Journalists as endangered species

Journalists as endangered species

By Yemi Esho, Abuja

Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence – Leonardo da Vinci

Journalists or the media by the nature of their job are exposed to various forms of danger. They want and must report the news to the editors in the office who work on it, finetune it and send it out for public consumption. In carrying out their lawful and legitimate duties, journalists are subjected to environmental hazards which invariably affects their performances on the job.

Some have been harassed, maimed, brutalized and even killed by overzealous security agents, militants and insurgents simply because they are not comfortable with the reports file out by the press. As a matter of fact, the journalists comb every nook and cranny to source for newsy items that will not only generate public interest but enlighten and educate them in line with the ethics and etiquette of the profession. They are not just referred to as the fourth estate of the realm for the fun of it, they keep government, public and private officials on their toes and generally act as the watchdog of the society.

There are people who have natural hatred for journalists and will go to any length to frustrate their efforts. These people are in government circles and carry out the biddings of their paymasters. When they failed in coercing the press to succumb to their whims and caprices, they resort to blackmail and at times go to the extreme. While some journalists live to tell their tales of woes, others are not so lucky as they have been dispatched to the world beyond.

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The gruesome murder of Dele Giwa on October 19, 1986 by yet to be identified killers was the genesis of journalists’ killing in Nigeria. After Giwa, others have also had lives snuffed out of them like chickens. Bagauda Kaltho, Bayo Ohu, … the list is endless. What pains most is that these deaths are never thoroughly investigated and easily waved aside which further exposes the men of the pen profession to danger. The impunity of the powers-that-be and the activities of big, powerful and wealthy individuals to suppress the facts have also made the work of a journalist more difficult.

The case of Enenche Akogwu, a journalist and cameraman with Channels TV readily comes to mind. The brave journalist met his untimely death while investigating Boko Haram terrorism.  He was shot and killed by an unidentified gunman in Kano. The Director-General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, described the act that led to Akogwu’s death as “crime that constitutes a serious attack on the basic human right of freedom of expression and press freedom” and called on authorities to investigate it.  

Just this year, two journalists have lost their lives in the most gruesome ways while others have suffered assault and bodily harm. The departed journalists are Famous Giobaro of Bayelsa State-owned radio station, Glory FM 97.1. Giobaro was shot dead on April 16 in his home in Yenagoa. Also on July 8, a journalist with Nigerian Television Authority, Benin City, Edo State, Lawrence Okojie was shot dead while returning from work. A data recently released by the International Press Centre (ICJ) which is based in Lagos and headed by a former President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and veteran journalists, Mr Lanre Arogundade, who is the director of the centre said journalists and media organization have had it rough in the hands of the state and others who find joy in treating journalists as mere rags. IPC demanded justice for the journalists on the day earmarked as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’.

The centre called for immediate prosecution of those who wage war against journalists while demanding for thorough investigation. A statement the centre read in part, “We attach the highest priority to the safety of journalists and other media actors. We oppose any action, legislation, regulation or political pressure that limits freedom of the press. Acts of intimidation and violence against journalists in Nigeria must end for democracy to survive. Attacks against media institutions and journalists are attacks against democratic rights including the right of the public to know the truth about the way they are governed.”

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The journalists are also not helped by their employers who owe them backlog of salaries to meet their daily and basic needs. It is now a norm in the media industry to owe salary arrears and the owners are getting away with it. As a result, some journalists cannot attend to their health challenges and die in the process. For those who are lucky to be alive, they are like walking corpses who cannot meet the urgent and basic needs of their immediate families. They have been sent packing from their homes by landlords and the children are also out of schools due to the failure of the parents to pay school fees.

Even where salaries are paid, it is so meagre that it cannot meet the basic needs of the family. The most painful is that journalists do not have insurance cover, they are left exposed to dangers. What is paramount to the media owners is that journalists must file in his or her stories no matter the condition or environment he finds himself.  And because he is human too, a journalist will always find a way out to feed his family and that is when the issue of the brown envelope comes in. The question is; what do you expect from a media person who has not collected his salaries for months but was offered ‘an envelope’ that not only covers his salaries but also take care of other family commitments.

The irony is that government has been helpless and silent in this regard. Because of this apathy from government, the media owners are having field day without being called to order. There should be a law mandating the media owners to pay their employees as at when due and when such law is flouted, there should be appropriate punishment for the erring owners to serve as a deterrent to others. The peak of journalism should not just be becoming editors but having something to fall back on after retirement. It is good that journalists are being appointed as press secretaries but how many will be that lucky to be so appointed.

The physical, social and psychological attack on journalists must stop and this is what prompted UNESCO in its message ‘stop attacking the media’ as part of activities to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on November 2, 2017 released a statement through its Director General, Irina Bokva, which reads, “Justice is a cornerstone of a free society. It dissuades those who threaten freedom of expression and emboldens those who stand to defend it. This is why injustice against journalists is so costly for all societies.”

Need we say more?

 

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