by Seyi Oduyela
Published on: Mar 13, 2005
Type: Opinions

The role of the media is no doubt critical in promoting good governance and curbing corruption. The media does not only raise public awareness about corruption, cause consequences and possible remedies, but also investigates and reports incidences of corruption.

A critical element of a country's anti-corruption programme primarily should be an effective media; and the effectiveness of the media depends on access to information and freedom of expression, as well as a professional and ethical cadre of investigative journalists. In addition, such issues as private versus public ownership of the media, the need for improved protection of journalists who investigate corruption and media regulation are critical. The corrupting of the media mission through excessive reliance on advertisers and sponsors is one of the major problems in Nigeria, where political manipulation remains a more powerful influence.

Sometimes, too, journalists' stories can play a significant role in reinforcing the effectiveness of public anti-corruption bodies. Simply reporting in a regular, detailed way on the work and findings of these bodies can reinforce public scrutiny of them and, hence, the independence of such bodies from vested interests within the power structure that might otherwise be tempted to interfere in their work. Even when reporting on outright corruption or other questionable behavior by public office holders does not lead directly to indictments, prosecutions or impeachment, it can still help shape public hostility to such activities that can ultimately lead to electoral defeat for individual politicians or, indeed, for entire governments.

While greater accountability from public figures to the public is important, the media themselves have to be accountable. That is awareness by journalists that whatever they write must promote, preserve and entrench the democracy for which they have been given a definite role in the constitution.

The most effective system for guaranteeing freedom of the press is one where the press itself must be able to make careful judgments on its own. Self discipline, self-consciousness of media workers, the code of ethics that members of the profession accepts are important elements of media accountability.

The tradition must provide for the press to be tough in its scrutiny of the work of those who enjoy the public trust. The press culture, evident in many democracies today, contains a sense that is the duty of the press to afflict the comfortable, in order to comfort the afflicted. Undoubtedly, such a culture can lead to press irresponsibility at times. Complaints about invasion of privacy by the press are not new. This is an inevitable price to pay, and an independent wise judiciary and an effective Press Council may be able to assist in checking excesses.

Primarily the media themselves must shoulder the burden of ensuring a responsible, independent media. They must demonstrate their independence objectivity and professionalism each and every day in order to earn public trust and confidence.
Just as we have problem with public figures, we also have with media employers who in turn are allies of some of the public figures. In some cases some of them are owners of media or assist media owners with contracts, so they protect them and whoever tries to expose such corrupt office holder set to lose his/her job. This has turned most media houses in Nigeria to commercial enterprises with profit motive. The owners of media do not ensure payment of wages and salaries; this exposes the journalists to corruption too. Some media owners use stories submitted by their reporters to blackmail those involved making money and later sending the story to the dustbin.

I have heard several times in news rooms a case of editors regarding certain individuals in our society as "friends of the House." These "friends" are protected; nothing negative comes out against them in the papers. I recollect a case of one airline owner in Nigeria who owed his pilot, it was a case of fraud, the airline was able to buy journalists covering the beat but one of them refused to be bought, he insisted on reporting it, the Public Relations Officer of the company got to my friend's office before him, that was the end of the story. As he was settling down to write the story his editor walked to him, apparently acting on orders from "above" told him to drop the idea. My friend few months later was fired.

To me the issue of the freedom of the press goes beyond attack by the state and its agencies, it is more of welfare of the journalist than state intimidation. Yes the state intimidates; this may come physically or in terms of material harassment.
The last four years showed how money can determine who has what. Surprisingly there was a transfer of allegiance on the part of the Nigerian Media from the afflicted to the comfortable. We see clearly how states governments who did not do any thing buy 23 pages of magazines and newspapers for what is coined as "special reports," "Insight," and so many annoying terms. When in actual fact it is glaring to the whole world that these governments did not do anything to improve the lives of their subjects. The press unfortunately took side with these rogues in power to insult the sensibility of poor Nigerians and deemed the hope of those who expect the truth from the media.

As a media man myself, I feel ashamed that we failed our people and invariably failed our society. Rather than playing the watchdog we come accomplices of these corrupt office holders. It is amazing that no press saw anything bad in the way Governors of the oil producing states squandered the special allocations given to them. Bayelsa in spite of what it got cannot boast of any improvement in lives of its people.

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