Assault on investigative journalism
Coming at a time when human rights organisation, Amnesty International (AI) Nigeria reported that 19 journalists have been arrested and illegally detained by securities authorities this year, an alleged plot by security operatives to arrest investigative reporter, Mr. Fisayo Soyombo, is a very worrisome development, which progressive Nigerians should be concerned about. This revelation is very critical because it came at a very auspicious time when Soyombo’s three-part investigative reportage into Federal Government establishments tended to have unveiled how gross maladministration, corruption and impropriety in high places have turned the public sector into a cesspool of why national development has been elusive.
Like responsible investigative journalists who are incarcerated in the gulag of intolerant and insensitive governments, Soyombo carried out a successful sting operation, having feigned criminality and taken to the social media to expose corruption in Nigerian police cells and prisons as well as the complicity of agents of a sloppy judicial process. Again, like the agents of progressive change, which they are, journalists and activists are endangered species of the human community, mowed down by state actors who are afraid of the power of truth.
It would be recalled that earlier in the year, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CJP), published a three-year research finding which claimed that as of December 2018 no fewer than 251 journalists were in prisons worldwide.
These sad and regrettable developments are a reflection of a growing trend in brutal, authoritarian and fascist regimes that are incapable of constructively engaging the civil society. This is especially true of countries like Nigeria, where image-makers of government, owing to their lack of emotional and executive intelligence to manage communication flow between government and the people, resort to strategies that can frustrate responsible journalism. This gagging and suppression of essential information for all-inclusive governance must be fought against by everyone who cherishes democracy and its most powerful dividend: freedom.
As events in the new global information order have suggested, the harassment, illegal detention and even the assassination of journalists would be far from abating. The advance in telecommunication technology, with the social media culture, has turned almost everyone with a gadget into an information disseminator without providing the requisite training for news and information management. The intertwining relations between a technologically aided information system and other aspects of human endeavours have created a very complex global information order. So complex has the global information order become that even with the threat of fake news, technique, management of information by the new media, have made information flow seamless, swift, unfiltered, more detailed and more efficacious. And it is improving governance and economic development in global context.
Notwithstanding the complexity, it is in this unregulated order that the journalist stands out. Anyone who has associated with, or has worked as a journalist knows that genuine practice of journalism is all about truth-bearing and truth-telling is no mean profession. Genuine journalists are custodians of the moral values of the society; they form the ombudsman for the state-actors and negotiators for non-state actors and are the gadfly that stings the people to lawful uprising in situations of crass ineptitude and injustice.
Indeed, while this newspaper condemns in strong terms attempts by state actors and repressive institutions to thwart the free flow of news and information, it also cautions against the abuse of information and the desecration of the noble profession of truth-bearing by unscrupulous characters and charlatans in the profession. As the old truth goes, every freedom comes with responsibility, journalists should endeavour to treat information management with some sense of responsibility, bearing in mind the overall promotion of the common good.
To distinguish the genuine journalists from specious information mongers, we agree with the definition given by a critic who describes the journalist as “a professional who reports accounts of actual events or trends in a mass medium using a language of expression that conforms to the norms of taste, decency, accuracy, fairness, adequacy, safety as well as the requirements of law and security demanded by the community where she or he operates.” This is a sacred duty and a selfless vocation for which the journalist deserves utmost respect.
Rather than plot a bare-faced arrest of Soyombo, the authorities should see his self-imposed assignment as a national service of sorts. Though he risked criminal liability to carry out his undercover operations, what he revealed far out-valued any liability he might have brought upon himself. In more developed climes, where institutional reforms are highly appreciated for national development and social stability, authorities may even sponsor sting operations to ascertain the level of decadence and institutional decay in their society. Paradoxically, in Nigeria, it was an ordinary youth, desirous of taking on the mantra of change beyond political partisanship, whose incredible audacity exposed the rot in the system.
The investigative report should not be treated as one of those phoney and embarrassing social media gossips. Authorities in charge of law enforcement and security should genuinely be interested in what The Guardian-trained investigative reporter has done. Rather than being chased about and threatened by security operatives, he should be protected by this administration for his journalistic legwork that has been of public interest.
Considering the revelation made by this journalist, it would be a paradox of development should this administration, whose governance mantra has been war on corruption, to begin to hound any patriot who has painstakingly and sacrificially unveiled the crass ineptitude and cesspool of corruption that has paralysed this country.
The point needs to be repeated to state actors that journalism is indeed a constitutional responsibility to the nation as Section 22 of the 1999 constitution provides. It is the responsibility of journalists who are members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm, to monitor governance and to hold government to account. That is what investigative journalists have been doing all over the world. So, any officers of the law who seek to harass and arrest them for carrying out their lawful job excellently stand condemned.
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