This intervention has been made necessary, not by any personal dissent with the catalogue of issues and constancy of criticism of the President, but their stereotypically patterned style from a club of journalists and opinion article writers, who willy-nilly, have been levying a perpetual media war against the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
This club of journalists and writers has turned themselves into a diatribe monster against the President Jonathan-led Federal Government. They criticize the President destructively in everything.
For these ideologues, diatribe journalism has become an end in itself; a way of life. They have made themselves ready tools for discrediting and running down the administration, whatever that approximate.
It must be understood that our ‘newspaper professors’ whose pens drip with venom don’t see anything good about Nigeria. They contribute to and in fact, compound the issues bedeviling the country. The antics of these writers reasonably interfere with the fights against corruption, terrorism and insecurity, and in extreme cases, threaten the sovereignty of the Nigerian state. This is why it is often said that the Nigerian media are part and parcel of the Nigerian problem.
Arguably, the Nigerian media space has been callously abused and the press freedom ascribed to the Constitution itself has now been converted to a license for panel-beating the nation, especially the President. Is it then a thing of surprise that the administration too has naturally developed a thick skin to the unabating winter of criticisms directed at it? The danger in this is that even well-intentioned pieces of constructive criticism, however objective they may seem, are now being viewed with an eye of cynicism and suspicion by the Nigerian establishment.
It is fashionable for these Nigerians to brand themselves public affairs analysts, specialising of course, in nothing else but the ossified problems of their country. The funniest part of it is that they always want to prove to the reading public that they are ‘professors’ in the special craft of vitriolic and lambasting Nigeria.
That is sadly their benchmark of being good writers. They, therefore, feel vindicated by the negative things they write about their country.
They don’t offer any reasonable solutions to the multitude of challenges besetting the country. Reeling out Nigeria’s ailments week in week out, they write with gusto. Their pens drip with venom; their pieces are characteristically heavy on character assassination, and they want the world to believe that they are pen professors who specialise in destructive criticism of their country, especially of the President.
Secondly, this intervention has also been justified by the compelling need to articulate that destructive criticism is no longer a mark of patriotism, courage, intelligence or nationalism as it once used to be taken for in the past, especially during the colonial era.
As it were, the Nigerian print media space has been poisoned and contaminated by invectives, sustained campaigns of calumny, propaganda, canards, mauling, mudslinging, buck-passing, name-calling, stereotyping, recriminations, and glittering generalities.
Destructive criticism in all its manifestations had never done any good to a nation in the long-run in that it is not a component of sustainable nation-building.
The use to which the Nigerian print media has been put in recent times calls for caution because it bodes ill for our democracy. It would seem that the freedom of the press is being abused by these writers who have turned themselves into ‘pen warriors’ against the Jonathan administration. Diatribe journalism, as media literati often calls this practice, has contributed to the collapse of governments. This is why media academics in the mass communication departments warn their charges that a print journalist who wants to positively contribute to nation-building should not make destructive criticism their habitual writing style.
The promoters of this smug campaign of attrition should realise that if they use the power of the pen to destroy this Fourth Republic, like the proverbial child which denied its mother sleep, it would conduce to a no-win situation for all, except those subterranean interests driving it. Dr. Jonathan, to whom this diatribism is directed, is not the architect of Nigeria’s problems that are as old as the country itself. Jonathan is Nigeria’s President today, but he is not the originator of Nigeria’s endemic corruption, even as a section of the Nigerian judiciary has made itself an accomplice of the corrupt.
The President who is doing his best to ensure there is peace and stability in the polity is not the originator of Boko Haram menacing the nation.
The Ghandian principle of statecraft makes it explicitly clear that knowledge without character destroys a society. Clive S. Lewis, the Irish poet and scholar, was probably guided by this time-honoured nugget when he said: “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems to make a more clever devil”. Therefore, it must be noted that the current trend in the Nigerian print media, if left unchecked, would crowd out intelligent discourse in the Nigerian public space.
In fact, the prevailing print media climate in Nigeria today once again brings into the spotlight the role of the media in a democracy.
This is an old question. It was an identical press climate in the 1940s that made Henry Luce, Time Magazine owner and publisher, to fund an independent commission of scholars, politicians, social activists, and legal experts to study the role of the press in society. Professor Robert Maynard Hutchin, then Chancellor of University of Chicago headed the commission. The findings from the study gave birth to the Social Responsibility Theory of the press in 1947. Is this club of writers being guided by this normative theory as a guide-post for their trade? Is needling the administration over every issue under the sun, even going as far as literally condemning the shape and size of the President’s nose, without an iota of respect for his person and office, part of media literacy? One doesn’t think so.
In literature, opinion is free; facts are sacred. However, being editorially responsible requires drawing a line between constructive and destructive criticism; between fair and malicious (libelous) comment. Nigeria, despite its challenges of governance, is not an animal farm; it is a society governed by laws and journalists and opinion article writers should always realise this when crafting their works.