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‘A matter of fact’ column by Afam Echi

Rescuing journalism practice in Imo             

 This piece was long written in my mind but many situations conspired not to allow it see the light of the day. The push I had to do so now was precipitated by the serial observation or comments/ attention Martins Ori, one of the best pen pushers and human encyclopaedia around made on journalism practice in Imo on Facebook. I chose to withhold my commentary preferring to react in this manner, using print and electronic media.

There is no doubt I may be shaking the table through this reaction and without any intention to hurt anybody I will say it as it is. That is my style. I am sorry if the spill gets to you. Imo Press prides itself as the third best in Nigeria, whatever may be the criteria is unknown to me though. If the above position is true, which is not unlikely, it would become the best if it attends to the myriads of issues confronting it.

Journalism is a noble profession but I am not sure the practitioners especially those of Imo extraction appreciates this virtue. There is no regulation, and if there is one it is very weak. It is like a church where you get up any day to form your own and leave when you like. This is so too at the national level. There is virtually no profession in this country that has not suffered quackery or challenged by moral issues or gross indiscipline.

 My focus is Imo although as a subset of Nigeria what is characteristic of Imo may have a national outlook. Journalists are people who are so critical and constantly throwing up issues that negate a good society. They are called watch dogs. They can make or mar you. They fight with their pen and brain.

Unfortunately, in Imo there is nothing that the journalists fight against that they are not guilty of ten folds. They keep pointing at others’ evil but they are no saints. They write about bad governance but they cannot even constitute a good leadership, constantly at each other’s jugular. They breathe hatred, they compromise, they fight each other, and they exhibit all manner of indiscipline.

I thought they say those who come to equity must come with clean hands. Why must we seek to remove the mole in other people’s eyes when we are carrying a log in our own eyes? Should we not lead by example?

The historical excursion by my respected friend Ori on local tabloids is quite interesting. The publishers and some of their younger colleagues individually are talented and possess great strength and energy. Sadly, this is not weaved into one bunch to optimize the profession. Instead they are dissipated in fighting one another.

Check it out at the level of leadership, there is no leadership at the NUJ level. The INPA, the publishers association until recently were at daggers drawn and even now some of its past leaders have constituted themselves into deities, excluding themselves and working against the group. The Imo Editors forum is not strong enough to pull the strings and they pander to the whims and caprices of their masters. 

If there are issues bedevilling journalism at the national level why don’t the practitioners here put themselves together with their skills to set the tone for others? What we have is dog eat dog. The media owners will unleash the younger untrained ones into the field without pay to scout for news. The actions of these newshounds in the field will make you deny your profession as a journalist. They call themselves ‘Konja’

No doubt the survival of a paper in a poor Imo economy is challenging. Remove politics and government all the papers will go extinct. A lot of areas in journalism such as development journalism are not explored. We need to become more creative. There is hardly any of the papers that discusses the economy, agriculture, real estate, rural development, education, culture etc. Don’t we have these sectors in the state?

Real estate and education are thriving businesses in Imo. We need to be creative in my own thinking and seek collaboration. The publishers cannot pretend not to know the activities of the Konja group which has brought shame to the profession. Motor park touts demonstrate more decorum than them when issues of money come up. I am tempted to think that they travelled through that path hence they tolerate it. Some also accuse the publishers of doing senior Konja regularly in their own way.

It is criminal, wicked and hypocritical to condemn the government for non-payment of salaries yet they make money as is the case with some of them and refuse to pay.

The quality of journalism has gone down and keeps going down. The level of grammatical errors witnessed in the papers is quite intolerable. Unfortunately, the publishers care less to self-regulate on these issues that lower their image. What they don’t reckon with is that they constitute a corrupt influence on the grammar formulation of young readers.

In my formative years as a kid, the Renaissance and later Daily Star newspaper of the former East Central State government helped me so much to learn words and spellings that saw me hold my ground very well in dictations and essay writing at school. How would anybody patronize your product when you are constantly throwing out bad products?

We may not know how much we influence impressionable minds. Newspapers are seen as authorities and most people see it as infallible. Some will usually ask which paper reported it because they believe that whatever is reported is right. Most of the so called journalists can hardly string words that make any meaning after interactions yet they proudly call themselves journalists. I am convinced that we can make a difference if we want to.

For survival many infiltrate the profession and turn cheap labour for the media owners. They have no skills. Even the publishers themselves how have they striven to update themselves. What difference are they making in the quality of their products? Can’t they spare time to train their workers just on the basics? How many can hold discussions on contemporary national issues or string a good feature story?

At the state level there is no form of training of any kind to up skill the members. How can there be when they are embroiled in leadership tussle. No initiative of any kind is seen to motivate the members. Neither of the leadership groups is concerned about growing skills unfortunately. I am convinced that if they seek sponsorship there would be results.

There are opportunities in the South East but who is identifying them for exploration. Nnewi, Aba, Onitsha for example are for business opportunities. A lot goes on unreported within those areas and the South East. We can by way of adventure seek openings in those areas. They are not more than two hours travelling time from Owerri as a base.

Some of the media owners that claim inability to pay should close shop or fuse into other viable ones. It is unfair to use people and treat them anyhow. If it is not working then show it is not working by quitting the scene rather than criminally exploiting other fellows because labour is cheap. Journalists are forced to indulge in many unethical and sharp practices in order to survive. Everybody is keeping a sealed lip yet wants a saintly government.

Recently one of the frontline publishers owed his worker 23 months out of 25 month’s stipend and got a serious protest from the employee. When the publishers lawyer intervened the publisher denied, that the employee was not employed. Meanwhile he is living larger than life and seeking all recognition. On top of all these INPA would claim to be the highest employer of labour outside government. Journalism practice in Imo needs a rescue. Who can step out to cleanse the augean stable?

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