Journalism of Conscience and National Commitment By C.Don Adinuba

Paper presented at the Media Summit of the Anambra State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists held in Awka on March 28 & 29, 2017.
I would like to start with a confession: the title of this paper is not originally mine. I borrowed it from Prince Tony Momoh, erstwhile Minister of Information and Culture, who coined it in the late 1980s when he was editor of the Daily Times, then Nigeria’s leading newspaper. By journalism of conscience and national commitment, Prince Momoh, a lawyer and one of the first persons to study journalism at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka and later at the University of Lagos because of the Nigerian Civil War, was simply advocating that Nigerian communication practitioners abide by their professional ethics and live above primordial forces threatening the foundation of the Nigerian nation.  The Momoh call is more urgent today than when it was made about three and a half decades ago. 
To paraphrase the Great Zik of Africa in an article in the legendary West African Pilot which was to arouse the passion of a generation of young Nigerian nationalists who formed the Zikist Movement, these are times that try men’s soul. Indeed, these are unusual times in the country. The economy is almost a shambles, with all the social and political implications. There is insurgency in parts of the country. Religious, ethnic and sectional tensions are high. The list goes on almost endlessly.
If the Zik generation used political journalism to win independence for our country and consequently restored the dignity of Africans, we have a constitutional and historical obligation to contribute to a better society, stable, peaceful, united and prosperous. Some journalists have gone beyond mere constitutional provisions to help build a society which cherishes peaceful co-existence. A group of Nigerians known as Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODA) on March 13, 2017, issued a powerful statement urging both the Federal Government and the Osun State authorities to take immediate steps to stop the circulation of a dangerous video urging ethnic reprisals in the aftermath of the clashes in Ife, Osun State, in which, according to the police, 46 Yoruba and Northerners were killed this month. In contrast, some politicians have openly been stoking the fire of hate, oblivious that their kinsmen and women are vulnerable in large numbers in other parts of the country.
Here is another example of how journalists have been promoting national unity and progress.  In the midst of the extremely dangerous national controversy arising out of the furtive regularization of Nigeria’s membership of the Organization of Islamic Countries in the second part of the 1980s, a makeshift mosque used by mostly Northern Nigerians here in Awka was destroyed by the local government authorities who did not know it was a mosque. It was at a time the military government was dedicatedly pulling down shacks and other illegal structures in towns and cities around the country.
The affected Northern Muslims quickly hired a minibus and went to Enugu to report to the National Concordcorrespondent that their mosque had been pulled down. The decision to go to the National Concord was not fortuitous. TheConcord publisher, Chief Moshood Abiola, was a major campaigner for Nigeria’s full OIC membership, so his paper supported the membership. Perhaps, if the Concordcorrespondent in Enugu, John Akor, had reported the story, it could have been sensationalized on the front page the next day. Mr Akor might be promoted, or at least commended for making the front page. But he was a very thoughtful and farsighted journalist, aware of the likely severe consequences of the report.
He knew Muslims in Kano and elsewhere in Northern Nigeria could be infuriated by the report and in retaliation carry out a savage campaign against mostly Igbo people in their midst who were in their millions and productively engaged as bankers, lecturers, accountants, civil servants, lawyers, doctors, journalists and businessmen and women. So, he asked the protesting Muslims to wait for a while in his office. He got in touch with Mr Linus Okechi, Press Secretary to Group Captain Emeka Omeruah, the Anambra State Military Governor, who promptly sent for the aggrieved persons while investigating the matter. The governor carefully explained to the Muslims that the bulldozer operator who destroyed the mosque did not know it was a sacred place; he was merely demolishing all unapproved structures, especially shacks.  Omeruah was convincing and demonstrated sympathy to them, so they believed him and returned to Awka satisfied.  We thank God that John Akor was not a practitioner of “publish-and-damn-the-consequences” brand of journalism.
Those who practise this mass communication brand put their society in grave danger. One of the worst human tragedies in recent decades was the Rwanda genocide which occurred in the early 1990s. About 800,000 persons were massacred, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The perpetrators were driven by such unimaginable hate and rage that bishops and priests were enthusiastically killed by members of their congregations. Fellow Christians who sought sanctuary in churches were murdered with glee in their thousands. Just last week, Pope Francis apologized to the Rwandan government and people for the role of church officials and members in the genocide. The bad news is that journalists, especially those working in radio stations, were very culpable in the genocide. They made several broadcasts inciting ordinary people to go after fellow citizens for no more profound reason than they spoke a different language. In fact, it is generally thought that without the broadcasts, the Rwandan genocide would not have occurred in the first place.
Power With Responsibility
The 1999 Constitution vests so much power in the mass media in recognition of our role as not just the Fourth Estate of the Realm but the conscience of society. Our role as defenders of public interests naturally makes us often be at odds with political authorities who are in most cases in Africa not good. Therefore, we keep them on their toes by highlighting their follies. It is hoped our criticism is not like that associated with a prominent Malaysian politician, Pakatan Rakyat. In the Corridors of Power, Rakyat is accused in the following words: “This is what happens when Rakyat opposes everything the government does just for the sake of opposing. We end up with no clear policy and we ding-dong from one extreme to the other. When the government does this, we scream. And when the government does the opposite, we also scream. But while we scream, we do not suggest a better option other than to just say what the government does is wrong.”
