“Journalism is not a crime” as a slogan has been widely used by various international rights organisations, particularly Amnesty International, whenever they were literarily in the trenches for the sake of Journalists. Most of the organisations firmly believe that Freedom of expression has being under sustained as increasing attacks against journalists persist. In some parts of the world, the repression of the media is such that it has been described by some as the “death of journalism”.
In fact, if there is any incident that would compel anyone to compare journalism practice and soldiering as sharing the same level of risks, it is the trending story in the media that says armed thugs, on Sunday, attacked journalists and others at the Kaduna State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, secretariat. As reported in the news, the attack disrupted a press conference that was being addressed by Senators Shehu Sani and Othman Hunkuyi on the outcome of the recently held congress of All Progressives Congress, APC.
The thugs, who were allegedly led by a Divisional Police Officer, destroyed the video camera of Liberty Television crew, injured the Cameraman, Lawal Muhammed, damaged several cameras and injured two other reporters. The thugs also broke doors, windows and damaged chairs and tables at the secretariat.
There is a sense in comparing the profession with soldiering, after all, some journalists were in the course of their duties in the past obligated to join soldiers in Liberia, Rwanda and Algeria during the crises that erupted in these countries. Unfortunately, one of the Reporters that was assigned Liberia, Tayo Awotusin, never came back to write a travelogue for the readers of Champion Newspaper as he died in the Liberian civil war in the 90s. The hazards that are inherent in the journalism profession are today undeniably making many youths to have a rethink on the choice of the profession so much so that most of them are beginning to see public relations, brand management, advertising, marketing research and other allied professions as optional careers in order to be on the safe side.
Suffice it to say that unjustified brutalization and harassment of journalists in Nigeria is age-long. In 1970, Minere Amakiri of the Nigerian Observer was arrested and detained by the then military administrator of Rivers state, Diette Spiff. Before detention, he was stripped naked and his hair was shaved with a razor blade.
In my view, what happened at Kaduna is just one of the isolated cases of physical assaults often perpetrated against Nigerian journalists. In the same vein, Nigerian journalists are daily assaulted psychologically by news sources. They are in most cases looked down upon and snubbed by some news sources. In fact, journalists are often seen as invaders of privacy and as “Poke Nosers”. But have those who unjustifiably hate journalists ever sat down to reflect on the fact that journalists do not create events but report events?
In the case of the latest attack, it could have been wise before the fracas escalated to reason that the journalists that were attacked were dutifully covering a political event for the benefits of the electorates in Kaduna state.
To my view, Nigeria has gotten to the stage since the emergence of democracy in 1999, where her citizens can be said to be politically educative and enlightened enough to understand that news reporting activities on the ongoing democratic process are the responsibilities of Journalists, and not party affiliates or thugs.
Nigerians who are in other professions or trades should always have it at the back of their minds that those who are duty bound to be informing the public as developments on the political space continue to unfold are the journalists. One does not need to be trained as a journalist to understand that the event where the attack was carried out against the journalists is tied to the ongoing political dispensation. For God’s sake, why is it that the Nigerian journalists are not always allowed to perform their duties in a professional manner? Most Nigerians, including graduates who do not ply the trade of journalism, erroneously think that Journalism is all about writing. How wrong they are! It goes beyond writing. It is said that everybody can write but not everybody is a journalist. We were all taught how to write essays in our secondary school days but that does not make us to be qualified journalists. The ability to literarily smell news when others cannot is also one of the requirements needed to be a journalist.
I sincerely sympathise with the journalists that were brutalized or assaulted by the ostensibly hire thugs in Kaduna,considering the fact that they were executing the legitimate duties to which they were employed to perform and get paid for, so to say.
Hunter S. Thompson was quoted to have said that “The press is a gang of cruel faggots. Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits—a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.”
Against the backdrop of the foregoing meaningless quote, one may conjecture that the erroneous understanding of journalism across the globe may have been making even some educated Nigerians, not to talk of thugs, to often have butterfly in their stomachs whenever the name “journalist” is mentioned. However, journalists are not mischievous, as most people erroneously perceive them to be. They report facts as they see them because they do not create events. They only report events from factual perspective.
Basically, a journalist’s duty is to inform, educate and entertain the people and not to harm them. To the journalists in the print media, writing is one of the best ways of keeping their audience informed, educated and entertained. In the course of performing their primary duties, journalists automatically become instruments for the mobilization and participation of the populace towards a worthy cause. Also in the course of performing their duties, the journalists, through their literary skills, promote better understanding of culture, tradition and religious creeds, and to a large extent promote peace in the society.
Many well-motivated journalists, no doubt, have the ability to influence changes in the society so much so that decision makers are known to have been left with no option than to re-examine their policies and programmes, as a result of constructive criticisms by some journalists.
Journalists, through their news stories and opinions immensely contribute to national and international debates that could improve people’s living standards and promote better understanding amongst the populace. Without daring journalists, who would have kept millions of Nigerians informed about the heinous activities of the bogey called Boko Haram in the northern part of the country?
Nigerians get to know about the sanguinary battles which members of the Boko Haram sect are baselessly declaring to the detriment of the peace and stability of our nation through reports by journalists. In the same vein, without Journalists, who would have told Nigerians that a dare-devil kidnapper in the mould of Evans literarily held sway in the “jungle”? It is a fact that journalists contributed immensely to the independence of Nigeria and the restoration of democracy in the country. Finally, I am using this piece to urge every Nigerian to stop seeing journalists as their enemies, but rather as their friends, as the Nigerian Police Force would say. Without the journalists, many of us would literarily be in the dark about happenings around the world.
As this writer leaves this piece for Nigerians to ruminate upon, it is expedient to still ask “Does Being A Journalist Makes One A Criminal?”
Isaac Asabor, A Journalist, writes from Lagos