (Lazarsfeld, P., Berelson, B., & Gaudet, H. The People’s Choice: How the Voter Makes up His Mind in a Presidential Campaign. Columbia University Press. 1948).
At various times, the press can champion causes dear to the people and even act as the vanguard of the people’s revolution. The press can be many things, for it is first and foremost a tool in the hands of it user.
Rather than singing a melody of restraint on the excesses of the political class, the Nigerian press as presently constituted has become Babel. Henry Ward Beecher said that: “The pen is the tongue of the hand; a silent utterer of words for the eye”…Our brother Akogun Tola Adeniyi listed the press among the perpetrators of the ‘culture of silence’ in Nigeria political space. “I have critically examined the factors that had kept Nigeria on her knees for this long and I have concluded that the timidity of our people, the fear in raising a voice in the face of severest oppression and deprivation and the loss of self-esteem ranked the highest in the scale of culprits.” He went on to say: “With our eyes wide open we allowed rogues, ruffians and charlatans to dictate how our lives would be run and governed. Thieves of various shades and sizes seized our common patrimony and we applauded them in mosques and churches even as they non-challantly rape all of us with unprecedented impunity.” There is no iota of doubt; the complicity of the Nigerian press is responsible for this sad state of affairs.
Journalism has become a cash and carry industry and unlike our revered journalists of old, today’s members of the press are in it for their getonity rather than for the good of the people. The press is in dalliance with the First and Second Estate of the Realm and there are no more watchdogs to hold the Executive and Legislature accountable. In a profession where revered doyens of the profession such a Uncle Sam have not changed his residence from Anthony Village in over four decades, or late Allah De who lived in his Anjorin Street, Surulere abode till he died, our modern day Press Barons live and hobnob with the powers that be in Asokoro, Parkview and the like. Many even ride exotic cars which were once the exclusive preserve of captains of commerce and industry: All these, from proceeds of political blackmail; ‘his master’s voice’ and running of stories favourable to the establishment. The Nigerian press has become an enemy of the Nigerian people. They eulogise and celebrate plunderers of our patrimony, offer spurious defence for pen-robbers who presumably have paid tithes at the altar of the press lords; they justify high-wire corruption and chastise the government for going after their corrupt pipers. Imagine the quantum of monies doled out to them through their so-called representatives during the last ‘gold rush’ under the embattled National Security Adviser. And it is possible the sponsors of national discord are still paying. To all intents and purposes, most of our celebrated journalists have gone rogue. The Joses, Odunewus, Enahoros would be turning in their graves.
Those members of the profession who fought on the barricades in the NADECO years or the ‘war against corruption in the terminal stage of the Gowon regime; will be looking at this period with shame. This is not the press they bequeathed to us. Today, there are no more ombudsmen, investigative reporters, no diligent expose, no in-depth analysis of issues and no crack team of guerrilla journalists: Welcome to the age of pre-paid stories and reports!
Even in the age of online newspapers, many are poorly managed and sloppy in rendition with monumental mistakes that would shame a fresh student of NIJ. Headlines are routinely cast with mediocrity; the age-old sub editing of stories is a thing of the past and pictures don’t often match the stories and often at times wrongly captioned. Poor site administrators; they repeat dead stories which often nauseate readers.
The Audited Circulation of all the newspapers today is not up to the circulation of the old Lagos Weekend in the 70s. In the 1970s the Daily Times dominated the Nigerian publishing industry with 13 related papers and magazines. By 1975 the Daily Times had grown to a circulation of 275,000 copies while the Sunday Times reached 400,000. No other Nigerian newspaper has achieved such levels apart from MKO Abiola’s Daily Concord in the early 1990s which chalked up 100,000. At that time, when the press talk, people listen. They were communicating; that dyadic relationship was maintained. Today, like William Hachten wrote in his epic book, ‘Muffled Drums; The News Media in Africa, ‘when the communicator no longer reaches the audience, then nobody is talking’.
The decline in newspaper circulation is a worldwide phenomenon not peculiar to this clime. Some of the falls have been spectacular. In the UK the Daily Mirror has suffered a sales plunge from 2,777,501 to 562,000; the paper once did 5,000,000. The best-selling daily, the Sun, dropped to 1,450,000, from 3,500,000.
Again, it is clear that as individualism became more prevalent in society, certainly by the 1990s, the old forms of broadcasting media began to break up, allowing people wide choice of TV and radio and, eventually, infinite choice through the computer terminal.
With circulation of newspapers at an abysmal level and a general dearth of newsmagazines on the newsstand people are getting less informed and the space which was once occupied by the traditional press has been usurped by the iniquitous ‘social media’; a medium worse than what late Chris Okotie of Newbreed termed ‘witchcraft journalism’; purveyors of outlandish fake news, photoshopped illustrations, misrepresentation of facts including outright fabrications and posting of irrelevant stories; not to talk of propaganda of Goebellian proportion. Unfortunately, otherwise rational and intelligent social media users are taken in and swallow the gibberish hook line and sinker; turning them into educated illiterates overnight.
The overwhelming majority of journalists believe the internet is to blame for the dwindling fortune of the printed media, plus the growing availability of information through mobile phones. That, at least, makes sense. But it cannot be the definitive reason because the gradual, but inexorable, circulation decline predated the widespread use of the net through the extension of broadband.
Over the past decade there has been an observable drop in the quality of the Nigerian popular press, which has adopted the worst features of the London tabloids: Enormous headlines, the systematic quest for scandal, stories invented from start to finish and flagrant attacks on people’s person and privacy. Today, many of the dramatis personae in the orgy of yellow journalism have closed shop and litter the dustbin of history.
Ownership of the mass media in Nigeria tends to determine how they are used for political communications in the country. Other factors, such as ethnicity, religion, literacy, language of communication, legal limitations, political and socio-economic conditions, are also considered. However, the fact of ownership is not only the key which determines how the mass media are used for molding the citizen’s perception of political reality in the country, but that it is also a more precise means of understanding and investigating the role of the press in political stability or instability, national integration or disintegration.
We might conclude that as Nigeria approaches another crossroad in its march for sustained democracy in socio-economic conditions which are less propitious, there is a need for the Nigerian mass media to operate in a way which contributes to national integration: That is if they are not already compromised.
Subhana Rabbika Rabbil ‘izzati ‘amma yasifun. Wa salamun ‘alal-Mursalin. Wal hamdu lillahi Rabbil ‘alamun. “Thy Lord is Holy and clear of all that is alleged against Him (by the non-believers); and He is Exalted. May God’s blessing be upon all Messengers. All praise truly belongs to Allah Who is the Sustainer of all the worlds.”
Barka Juma’at and Happy weekend