Dissecting The ‘Dea(r)th’ Of Journalism In Nigeria By Oladeinde Olawoyin

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Oladeinde Olawoyin 

 



Central to the stability of any society’s democracy is a strong and non-partisan media system. As a matter of fact, so crucial to the growth and development of the society is the media that it is considered the fourth estate of the realm, a clear pointer to its importance as the watchdog of the society.

Like it is in most developed democracies of the world, the Nigerian media played a very crucial role in the democratic journey of the nation. The media particularly the print media worked assiduously to ensure that our democratic ethoses are protected and sustained, particularly at critical junctures of our national life.
In recent time, however, there have been attacks on the media (or more appropriately, the journalism profession), especially due to the influx of untrained charlatans into the profession. Many people, mostly out of ignorance, have even proclaimed that ‘genuine’ journalism practice is dead in Nigeria.
As a journalist, few things rile me like that annoying, almost hackneyed assumption that journalism practice is dead in Nigeria. But what riles me more is that those who terrorize us with this clichéd balderdash, this end product of indiscriminate generalization, are mostly people who know little or nothing about the modus operandi of the (Nigerian) media.
In recent time and methinks this is not unconnected with the popularity of the social media, no profession has come under serious attack, public scrutiny and a fusillade of destructive criticisms, like journalism. The attacks have continued to come from different directions: from a herd of misguided bloggers; from an unrepentantly rapacious political class; from eternal armchair critics, among whom are public intellectuals whose only stock in trade is to criticize without proffering solutions to issues; and lately, from some members of the public who advertise their ignorance without looking at the bigger picture. The general assumption has been that journalists in the Nigerian media don’t do anything anymore; they are lazy folks who simply surf the internet and embark on copy-and-paste journalism.
This thesis isn’t entirely untrue, but it is not the entire truth.
For me, few professions are as hazardous as Journalism. And there is an ironical twist to the whole thing: the journalism profession, sadly, is one that doesn’t guarantee that you’d be able to pay your bills at the end of the month. What, however, keeps a lot of journalists going is the passion for the job, and of course, the desire to serve humanity. But again, the journalist is a human being, after all. And it would amount to rubbing salt on injury if all the journalist harvests from his humanitarian gestures is scorn, contempt, condemnation and destructive criticisms.
To be sure, there are so many critical issues that need to be addressed within the journalism circle: developmental issues revolving around the friction between the new and conventional media; the copy-and-paste tradition a few otherwise reputable media outfits are gradually embracing; the urgent need to contain the activities of those ubiquitous internet rats denting the image of the profession; the need to excoriate those who engage in unethical practices with reckless abandon, among other critical issues.  For, these and other issues, have dealt a big blow on the integrity of this noble profession, the simple reason why those who can’t even spell “journalism” would be the first to scream on top of their voices that journalism is dead in Nigeria.
But again, arriving at sweeping generalizations simply by drawing inferences from the above-mentioned issues without doing a critical dissection of the issues behind the issues would amount to ignoring and undermining the efforts of so many courageous, fearless, sagacious journalists who are digging deep into issues we choose to forget, journalists putting their lives on the line in the discharge of their duties everyday. And these journalists are legion.
Sometime ago, an Akure-based friend of mine, the Ondo state correspondent of a media outfit, sent me a message, requesting that I prayed for him. He was on a story, a murder incidence that occurred in one of the riverine communities around the Ilaje-ese odo axis of the state. He would later regale me with tales of how he had been harassed by crooks fingered as suspects in the case, with some threatening to throw him into the river if he didnt back out. I was touched; but I was equally infuriated by the thought that my friend is, in the estimation of the fusillade-throwing crowd, one of those lazy journalists who only rely on copy-and-paste materials.
Now, as a student-journalist, I know how tasking it is to cover simple, everyday news reports, even if you are on a regular beat. And it is painful when you sacrifice all these and people throw generalizations around generalizations that reek of sheer ignorance. Myself and a couple of my colleagues have several heart-rending tales to tell as journalists-in-training, even in our news reporting days in school. I know of colleagues who were beaten black and blue while covering events. Akanfe Iwo, a friend, was almost lynched while on an assignment around Lanlate town, circa 2008. Another friend was imprisoned while carrying out a photojournalism assignment at the crowded Oke-ola area of Eruwa, circa 2007. And we were ordinary student-journalists!
Besides, from a broader perspective, have those throwing invectives really dissected the dynamics of the politico-cultural environment within which the Nigerian journalist is forced to work? Or can the journalist operate in isolation outside of the dynamics prevalent around his immediate environment? Do they know how frustrating it is to source for information in a nation like Nigeria? Do they know how miserable it is to survive as a journalist in Nigeria? Do they know there are journalists who aren’t paid their monthly stipend for months, yet, against all odds, they file in reports and embark on dangerous assignments everyday? Do they know how poorly equipped some journalists are?
These are fundamental issues people choose to ignore, or, as I suspect, are ignorant of. 
And even at that, I have friends pereginating the length and breadth of Nigeria, sourcing for news everyday, putting their lives on the line. I know of journalists working with 19th century equipment, saddled with enormous responsibilities that demand the use of 21st century gadgets. I know of folks working in some parts of the North-east, the hotbed of insurgency, with no insurance package in place for them.
The fact is, without holding brief for the lazy ones among Nigerian journalists, there is more to the seeming complacency of the Nigerian journalist than meets the eye. Of course, until these fundamental issues are addressed, these annoying pontifications about the dea(r)th of good Journalism will continue to remain what they are: sheer baloney!
Oladeinde Olawoyin is of the Mass Communication department, University of Ilorin.

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