Embedded Journalism Objectivity And National Interests:
Nigerian Journalists Compared With Their America/European Counterparts
Paul I. Adujie
New York, United States
Both Femi Ajayi and Mr. Shola Adenekan, made valid points, even though they reached different conclusions in their discourse and comparisons of Nigerian Media/Journalists with their counterparts in America and Europe; "Perils of adversarial media” and “In defence of the Nigerian media” The Guardian, November19, 2003 and November 27, 2003 respectively. In I984 and 1985, during the heydays of Mr. Idiagbon and Mr. Buhari, Nigerian journalists were vigorously vociferous in their analysis of public policy and the public conduct of Nigerian leaders, and then, Decree Two and Decree Four was slammed on the media, particularly, Decree Four, that saw to the jailing of Messrs Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, Mr. Dele Giwa paid with his life, for his exuberant and vigorous practice of journalism.
During this period, one of my articles appeared in The Nigerian Tribune Newspapers, and it was titled, “Which Way Nigeria” and in it, I protested the Buhari/Idiagbon clampdown on Nigerian journalists through and with the obnoxious Decree Four, that was clearly intended to intimidate, muffle and stifle criticisms directed at those who occupied Doddan Barracks’s Supreme Headquarters at the time.
Additionally, I also protested the retroactive legislations, among which was, the anti-narcotics law, that saw the public execution of about three Nigerians, Bernard Owoh and two others, even though they committed the offenses, before the law was enacted. Nigerian journalists and public commentators are the ones who overthrew the Buhari/Idigbon regime, Babangida was just someone who cashed in on the sour public mood that was prevalent in Nigeria, at the time, the same can be said of an earlier overthrow of Mr. Shagari’s regime, the Nigerian press cried loudly against the wrong-headed policies and corruption of Mr. Shagari’s administration, just as the Nigerian press have done in previous government and as it is doing now, some now, even regret the overthrow of the Buhari/Idiagbon, what is more, the Abacha regime as well.
The Nigerian press has always been vibrant, more vibrant than many of their counterparts in America and Europe, perhaps, Nigerian media is vibrant to a fault! Vibrant during the most repressive regimes, vibrant in the most draconian of legal environments, but the Nigerian press have contributed in no small measure, to progress of the Nigerian nation, more particularly so, to the enthronement of democracy and the new freedoms that all Nigerians currently enjoy and perhaps being taken for granted now?
Not long ago, I wrote an article “Guardian, Guarding Nigerian National Interests” to commend some Nigerian newspapers on the stance, that they adopted regarding certain national policies, I particularly commended the Guardian Editorial Board, for a stand taken on a British policy toward Nigeria. All these are proof of how Nigerian journalists proved their mettle, by publishing opinions of their own and opinions of non-journalists like myself, and the journalists were severely punished for criticizing or practicing their professions via their advocacy of public good; Clearly, Nigerian journalists, take the old axiom, “published the facts, the truth and be damned” “no matter whose ox is gored”
Having said all that, I do not know, now, whether this mode of journalism is practiced anywhere else, but in Nigeria? I am an advocate of press freedom and all other freedoms, but I also strongly believe in the practice of responsible journalism, we can debate national and international issues responsibly, without jeopardizing our national interests, our national security, we cannot pursue press freedom, or any other freedoms, vacuously! The pursuit of freedoms, should not be antithetical to individual and collective safety, national prosperity, progress and greatness; After all, it is said, no freedom is absolute. The American invasion and occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and the so-called war on global terrorism, are cases in point; We are all witnesses to the introduction of the magic word, embedment? Suddenly, journalism is not about reporting the truth and the facts, just the fact ma’am! Journalism of the American and UK-European variety became a matter of national propaganda a la national interests, here lies the point Mr. Femi Ajayi was making….. What is the purpose of the press and what is newsworthy?
Before America and England invaded and occupied Iraq, the American and English journalism went through a retraining of sorts, for several months, they were sent to military barracks, to train or more to the point, to re-learn and unlearn, journalism, in ways consistent with reporting war events, imbued with heavy doses of censorship by and from American and British military top brass and their civilian overlords.
