Of late, the Former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, has come under heavy media flogging from various persons, journalism unions and top columnists, condemning his attitude towards a Daily Trust journalist, Eyo Charles, during a press conference.
Without attempting to belabour the issue, I wish to recall how the incident happened as well as the attendant media backlash. First, it is instructive to know that a press conference, in other words, is a platform on which a journalist and newsmaker interact through a question-and-answer parley. It is a form of drilling to which a newsmaker is subjected for onward transmission to the public.
However, Fani-Kayode, during one of such parleys, turned down a journalist’s question and, as if that was not enough disservice to the intent of the platform, this fellow had the effrontery to call this benign journalist all sorts of names. Well, thanks to Social Media. Fani-Kayode’s assault against the journalist would have been history.
An archetypal precedent has long been set. Although, it was not in our clime. At a press briefing in the White House last year, US President Donald Trump used somewhat unprintable adjectives to describe and ‘disparage’ the personalities of both the CNN and NBC White House Correspondents.
Both Peter Alexander of the NBC and his CNN colleague, Jim Acosta, were not spared the verbal ‘missile’ of the utterly-rambunctious US Number One citizen.
Mr Trump repeatedly blasted the two US reporters, reminiscent of the Femi Fani-Kayode and Eyo Charles’ ‘fiasco’ in Calabar penultimate week.
Trump never minced words in telling the CNN reporter, at a point: “You are very rude, and a terrible person. CNN should be ashamed of having you as their reporter.”
As for Fani-Kayode, who is a self-acclaimed activist, his reaction only exposed him as not being different from every other person he condemns.
On the heels of the sad incident, one of the foremost Civil Society Organisations in the country, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), came out to unequivocally condemn Fani-Kayode’s belligerent assault against the reporter, reiterating that press freedom and freedom to do journalism could not be joked with, especially at this time when COVID-19 had taken its toll on the journalism practice.
“While we are not unaware of the Fani-Kayode’s regular antagonistic reaction and response to issues, we uphold our position that Press Freedom and journalism must be respected and protected at all levels.
“We express total discomfort not only in thoughtless use of the word “stupid” but also reported threat and intimidation of the journalist during and after a press conference held in the state.
“We also find the reaction of the Former Aviation Minister worrisome and tantamount to silencing the media freedom; as he is known to hitherto leverage the media in expressing a personal view and opinion on issues without fear or intimidation,” CISLAC’s Executive Director, Comrade Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, had said in a statement.
Now, although Fani-Kayode has regretted and apologised for the public gaffe—an afterthought anyway; what remains befuddling is the fate of journalism in Nigeria. Remember that the journalist, after the incident, had come out bruised and tattered. Nobody was saying anything about him, not even a word of encouragement to make him stay put in the course of objective journalism pursuit.
Sadly, we live in a society where journalists are constantly killed, harassed and intimidated for doing their job, but little or no care has been shown to address this rising menace.
It should be noted that most journalists in the country are either unpaid or underpaid, leaving most of them to be bootlickers of one politician or the other. Until media owners pay journalists well and promptly, enforcing the ethics of the profession will remain a major problem.
As at this moment, only a few publishers constantly pay what can truly be described as a take-home package. Many Nigerians are now discouraged from joining the profession, thereby now exploring other sectors they find lucrative.
Recent reports have revealed that newsroom employment has significantly decreased. The COVID-19 outbreak has also led to a rapid scaling back of advertising spending, which has inadvertently led dozens of newspapers to cut budgets and furloughs.
Similarly, a dozen media think-tanks in the country like the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, Enough is Enough, International Press Centre, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism had commissioned surveys, following perceptions that journalists were being exposed to danger in the course of covering the pandemic.
One of the surveys, filled by 463 journalists – correspondents, reporters, editors, freelancers, and presenters from 73 print, broadcast and online media across 33 states and the Federal Capital Territory – revealed that there had been poor attention to the needs, safety and welfare of journalists covering the pandemic.
Drawing from these responses, media proprietors were urged to prioritize the welfare of their reporters.
The media, especially in Nigeria, and at this particular juncture, must step up its game by doing everything necessary to protect the inalienable rights and privileges of members of the fourth estate in the country.
Against this backdrop, it is my humble submission that media owners should come up with innovative ways to generate revenue for their platforms as the present advertising model can no longer work, in as much as such finances are needed to sustain the business.
Also, as far as I am concerned, it will not sound too ambitious for politicians and other elites in the country to emulate the best practices of developed nations and begin treating journalists like kings and not dregs.
Only then, will the media and Nigerian journalists take its pride of place in the heart of the masses, and even become society’s true watchdog.
Gidado Shuaib, a media researcher, is the editor of The News Digest. He can be reached on [email protected].