Journalism and its flipside -By Aliyu Musa

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(Zainab Suleiman-Okino’s note:Today, Aliyu Musa has the platform. He was my colleague at Daily Trust, but now teaches at a UK university. Enjoy)

By Aliyu Musa

“Journalism without check is like a human body without an immune system. If the primary purpose of journalism is to tell the truth, then it follows that the primary function of journalists must be to check and to reject whatever is not true, “ Nick Davies.

Once upon a time journalism was considered a thankless profession due to reasons like poor remuneration, exposure to hazards (including threat to life) and not having the right equipment to work. The newsroom situation was always very complex – stories went through several tunnels, manually, before finally being certified fit for public consumption. In place of the user-friendly desktops, laptops and ipads, now commonly used,  were click-click typewriters. And, unlike now that a reporter could easily research a story by the click of a mouse, then it often took extra efforts to tear through the archives or to explore other means. A reporter could today get a piece of writing/report across to a reviewing editor by either saving on shared network or emailing directly almost effortlessly. An editor could double check a report in various ways including using the internet or making phone calls that come with much less labour too. And if happy with it, he could forward it to the production staff without moving a step from his seat. It’s a world of technology and things are very simplified.

But like everything that has its pluses, technology has also immensely played a role in rendering the profession highly vulnerable. It has made it easier for anyone anywhere to claim to be and act as a journalist. It provides a platform for falsehood to be mischievously peddled with grave consequences.  Much worse, it allows for untruth to be circulated around the globe at supersonic speeds, leaving little chance to check and reject it. Journalism today, as Davies has suggested, lacks an immune system and is therefore at the mercy of imposters and rumour mongers.

One strand that appears guilty is citizen journalism. It is roughly defined as when an amateur journalist publishes news reports/stories on a blog or community website. But I add here that it is a situation in which someone devoid of even the basic knowledge of journalism takes advantage of the handiness of new technology – internet, mobile phone – to circulate rumours, falsehood and complete crap in the name of news as we see in many, though not all cases.  The trouble with this form of journalism is that it clearly misinforms, misleads and has the potential to ignite or amplify crisis.

But a far bigger danger is that Citizen Journalism enunciates immersion in the story, which might explain why some mainstream media do not have any problem with being one-sided or nakedly biased. This might also explain why some media organisations are proudly flaunting their links to a side as opposed to the other and see no fault in that, in spite of professional ethics. This largely determines the future of journalism as objectivity is increasingly giving way to partiality. Ray Jaysen aptly describes objectivity as: “…the value of fairness, which is extremely important. It’s the ethic of restraining your own biases, which is also important…It’s the idea that journalism can’t be the voice of any particular party or sect.”

When journalists openly display loyalty to one side, it means one of the last bastions of the ordinary people; the downtrodden is lost. Tales of horrific events in which the media actively fanned the embers of hate or turned a blind eye in the face of injustice against a side considered an adversary abound in our recent history. The case of Rwanda where a newspaper, Kangura, was used to fuel the genocide against the Tutsi minority by continuously referring to them as Nyenzi (Cockroaches) is one of such.

In Nigeria a similar trend is the recent allegation by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), South-East chapter that there’s a plan to poison the Suya (grilled steak meat) sold to people in the South of the country. Right Reverend Dr Emmanuel Chukwuma who spoke on behalf of the South-east CAN claimed the group, Jama’atu Ahlis-Sunnah Lid-da’awati wal-Jihad otherwise known as Boko Haram plans to “sprinkle powdered substances on Suya meat before selling it to unsuspecting consumers who would subsequently die of liver related ailment”.

The bombings going on in some parts of the North are totally senseless. Attacks on Churches are completely despicable. But to condescend to this campaign of hate against certain people is, to say the least, antithetical to the Right Reverend Chukwuma’s calling. Just like the Tutsis were demonised as Nyenzi, this claim stereotypically presents the innocent Northerners going about their lawful businesses in the South-east as potential killers and, therefore, deserving of pre-emptive attacks. The claim justifies potential attacks on Suya sellers who are normally Northerners and anyone that is linked to the North. The logic in this call for blood might be better understood if recent reprisal killings in Jos and Kaduna are used as valid references.

However, what is most disgusting is the willingness of some media to consent to being used as a podium for unsubstantiated claims of this nature to be displayed and sold to hapless readers/audience. For instance, while the web went nuts over the allegation as soon as it was made, it was the Tribune of 19 June 2012 that totally took one aback. A serious reporter should be able to ask salient questions like, if the usual Boko Haram strategy is the use of direct violence, why would they resort to a less effective use of poisonous powdery substances? If their targets are Christians and Southerners, how would they easily differentiate a Northern Muslim that has lived his entire life in the South, speaks with a Southern accent and dresses like a Southerner from the actual Southerner, Christian or even Southern Muslim? If, indeed, they plan to eliminate only Christians and Southerners as claimed by the reverend gentleman and reported by Tribune and others, how do they intend to prepare and sell the poisoned Suya that is meant for their potential victims and the safe one for the ‘favoured ones’ without being found out? And a credible editor should be able to find answers to these and other questions before going ahead to approve the report for publication. But the media that published the allegation without verification or balance were reckless enough to throw Jaysen’s wise counsel to the wind and act as the “voice of a particular party or sect”. This is the sort of journalism that compounds our problems and must be rejected by all.

Aliyu Musa, PhD.

Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies

Liverpool Hope University

Hope Park, Liverpool

L16 9JD, UK

E-mail: [email protected]

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