Nigerian journalist presumably criticize public policies, and public officials for national good, no one can doubt their patriotism and goodwill towards all other Nigerians, but, too often, some Nigerians journalist write in the expose mode, or the gotcha mode, some of these journalist write as they are unaware of the national interests at stake. Some journalist write in the tabloid mode as well, they write only about scandalous affairs, they write to titillate people with huge appetite for all types of scandal, and increasingly, we also read articles that are simply just abuses of public officials, but adds nothing useful or new to public discuss or analysis of issues affecting the public good.
Recently, I actually read an article bearing the name of a public official, even though it was actually written by a ‘seasoned’ journalist, the journalist sloppily omitted to append his name or any explanation, to the effect that the article was a parody, until a week later, when he attempted a belated explanation for his hoax and sloppiness. Good practice of journalism, should avoid sensationalism or yellow journalism, good journalist should eschew sectional, ethnic or religious sentiments in their public commentaries on national issues, but these days, public commentaries by Nigerian journalists are beclouded by these ancillary issues, that are of necessity, mutually exclusive with Nigerian national interests, so that these days, you read about the Yoruba press, the Northern press or you read careless reporting that put our nation at enormous risks.
Nigerian press should consciously de-emphasize sectionalism, ethnicity, and all manners of divisionism, all of us, including the media in Nigeria, should accentuate the positive. We should emphasize issues of our mutual and collective benefits, and issues that accentuate our diversities and national unity, but all too frequently these days, we only read of religious and ethnic differences, and why we can never agree on anything! Too many Nigerian journalists, write in the war propaganda mode. President Bush makes secret Thanksgiving visit to Iraq, the American press keeps it a secret until Bush returns to the White House in the USA, Bush and his policies are not liked by every American journalists, but his safety they consider national interest and national security issue, and so, no scoops or expose, reporting his secret trip to Iraq.
Whereas, some Nigerian journalists, in the past, foolishly published information about the Nigerian Armed Forces movements and strategies in Bakkassi, all in the name of press freedom, reporting facts or being plainly objective. If the purpose of good journalism in any country, including Nigeria, is the pursuit of collective national interests, national goal and aspirations to development or greatness, journalism, public discourse and commentaries, must therefore be pursued, while always keeping national interests as the guidepost, we should always keep our national interests in sight.
Despite the US and UK censorship and embedment or filter of news, by American and British journalist in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the so-called war on terror, it is the case that, too many Nigerians still swears by the “objectivity” of BBC and VOA type journalism. The practice of objective journalism while ignoring or becoming oblivious of Nigerian national interests, reminds me of free trade theories and practices, by America and Europe, and what appear to be dogmatic and doctrinaire practice of free market by the Nigerian new converts, that Mr. David Asonye Ihenacho recently described as being more Catholic than the Pope. In his recent article, critical of the free-fall and plummet of the Naira.
Nigerian journalists, just like Nigerian policy formulators, must learn to read between the lines, instead of appearing to swallow, hook, line and sinker, every foreign theories, concepts or precepts, concocted by America and Europe, that frequently amounts to utopian wish lists of what ought to be, as opposed to what really is! There is a mark difference between what is, and what ought to be. Nigerian journalists, Nigerian leaders, and as a matter of fact, all Nigerians, must learn to separate the chaff from the wheat.
There are all types of fine theoretical postulations out there, that are finer only in the pages of books, but are hardly practiced by the originators! Wonderful ideas are wonderful are, frequently just wonderful ideas, that are frequently impracticable in practice, at least, not to the letter and spirit.
Americans and Europeans have shown us, over and over again, all through history, that they can frequently re-define democracy, human rights, free markets, slavery, colonialism and objectivity, when it serves their purposes. Nigeria must practice democracy, human rights, free market, objectivity etc. while remaining singularly focused on Nigeria’s national interests.