Sunday Trust online

The media as scapegoat

The Nigeria media –that long suffering sector of the Nigeria society has become the butt of attacks from government circles. No day passes without someone in government accusing the media of being the cause of the bad image government is having in Nigeria and abroad. The government argument goes thus: despite the monumental effort being made at running the affairs of state and the obvious all round progress that has been made, the media have chosen only to project to the public the negative things that portray the government as bungling, bumbling, fumbling and as generally not doing anything.

The impression is now being created that rather than being partners in progress, the press has become a cog in the wheel of progress, unable to see anything ennobling in the gargantuan effort being made by government. Thus, government is now becoming increasingly impatient and irritated with this “pull him down” attitude of the media, of refusing to see anything good in government even when the facts and evidence stare media men and women in the face.  Of course, all this can be waved away as the normal and expected attitude of a government snowed under by intractable challenges, some of which , it must be said are not of its making, but most are self inflicted. This fixation of the government is taking the form of paranoia, which if care is not taken might be acted out in ways that could harm the operation of the media, on the one hand and government/media relations, on the other.

The latest of this media –bashing took place last week at the 13th meeting of the Honorary International Investment Council (HIIC) in London, where both a former British secretary for overseas development, Baronness Lynda Chalker and our own minister of information and a bona fide journalist in his own right, took turns to pillory the media at the occasion. According to Baroness Chalker the Nigeria media” has let the country down,” noting that the “Nigeria media should focus on positive things which are there.” On his own part, Mr Labaran Maku went for the jugular, he was quoted as saying the media are fond of “bandying  negative statements about the country and turning them into “declarations’’ without bothering to find out the facts.” He concludes that “they are running the country down”. Similar comments have been made in many other fora.

With these statements no one need to be told the extent of disgust with which the media are held in government circles. But is the vilification justified? First, the circumstance where these statements were made is important: it is at a forum to seek investment opportunity for the country. One of the reasons for investors not taking the opportunity available in Nigeria is, ostensibly the unrestrained lurid picture painted by  media reportage which must therefore be debunked to convince the investors that not only would their monies be safe, their personal safety would be guaranteed  too. The minister would not be seen to be doing his job if he did not make that initial point clear to the potential investors. Fair enough. As for Lynda Chalker, one gets the impression that she could not sincerely mean what she said at the HIIC or she must have been prevailed upon to include that bit on the Nigeria media.

It may well be that there is a preponderant of negative than positive reportage in the media, however   no one can say with any certainty until some content analysis has been done done. But even if it is true that the media purvey only negative and damaging stories, a quick retort would be that they are merely mirroring the reality.  Journalists and the owners of media organizations do not go out of their ways to cause bombs to go off nor do they instigate kidnappers and armed robbers to undertake their dastardly acts. But if there are some squeamish people who may not want these bloody examples, then what of the roads and thoroughfares, up and down the country for which monumental amount of money has been earmarked but still remain uncompleted several years after the money has been collected and spent thereby causing the death of many Nigerians? Examples of official lethargy are legion and their reportage rightly portrays the government in bad light. In other words the events the media report are real not fiction, it just so happens that the bad events and incidents overshadow the good, and they are reflected as such.

The media therefore mirror the reality not only as they see it, but also as it is. For instance, no one can deny the existence of monumental corruption in government, and there is no need to go into specifics because many of them are documented in the several probes instituted by government itself. What wrong has the media committed by publishing them? Or is it that officialdom would rather such seedy goings -on are covered up so that they will not see the light of the day? The media did not create the situations they are reporting; therefore it should not be hanged for faults they did not commit. It is that simple really.

It is wrong to insist that the media publicise only the unpalatable stories so as to portray government as not up to the task, which by deduction brands journalists and media people as unpatriotic.  But it must be said that patriotic fervor is not limited to people in government, indeed so much for patriotism when those charged with getting things done only complain and pass the buck rather than getting on with the job to stop the suffering in the polity. Journalists in Nigeria are doing their best, they may have their shortcomings, which include damnable corruption, but they are not any less patriotic than those in government. Take a cursory glance at the newspapers any day and you are likely to get issues raised and attempt at suggesting solutions to them, particularly in the editorial columns. In a sense, they contribute ideas, views, and opinions, quite apart from their duty to inform, that could bring better governance.

It is just as well that the Vice President, Architect Namadi Sambo was at the HIIC occasion, indeed he gave the opening address and it is instructive that he did not engage in the futile pastime of heaping all the blame for the paucity of investment in Nigeria on the media. To be sure, not doing so is not surprising because he knows that the media merely reflect the society—if a society exudes nobility, courage and achievement so would it be portrayed in the media.

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