Is The Fourth Estate Edging To The Extreme?

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Fourth Estate, Edging To Extreme
Bala Ibrahim

By Bala Ibrahim

Last night, someone called me to seek for a professional advice over a radio and probably television programes that defamed him. He is a serving officer in one of the agencies that are charged with the responsibility of fighting falsifications.

From his voice, he was extremely distressed because everything that was said about him in the programe was not only false, but clear lies from the pit of hell. The participants in the programe who sounded like actors on errand simply concocted the story, acting on eerie imaginations, to slander him under the pretext of playing journalism.

Yes, as a profession, journalism enjoins those in the business to undertake researches, with the object of educating the public about events and issues, and how they affect peoples’ lives. They are expected to use sources, search public records and other means of getting information, including visiting scenes, in order for them to use what they have uncovered in writing an article or creating a radio, or television programes. It is in the pursuit of that oversight endeavor that journalism is described as the fourth estate of the realm.

Like each and every profession, journalism is therefore guided by certain ethics, which come under media ethics that give direction on how the media should use the information at its disposal. These codes are no different from the conventional rules of behaviour, including the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability. The journalist is therefore expected to be the biggest custodian of equity, or the practitioner of fairness and impartiality.

Because of the strategic position of the journalism profession in the society, and the esteem with which the profession is held, it is expected to send the right message to the right audience at the right time under the right mechanism of delivery. Anything to the contrary constitutes deceit, which is at variance with the ethics of the profession. And where such deceit is used to defame, the actors have gone unprofessional, and must be made to bear the consequences of their misconduct.

My advice to the caller therefore was to seek legal redress, if indeed what he told me was true. I advised him to seek permission from his office and go to court, not only for the sake of putting the records straight, but also to seek compensation for the injuries suffered or sustained, as a result of the carelessness of those involved in the programes.

Time without number, some journalist have taken upon themselves to practice the profession with recklessness, in total disregard for the danger or harm they bring to others, and sometimes, colleagues combine intimidation and professional solidarity, to help the culprits escape the consequences of their actions. This is nothing but the promotion of rashness, which comes in conflict with the principle of practice.

While in a democracy, the main role of the opposition is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable to the public, the media is expected to be critical on both the government and the opposition, objective and openly unbiased. That way, the media can check the excesses of the ruling or dominant party, and maintain the tempo of constructive criticism by the opposition. It is not the duty of the journalist to be bias or unduly antagonistic to anyone in the system.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria today, some journalists have permitted themselves to be put in the bus of the opposition, thereby shifting grounds from the voice of the voiceless, to the voice of the paymaster.

As I write this article, a message has arrived from the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Akwa Ibom State, calling on all its members to boycott a planned press conference for Femi Fani-Kayode, the former Minister of Aviation, who is presently in the state for assaulting one of their members. The chapter is directing all journalists not to attend any activity organised by Femi Fani Kayode because it has taken offense in the maltreatment meted out to Eyo Charles, who was referred to as “stupid” by the former minister, during a press conference in Calabar, Cross River State.

The simple meaning of the NUJ stand is that, we don’t want to be insulted or the reputation of anyone of us to be brought into disrepute. The question begging for answer now is, why do you allow some of yours to damage the reputation of others?

Unless as media practitioners, we are saying, what is good for the goose may not be good for the gander, we must go for an attitude change in practice. We must not be taking advantage of our positions in order to malign others. And the NUJ, in conjunction with other relevant organs in charge of best practice in the profession, must push for modification, from negative thinking, to positive thinking.

The fourth estate of the realm must not edge to the extreme.

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