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Opinion: Between Public Interest, Missionary and Mercenary Journalism, By Abdulwarees Solanke

Opinion: Between Public Interest, Missionary and Mercenary Journalism, By Abdulwarees Solanke


In a 1000 word length article I penned and was published in a number of national dailieslast year, I painted Journalism as an Art of a different genre, arguing that the ideal journalist is an artist.  The title of that illustrative piece as published for instance on the letters page of the Nigerian Tribune of October 10 2018 was The Ideal Journalist as Artist and Missionary.

But I contended if the journalist is a true artist, his motivation would not be just for bread, milk and honey but for self-expression, noting that a true or faithful artist thrives on originality, because he is a fiercely creative person who has no boundary in his work. My point was that every artist who excels does so in the expression of his self.

Here is my concluding paragraph of that article:

Those who crippled themselves in journalism with their indulgence and those who soil the image of the profession are not faithful Artists. The faithful or Ideal Artist is the one who can radiate the beauty of his work and recreate himself from his natural flaws. Like the Ideal Artist who is always inspired and conscious of his own being, every journalist must always aspire for perfection not only of his art piece but of his person as well by always clarifying his purpose and pursuits in life.  Journalism is a missionary profession. So, every journalist, like the ideal artist must be shaped by a vision to live forever in peoples’ heart by the fidelity of his character and the eternity of his writings or productions

I am led to return to this theme again today because of the depressing circumstances most journalists find themselves today for which they justify their moral hollowness and debasement of journalism ethics by turning themselves into tools and errand boys of those with vested interests whose sole aim is to capture power and arrive at wealth without any moral scruple but just for self-aggrandisement.

God bless the soul of Late Dr. Delu Ogunade who took my set Media Laws and Ethics at the University of Lagos between 1987 and 1988. Although all our teachers of journalism always derided unethical practices of yellow journalism, pepper soup joint or beer parlour journalism, they however always emphasized commitment to public interest and journalism of conscience. It was Baba Ogunade as we fondly called him, teacher of the mass communication capstone course who fully opened our eyes to the ideal journalism as he introduced us to the work of one philosopher and ethicist, Immanuel Kant.

In Kant’s thesis, there are four virtues needed as a responsible professional: These are Wisdom, Courage, Justice and Temperance. When the discerning journalist combines these virtues and exercises discretion on what he pushes out as news, features, commentaries and analyses, public safety and national security is assured.

It is for this reason that the Media has been enrobed in the garb of the Watchdog of the Society for the purpose of protecting public interest while it has been assigned a branch in the architecture of governance as the fourth estate of the realm. This is an imperative for the media as an institution and its practitioners as professionals so that there can be in existence an enabling atmosphere of checks and balances that is often parroted should exist in the ideal democratic space having the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government.

Unfortunately, there is a tragedy that is crashing or destroying Four-estate architecture of governance in a polity or state. This is because the fourth branch of government that should bear the ultimate public trust, prevent the compromise of democratic ideals and uphold true checks and balances in the three original arms of government is experiencing the gradual dissolution of the media, the societal watchdog and the fourth estate of the realm intothe other arms of government, losing its public value or essence.

The question that bother those of us that are advocates of public service media is that is the media today truly in the service of the public? Are we protecting or advancing the public interest or national interest? Who even defines the public interest for the media to understand, who and how it should partner with other sectors to protect and promote public interest?

In many challenged democracies, including ours, what usually goes for public interest is nothing but the interest of certain individuals and groups in the polity – economic, pecuniary, racial, tribal, religious, and political – which more often than not, clash against the real public interest. Therefore, the state or the society is always in a flux when the pecuniary and primordial compete.

If the society, nation or polity must be stable, the media has the responsibility to be immune from such interests and focus on its public essence as an impartial arbiter, a faithful watchdog that is alert and independent, not beholding to any of the contending interests other than the preservation public interest or in the interest of peace, progress, development and security of the nation at large.Does the average Nigerian journalist respect these ideals? What is even the motivation for entering journalism?

Ask an intern what branch or medium of journalism he or she wants to work for or who is his or her model in journalism? I bet it that less than 30 percent will give any reasonable response. Many are today attracted into journalism or broadcasting because of the allure of the tube, the paparazzi of the camera, the sonority and beauty of voices and flawlessness of linguistic grammar and diction of on air personalities, the connection of the successful ones and their expensive lifestyles, the frequency of their foreign trips in reporting or covering events, the circle in which journalists move.

The motivation can also be to serve as stepping stone to some other lucrative heights. Remove a journalist from a particular lucrative beat and you have sound his death knell. Recall some journalists to the newsroom to be desk editors and they immediately lose colour. There is nothing bad to lead a good life as a journalist like any other professional.

As in every profession, what is bad is if a journalist lacks ethics, integrity or morality in the pursuit of his ambition.Unfortunately, it is in theirpoverty of ethical considerations and commitment that some journalists thrive and arrive as paid agents of primordial and pecuniary interests in their practice of journalism.

In commercializing journalism, the soul of public service in broadcasting and journalism is asphyxiated. Now, the bottom line drives the content of many a newspaper house or broadcasting station, always jaundiced or tilting to serve the interest of the highest bidder. In this misfortune, many journalists become mercenaries and mercantilists trading their conscience for plates of pepper soup or porridge.

As paid or hack writers, they are responsible for machinating fake news, jaundiced opinions and analysis and producing prognostic reports that spell doom for the nation. Many of the so-called investigative reports of many are not genuinely muckraking but documents sneaked out orstolen by certain vested interests who find in the susceptible journalist a good instrument to deal with an opponent they want to unseat to be handsomely rewarded for a hatchet job well done.

Now, a legion of the unemployed without journalism has strayed into the media industry damaging the integrity of the ideal journalist as chopey chasers. We know them by their habitual hangout at major hotels and conference venues chasing dignitaries for interview that would never see the light of the day. For some too, the NUJ Press Centres and club houses in many state capitals are their permanent bases of gossip journalism.

This situation is not helped either,  as publishers and news proprietors without financial muscle and backbone exploit the lack of economic choice and power of job seekers to offer them job with peanuts and pittance. Again, let me stress that Journalism is a missionary profession. So, every journalist, like the ideal artist must be shaped by a vision to live forever in peoples’ heart by the fidelity of his character and the eternity of his writings or productions.This was the gist of the message of a senior advocate of Nigeria, Mallam Yusuf Olaolu Ali at a gathering of Muslims professionals in Lagos on Sunday. I sum the conditions for any faithful professional to succeed in life or career as follows

  1. Embracing humility
  2. Avoiding vanity
  3. Dedication to charity
  4. Commitment to fidelity or chastity
  5. Adherence to integrity
  6. Passion for consistency and objectivity

It is tragic that mercenary and mercantilist journalists fall short of these noble expectations in their predilection for fake news, promotion of hate, rebellion and public corruption.

Back to my 2018 piece on the Ideal journalist: I have also known journalists who withered too soon in their career because for their talents they shot themselves in their legs.Those who crippled themselves in journalism with their indulgence and those who soil the image of the profession are not faithful Artists.

*Abdulwarees is a Fellow, Chartered Institute of Public Diplomacy and Management, Director, Media & Strategic Communications, Muslim Public Affairs Centre, MPAC Nigeria and  Ag. Deputy Director, Strategic Planning & Corporate Development Department, Voice of Nigeria, Ikoyi Lagos, 08090585723


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