The Sun News

Journalists and public office (2)

The issue of journalism, journalists and societal development has always been a very important issue even though a contentious matter since civilization began. Nobody likes to be exposed, it is partly for this reason that men have continued to question the place and role of the media in the affairs of society. America, our own model of democracy, has had her fair share of the questionings associated with the relevance of the press in a modern society. The contention was such that one of the presidents, Thomas Jefferson, was inspired to say, “If I were to choose between government without newspaper or newspaper without government, I should not hesitate to choose the latter.” Jefferson’s position is unassailable; it must have been borne out of both deep knowledge and experience because Jefferson was there at the beginning of modern America. He saw the struggles and conflicts, products of man’s greed and sometimes myopic pursuits.

The long military experience in public governance in our country has no doubt left us with some many hangovers and aberrations. The unfortunate thing about the whole development is that many of us, including the enlightened, have taken these misconceptions as the right principle for governance. For this reason, our priorities are wrong and it has caused us to continue to stumble from one silly mistake to another. In a democracy we place emphasis on state security and talk about patriotism as if it is an article that drops from heaven when at a time the focus should be on greater freedom which would naturally enhance equality and in turn lead to greater contributions and productivity. The end product would then be patriotism because at this point citizens can see both tangible and intangible reasons to want to live sacrificially for one another and for the nation as a nation-state.

Journalists in public offices are called up to project and defend their benefactors and the institutions they serve, that is their first job assignment and every perceptive citizen ought to know that. So when they defend their masters and their agencies, there is nothing wrong with that but everything is wrong with it when the inputs and interventions are executed on the platform of crude subservience, sycophancy, deceit and of course, limited knowledge. Many journalists in public offices equate patriotism with total support for the principal and the institution they have been invited to serve but Theodore Roosevelt, one time president of America, gave the right position when he said, “patriotism means to stand with the country. It does not mean to stand with the president.” I agree and I know that is what it should be. I have been in power long enough to know the challenges before the journalist in power. It ranges from a general misconception of his job description and rating. Everybody knows the job syndrome to the more critical expectation that he should be in a position to make all media organs compliant to the wishes and desires of his principal and his institution.

I know the hell they pass through when negative commentaries are made against the principal or the institution they lead. It can be traumatizing but again it is at this point that the test of professionalism is proved or put on display, it is a time to teach non-professionals in high public positions what they don’t know and the attitude should be if they knew all, there would not have been need to employ the information manager in the first place. This takes me to the crucial point which is the reason I am doing today’s article to highlight crucial mistakes journalists in power make and hope institutions in charge of journalism practice would take notice for possible rectifications. Under pressure and misplaced reactions provoked mainly by ignorance, the journalist in power buckles and begins to give all manner of undignified prescriptions including the assurance that the press can be caged and made to be over friendly, and that negative reports can be prevented for all time once huge sums of money exchange hands.

This approach is not only unprofessional, it is dishonest and deceiving. It is one of the practices that have done the journalist and the practice terrible disservice. It has gone on a long way to damage the image of the journalist and practice of the profession especially at the level of managing information for public interest. Our information managers are even not in a position to efficiently execute the task they have been called to solve because of poor and negative attitude. Most of them, once appointed, cut off from their source, they hardly would visit their offices let alone spare time to put phone calls across to colleagues. At the macro level they cut relations with their colleagues and become extremely selective on whom to see or not to see. I read some of my colleagues who have had the privilege to serve in public offices criticize the way the successive ones handle matters and their colleagues. Some of the times I cannot help but laugh and wonder what a world of hypocrisy we have created for ourselves. Some of them in office were far busier than their principals all the time and they had very complicated process of reaching them. I have experienced those who have a rule that you don’t have to see them, that is if you are lucky to have their numbers all you need do is to send them a text message which would take eternity to receive a reply that has little or no relevance to the issue at hand. 

In some other instances, there is this thinking that every visit by journalist to public offices connotes search for money. Today our nation is under reported because for correspondents the fear of state chief executives is the beginning of wisdom. All these and more blur the journalist from professionally playing his role but they are not issues that are beyond redemption and this is where the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) have their tasks cut out for them. They should identify such matters and come up with ways to solve them. On my own I recommend regular seminars targeted on such issues and especially induction courses for new appointees into public offices. It would also be nice if NUJ and NGE can interact with heads of journalism institutions and departments with a view to tinker with the curriculum to be able to take care of some of the new developments in the art and practice of the journalism in the field.

In all, it is time the journalist knows that when in public office he has a dual role to play to educate his principal and members of his institution on how the media works, to tell them the truth about the state of things and the public expectations and to publicize his master and his activities with zeal, and to defend him in the most reasonable and intelligent way. It is a misnomer to act as a bully and use invectives to win him more enemies. The image manager is a peace maker and harmony creator. I just hope we can improve on what we do.




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June 2018
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