Our readers, listeners and viewers should trust us the way patients trust their doctors and pharmacists who sell prescription drugs to them. Trust is earned, not purchased. However, we have sometimes been found wanting in not just Nigeria but around the world. Two British professors, James Curran and Jean Seaton, became famous in 1981 when they published a book which has so far undergone seven editions; it is entitled Power Without Responsibility: The Press, Broadcasting and the Internet in Britain. In 2014, the book caught the attention of many Americans when some bloggers uploaded nude pictures of about 100 celebrities on the Internet, much to the embarrassment of the civilized world. The action was condemned as infra dig, malicious and a sex crime.  
I used to think uploading naked and sex pictures of mostly famous women was the exclusive preserve of some perverts in Western society until last year when the Miss Anambra scandal, also known as the cucumber sex scandal, broke out. As it has now been revealed, journalists or mass communication practitioners were unfortunately involved in the video scandal. We can ask: Cui bono, in whose interest, was the video released? The people behind it have been established by security reports to be blackmailers who were out to extort a fortune and then ruin the future of a na├»ve university student who could have been the daughter or sister of any of us here.
Anambra 2017
And talking of Anambra State brings to mind that this is the only state which will conduct a gubernatorial election in Nigeria this year. The media will be central to the success or failure of the vote in November. Some politicians and their agents will attempt to capitalize on some of the challenges currently facing the media industry like nonpayment of salaries for several months to get some journalists to act in violation of their professional ethics. They may entice some of us to paint a lurid picture of the state, despite evidence of our own eyes. They may even “lobby” us with stupendous amounts to publish false election results. Frankly, it is pretty difficult to resist such temptations in the face of acute hardships and sustained pressures from family members and friends as well as peers. 
Still, I think each of us has a conscience and believes in the common good. Conscience is taken to mean the part of our being which judges our thoughts, actions and inactions but which we cannot, in turn, judge. Working for the common good entails doing things which may not benefit us now as individuals but will be beneficial ultimately to the greater number of society members. I was years ago mocked more than once by fellow journalists who wanted me to compromise certain values because of immediate personal gains. As I today look at their stations in life, I acknowledge that delayed gratification is more than a personal virtue. When you work selflessly and diligently a lot of people you may not know are observing your commitment to the common good, and your reward will come sooner than you may imagine.
Self Development Plans
Contemporary scholars of management science encourage organizational members to always plan for their self development. Every ambitious person, whether a journalist or not, should have such plans. There are more tertiary institutions with programmes which journalists can benefit from in developing themselves than when I entered journalism, fresh out of high school. I am glad many have participated in such programmes. But it seems a lot of us just acquire the necessary certificates as meal tickets and stop to develop themselves. This is wrong. Journalism is an intensely intellectual profession. It requires continuous practice and continuous improvement. In other words, it requires extensive reading, thinking and writing. 
Any person who reads extensively and continuously improves himself or herself can easily write for international media, research bodies and other reputable organizations. I made reasonable money from these organizations in the 1980s and 1990s. Besides, I got useful contacts by writing for them, and my clout grew in Nigeria and elsewhere.
Extensive reading and good thinking will make you expand your universe, enabling you to do things beyond journalism. Walter Isaacson, the President of Aspen Institute which is one of the leading think tanks in the United States, was Managing Editor of Time magazine. Strobe Talbot, the President of the Brookings Institution which is one of the most prestigious intellectual bodies in the United States, became President Bill Clinton’s Deputy Secretary of State, after serving as a journalist with Time. Rupert Pennart-Rea was in the early 1990s appointed Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, or the British Central Bank, when he was editing The Economist.Journalism is taking seriously in some other societies that the immediate past Chancellor of the Exchequer (British Minister of Finance), George Osborne, who is also a member of parliament in the United Kingdom, is to edit the Evening Standard newspaper in England from April 1, 2017. 
Here in Nigeria, our own Tunji Bello is the Secretary to the Lagos State Government, after serving as Commissioner for the Environment. Our own Abike Dabiri is now the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Foreign Affairs. They are following in the footsteps of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo who were excellent administrators, and also in the footsteps of Alhaji Lateef Jakande and Chief Bisi Onabanjo who in the Second Republic were great governors of Lagos and Ogun states, respectively. Not to be forgotten is that Alhaji Adamu Ciroma was the Editor of the New Nigerian newspaper before he became the Central Bank Governor and later President Olusegun Obasanjo’s first Minister of Finance in 1999.
All these successful people I have just mentioned are not known for sensational or blackmail journalism but for robust journalism. Journalism of conscience and national commitment is the way to go. It is in your interest and for the betterment of society.
Thank you.

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