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Opinions of Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Columnist: Victor Ikem, Contributor

FFK and renewed threats to press freedom

History, they say, is a good teacher to those who are willing to learn, and equally a bad teacher to those who would seek to repeat it, especially the dire aspects.

The recent outburst and verbal abuse of a Daily Trust journalist, Eyo Charles, by a former minister and now opposition leader, Femi Fani-Kayode, in some ways is a repeat of the bad aspect of history, one that is so sad and that should be condemned.

Chapter 2 section 22 of the Nigerian constitution 1999 and section 39 spells out the role of the journalist and the media as a watchdog.

The media as the fourth estate of the realm which duty includes to inform, educate and sensitize the public on the activities of the government, and not under any obligation to massage the ego of any individual.

The responsibilities of the media are to serve the public interest hence there is a need to handle the media and its representatives with utmost care bearing highest public consideration, and with respect deserving of the profession.

It is of note that the said journalist who was molested represents citizens who do not have physical access and who are not privileged to meet Fani-Kayode.

He, the journalist, asked that question for all; which is the job of a media man, to ask probing questions to properly inform and educate the public and hold public officers or those who want to undertake public assignments, to hold them to account. For insulting a journalist for asking a question in a press conference, Fani-Kayode has insulted every Nigerian who has the right to know.

Fani-Kayode owes Nigerians a duty to answer the question asked him. Some of the founding fathers of our country who fought for the independence of Nigeria were journalists who used the media to force the British imperialists into granting Nigeria’s Independence.

Journalists are not trained to be sheepishly nice to those who hold the public office but to consciously and carefully examine such public officers in a manner that will benefit the entire society.

The duty in handling the media is to find a comfortable angle to respond and convert a seemingly provocative question into a favorable statement of positive view for the person facing the camera. Going into a press briefing, there should be a message, an agenda on which the public officer must focus and ensure to reduce any distractions.

The question asked ‘who is bankrolling your project tours’ was meant for Fani-Kayode to clarify that he was not paid or sponsored to undertake a project tour and to aver that he was doing so, embarking on the tour, in public Interest and out of enlightened national interest. His resort to insult and threats is low, cheap, and very unnecessary.

Those who pioneered the journalism practice as we know it in Africa today didn’t always ask nice questions. For a fact, the Independence that Nigeria enjoys today, and some other countries within Africa, was achieved without a shot fired but through the painstaking works of journalists.

The same with the democracy we enjoy today which was fought for by journalists who were never rewarded for the risk they took and for many who were killed.

The dark days of military brutalization of media men must not be encouraged. Insults on journalists should not be allowed to continue before the journalism profession gets buried again by oppressive and narcissistic individuals who assume they have superior rights over others in this nation.

Many journalists have been killed (Dele Giwa, etc) for doing their job of serving the public interest, hence we must not allow this kind of intolerance which may degenerate into brutal aggressive and even murder.

Today, it is verbal assault, tomorrow it may be a physical attack or a bullet to the head. It affects all, so well-meaning Nigerians must condemn it and take a stand against it, just as the NUJ and other bodies have done.

Other issues militating against the independence of journalists and press freedom are issues of welfare and remuneration for journalists. These issues need to be reviewed to ensure a free and independent press that will ensure a stable and sustained democracy in Nigeria.

For reputation managers serving public officers, it is an important duty to educate their employers on how to handle hard questions from journalists.

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