• Monday, June 24, 2024
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Why media must interrogate issues to galvanise Nigerians – Dean

Why media must interrogate issues to galvanise Nigerians – Dean

The findings and conclusions of a research work that was presented at an inaugural lecture at the Rivers State University (formerly University of Science and Technology, UST), shook Nigeria’s media community and seemed to indict journalists it pointedly accused the Nigerian media of Afghanistanism, declaring that the media has so far failed the nation by not interrogating news issues to help the people. In an exclusive interview later in his office, the researcher and Dean, Social Sciences, Godwin Bassey Okon, told IGNATIUS CHUKWU that he too was taken aback by what the findings revealed, saying the media must go beyond straight news writing to the second dimension of the surveillance function of the press to mobilise Nigerians. He asks; what happened to the features platform?

What spurred you into such inward looking?

For us in the knowledge industry, we always would want to add value to humanity. We do this by advancing the cause of the society. This way, you are basically telling them things that may cause them react intelligently and adapt knowledgeably to society.

Were you really worried to the point that the media does not interrogate issues but merely mouth it?

Well, I did not actually have that premonition until I ventured into the study that I did. The study merely threw up that situation and I was taken aback. I asked myself why this? It dawned on me that my findings are not stand-alone. I recall that Udom Isong and Brown had also made similar revelations. You have situations where the media would always pander around issues that are really not tangential. That is why we have the term, Afghanistanism, in this profession, focusing attention on irrelevant things and ignore relevant things.

For me, there is an important aspect on mass media functionality. It is the second dimension of the surveillance function of the press which says give out information that would advance the cause of the society, inform them, and be the watchdog of the society. It is not just to report the way they are but to be part of the knowledge industry. By this, the journalist belongs to the intelligentsia, and thus must look at things holistically and begin to ascribe interpretation to those issues. It is only when you interpret issues that people can contribute to rational discuss. In this aspect, the mass media failed woefully. They hardly interpret but merely report events.

Do you then consider the mass media as a platform or a group of individuals; and can’t people from other spheres pour into the platform and contribute to it?

It is not a good thinking. We just discussed it in the PHD class. What makes it a profession is for the specialised work they do. If you then say people should converge into the place known as mass media platform, then you would welcome a lot of charlatans into the platform and they would desecrate the sanctity of news that we ordinarily should accord to stories.

What I am saying is that we have been trained as journalists to report issues for a mass audience, taking into consideration their idiosyncrasies and nuances. I can write just one single story and in it, you expect a professor to read and make sense out of it, you expect an engineer to read and make sense out of it, and a market woman to read and make sense out of it. That is what distinguishes journalists from professional writers. Journalese is different from specialised writing. You can always find them in journals. If a medical doctor is writing for medical practitioners, it will be in medical journals, not in newspapers. Once you put it into the newspaper, it is now in the public domain. Public domain is hybrized, is variegated, meaning that all shades of light and opinion are represented. So, you must not write for a particular set of people. When you do that, you now venture into specialised writing which is in contrast distinction to mass media writing.

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You argued that journalists should try editorialising to complement news writing in order to set agenda and advocate. Is it not the ivory tower (universities) that produced the professional journalists who said, separate news from opinion? Is it the duty of the field (practitioners) that should start it, or the ivory tower that should start it?

We are not reinventing the wheel. We are not saying something that is not there. The axiom is, do not editorialise your news. It means, do not infuse your own opinion. That is for the features platform and the editorial platform. It allows the news writer to accord interpretation to issues. So, we are asking, what happened to the features platform? What happened to the editorial platform? How are journalists utilising these platforms meaningfully? They are not utlising them. There is a preponderance of straight news over features. Reporting straight news does not make you put on your thinking cap, it does not make you think outside the box. Why shouldn’t a journalist think outside the box? If you don’t, how are you informing the society? Are you informing and informing adequately? The duty is to inform the masses so they can contribute to rational discuss. If they are poorly informed, they will not contribute to rational discuss. Inform them well. By giving them straight news, you are more or less inoculating them, you are not allowing them to use their discretional powers and initiatives. That way, the society becomes mechanistic. The society cannot even adapt to centrifugal and centripetal forces that reverberate in it.

Any other thing?

Let all come together and make a difference. Let’s use every opportunity given to us by God to be an opportunity to add value to humanity. Let us also attach some passion to what we do. Let us not practise journalism as a mechanistic business but as a dynamic profession and as a business that can actually sustain and propagate the ideals of every organic society. In that way, we would be fulfilled and in that way, we would also know that we have attained a professional height in the society.