By Substance Nature
“I became a journalist because I did not want to rely on newspapers for information” – Christopher Hitchens
It is called the Fourth Estate of the Realm. This means that after the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary, the next in strategic relevance on the staircase of governance is the press, a loquacious, iridescent megaphone to all other components. Their affinity and association were therefore supposed to be that of partners in progress and cordiality in pursuance of a common goal.
But that does not appear to be the case, or has not been the case, or has not always been the case, especially with regards to independent print-media. Granted, there is no place in the world where the independent press dine and wine unreservedly with the authorities within which they subsist. Hence journalists are usually not without bruises and stubborn scars; nor have the superior authorities no stories to tell. It is only that the situation might be worse at some places than in others. Yet, for what duty and inter-dependability entail, the government and the press cannot exist meaningfully without each other, even though they frequently have a bone to crack in their cat-and-mouse existence.
As you are reading this piece, someone in government is certainly contemplating a court case against a newspaper, or has just won or lost one, or a journalists is in the cell or has just returned or is at his heels because of what he has written, which he should not have written, for which he might eventually be tracked by the State’s smart guys.
I don’t know if it is of credit or discredit to say that Akwa Ibom is said to be ranked next to Lagos as those with the highest number of newspapers in the country. While that of Lagos might be excused because of its vibrant population and multiple opportunities and needs, that of Akwa Ibom simply elicit meditative inquiries: Are the bogus number of newspapers really important? To what extent have they complied with the ethics of the profession and what is the pedigree of their workers? How regular are they? The situation in Akwa Ibom can most appropriately be seen as proliferation madness.
Some newspapers in the state merely exist because their owners were lucky to borrow money to register with the Corporate Affairs Commission; some exist notoriously as political vehicles and tribal weapon of character assassination; and some exist on the adventurous fibres of their owners in the corridor of power and must die the minute someone loses office. Many amongst these would not be at the newstands for a whole year although their owners flaunt the title of newspaper publishers.
Only the deaf and blind might argue to the contrary that the print media in Akwa Ibom has become or is fast becoming a gluttonous pig waddling in its own miasma. It is like an aged big tree in a storm that is struggling for its life on the weight of its wild and straying branches. Some journalists down here take consummate pleasure dipping their hands into the nearest gutter to smear someone’s hard-earned reputation with repulsive stains. Such ones have the magical flame that can instantly cause an inferno that they themselves might even be the first victims.
A journalist and a writer, who must have jumped many security hurdles for awhile now, was unfortunately arrested recently and taken to cell by the plain cloth guys. Days later when he was released on bail I had asked him what really went wrong. “The man said I allegedly stained his image without any proofs. So he unleashed the sniffers of me, but the matter finally had to go to court”. The alibi of “allegedly” or “purportedly” or “supposedly”, which many journalists are wont to adopt in explaining away their risky carelessness and needless hurry in publishing a “hot story” has now become a foster scapegoat. Yet, I’m quick to blame the alleged purported offender for always bypassing the Nigerian Press Council, which statutorily offers first-aid treatment in crisis situations.
How best then do we handle a situation where the authorities or their principals are constantly at loggerhead or in daily battles with the over-curious and daringly reckless journalist in Akwa Ibom State? There have been a thousand clean-up proposals locked up in silver pigeon-holes of stakeholders and regulatory institutions; yet they would only always roar and in the end pamper and watch a bad situation advance to worse under their very nose. These attacks or excesses and stalking may never stop if relevant authorities only always threaten without decisive actions. There will not stop if the journalist is always in a suicidal hurry to strike. They will not stop if both parties habitually flout basic principles of co-existence.
Though it sometimes turned out to be too costly for some, I’m told there was a dangerous but profitable tradition in the past when persistent empty loud noise on both false and true stories attracted high-level negotiations and some sweet dollars to the rabble-rouser. But times have changed! I feel it’s safer we strike a balance between bravery and professional expectations that thrive at the risk of life.
Because it is an all-comers entity, the Akwa Ibom print media – yes, the print media – is helplessly and shamelessly saturated with the best and worst, and the “in-betweens” who have nothing to fear. It is very sad.