There is…need for an active journalism welfare scheme in Nigeria, separate from what the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) is doing; a scheme that not only sees to the remuneration of journalists but also protects the rights and privileges of journalists. This scheme should cater for professional practicing journalists across the country and help in providing succor in tough economic situations.
Over the years, there has never been a more criticised profession like journalism. At a point, some section of the critics wondered if journalism should be regarded as a profession at all, and this was due to the proliferation of many ‘unprofessional’ journalists who found home in the industry on the basis of sheer ‘talent’, usually couched in terms of: “I can write or talk well too, so why not!”, and a quest for relevance and fame. Other well-meaning critics wondered if journalism had any standards of assessment at all, like many other notable professions. For instance, what really makes a piece of information news? At what point should it be said that a journalist has overstepped acceptable bounds? Is there even a license for practice? Also, some very mean-spirited critics, who have considered journalism an all-comers affair, argue that journalists don’t deserve their pay as their task of information dissemination is easy and can be carried out by just about anybody. In all of these, some facts resonate: first, that a lot of people believe that journalism is not a ‘professional’ profession; second, that journalism as it is today has no gates or standards of assessment for potential practitioners to be accepted into the fold; and finally, that the work that journalists do is easy and shouldn’t be that priced for any reason.
Before addressing the truth in these observations, let me debunk the lies contained in them. First, by all standards, journalism is one of the prime professions in the world. Journalists have conducted themselves for a long time in a way that has earned their occupation the title of being “fourth estate of the realm”. Ideally, the profession is for trained journalists and there are courses in the University that attest to this fact. However, the discipline is such a large corporation that it accepts talents and skill specifications that may have nothing to do with writing or speaking. These include people mostly engaged in behind-the-scenes production of content and its packaging. Also, there are a number of regulatory bodies that act as gates and/or checks and balances to journalists. There are ethics of practicing journalism that when breached may spell severe punishment for the journalist. This means that there are factors that make news news! Again, journalism is one of the most demanding professions in the world. Contrary to popular opinion, journalism is not merely about sitting down and writing or talking, it involves countless sleepless nights dedicated to quality research; it is in-depth investigation of stories that are deemed ‘taboo’ but of which the journalist has seen the overarching benefit for society; it is asking the tough questions that more often than not make these journalists easy targets for needless and unwanted troubles; it is putting one’s needs behind in the quest to see a better society. As journalist Katherine Graham puts it, “News is what someone wants suppressed. Everything else is advertising. The power is to set the agenda. What we print and what we don’t print matter a lot.” The anchor for the practice of journalism over the years has always been an undying passion to see people get what they deserve, to see society move forward, to see perpetrators of crimes brought to book and to see justice served; to deliver stories that can positively transform the life of the average citizen. Understanding that the pen is mightier than the sword, journalists everywhere have become bridges for citizens to have better societies. As such, journalism is not easy and a journalist is worth every kobo valued at.
On the other hand, while some of these arguments are demeaning and disrespectful to the journalist, the truth in the observations are some of the challenges bedeviling journalism everywhere in the world, most especially with the advent of new media technologies like social media, which have turned numerous people into ‘journalists’ by default. However, a local popular proverb has surmised that, “you don’t throw a baby out with the bath water in a fit of madness.” The fact is that these observations are common to all professions, just like we have fake doctors, sly lawyers, etc. This is why there should be a stronger regulation to see that quacks don’t mix with the thoroughbreds.
Somehow, especially in Nigeria, it appears that journalism is losing its regard, particularly amongst people in the industry. This would explain why a journalist will be owed salaries in the first place; why, like an open secret, a journalist’s ID card is deployed as means of accessing funds, as central to the brown envelop syndrome – a menace threatening to taint the image of the noble profession. And this is not to talk about the welfare treatment of journalists in most media houses, as they are easily considered dispensable tools in the hands of employers. The question now is: If media organisations would not price their trade in dignified manners, why should the average person in the street who does not understand all the intricacies involved in media practice, have better regard for the profession? It is “as you lay your bed that you lie on it,” an ageless proverb that has opened even the most slothful eyes to see that there is dignity in labour and every labourer deserves their wage. Thus, media employers who are champions of a profession that regards objectivity, accuracy and truth as uncompromisable, should themselves objectively deal with their employers to make sure that hard work is always rewarded. There is no pride whatsoever in a journalist being owed his wage for months without remuneration; there is no joy whatsoever, in journalists having to bend or tilt a story because of the ‘PR’ that the story source might give. There is something media employers should note: it is in the proper treatment of their staff that growth is achieved. If staff are not treated right, they would not deliver right. More so, when staff members are not properly cared for, their hands are inadvertently push towards coping mechanisms that will end up tarnishing the image of the organisation and media profession at large.
Again, there is the pathetic way some journalists carry themselves as if wearing the invisible label of being “beggars”. Most times, may be for the pressing reason of biting economic realities, one see journalists gatecrashing into events and expecting to be given ‘PR’ consequent upon such intrusion. One is not against journalists covering events considered newsworthy, why would they expect their news sources to pay them for doing such? And in the end, they constitute nuisances, and make a mess of themselves and the profession at large. Then, critics will be emboldened to say: “These journalists will never change. They are perpetually hungry people!” And can anyone blame them for the ‘curse’ brought upon themselves? No! I understand the concept of the commercialisation of news, which I think was a helpmeet created to weather economic storms, particularly in countries with developing media. However, how does one expect that the facts of a story would ever be published when it has been paid for to be written?Journalists need to learn to carry themselves with a lot of regard and dignity; the media is the future of the world and practitioners should act as such.
Moreover, there is no denying the fact that practicing journalism in Nigeria can be a very challenging due to the climate and economic situation, which is why it is sheer wickedness on the part of media employers not to properly remunerate and/or pay their journalists. It is called ‘starving the messenger’. Journalists are messengers and they should not be brutalised for this. Their labour needs to be protected at all times and in all conditions. However, the onus also lies on government and policy makers to provide the enabling environment for journalism to thrive. Without a vibrant media, a society is bound to miss its mark and go into oblivion. This fact is resounding and guaranteed. It takes a whole lot to go into untested waters, to ask the tough questions, to be harassed, jailed, and denied freedom for being crusaders for truth. These are some of the reasons why the journalist deserves everything and should be supported and revered.
There is also the need for an active journalism welfare scheme in Nigeria, separate from what the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) is doing; a scheme that not only sees to the remuneration of journalists but also protects the rights and privileges of journalists. This scheme should cater for professional practicing journalists across the country and help in providing succor in tough economic situations. Because the journalist deserves some accolades, all hands must be on deck to make sure that his/her welfare is a top priority for media owners, industry players and even government. Can we ever imagine a world without news? The truth is that journalism can never be silent, whether we like it or not, there must be news and there will always be the press. The question however is, what will be the quality of news we will be receiving? According to Tom Stoppard, if our aim is to change the world, in this case Nigeria, “journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.” So, let’s get it right!
Ngozi Emmanuel lectures in the Department of Mass Communication Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra State.