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Buhari and ‘the toxic press’

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Buhari. Photo/ facebook/ekitistategov

It was Fats Waller, the great jazz pianist who was once asked what jazz is. His response cautioned anyone still in illusion about jazz thus: “Man, if you don’t know what jazz is, don’t mess with it”.

The ongoing show-off between Twitter and the federal government and the latter’s desire to regulate social and online media is an attempt to criminalise journalism in the country. However, from the above response, the ruling government should be advised not to mess with the media, if it does not know that the mass media is the Fourth Estate of the realm.

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The current government has rightly or wrongly spotted a defining moment by banning Twitter the other day over its taking down the President’s tweet on the ground of policy and ethics. No doubt, the government’s action against Twitter is quite an extreme one to take. But, in a bid to continue the adventurous display of power to clip social and online media wings, the ruling government is seeking prayers through the ies and nay members of National Assembly for the good of Nigeria as they usually say? By the way, the news is never so troublesome as the ruling government try to define it. Of what benefit is it, should the media organisations in Nigeria be censored to the dictate of the government?

How time flies. The President Muhammadu Buhari administration has forgotten so soon that it came to power with the help of the media especially social and online media. Indeed, the ruling government’s recent restatement through the minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, to regulate social and online media has once again exposed the practice of journalism in Nigeria as one of the most maligned professions in the land. In fact, several media reports no matter how accurate or factual, spawn a new dilemma and controversy which erupt the wrath of government and its officials as they manipulate a theory with which to discredit the media reports and murder the sacred facts. Without being told, the government is expected to have a large heart to accommodate criticism from the media. The Twitter brouhaha is a good example of another level of censorship after the current government’s unsuccessful attempt with hate speech and fake news jingo to frustrate media practice in the country. However, it cannot be taken away that the media have a key role to play as they are constitutionally and professionally charged with informing the people of government’s activities just as it reflects the mood and aspirations of the people to the government. The challenge mostly driven by the actions of the media and the new (social) media in checkmating political office holders has elicited the little sincerity and determination of political office holders to give the people democracy dividends.   

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In a democratic setting such as ours, the agenda-setting of the media for good governance serves as a measurement of government performance at all levels. However, it would seem that, this humble nature of the media is viewed as provocative and considered as toxic journalism by the ruling government being led by a president who says he is a true democrat. Of course, by trying to regulate the media, the government is looking at a bonfire in which all the measures that thrill the society, but hurts few folks feelings in government are going to go up in smoke. But, wait a minute. Does this have to happen in a democracy? Surely, the answer is in the details as the media and most Nigerians took President Buhari in 2014 just like President George W Bush in 2001 while meeting President Vladmir Putin for the first time said: “I looked the man in the eye and was able to get a sense of his soul”. An error of judgment you may say regarding the suspicion that existed between both countries afterwards. The ruling government should do well to refocus its attention and resources on real governance that will impact positively on the lives of Nigerians instead of seeking avenue to gag the press. Indeed, the government cannot be said to be successful if its actions and lapses are not reported in the media, just as the media’s obligation is incomplete without reporting government. Although, such reports usually resonate with the ire of the government of the day as it tries to label the media as the case is with Twitter. Attempt by President Buhari administration to regulate social media platforms by asking all social media and online broadcasting service providers to apply for license is less than fair to journalism.

Especially now that majority of the youth are creating a niche for themselves as entrepreneurs with the social media space. There is a concern that the many strange allegations towards social and online media are efforts to unnecessary arrogate power to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to control media content and weaken investigations of government’s inappropriate conduct. The facts remain that with the level of uncertainty, palpable fear, insecurity, poverty among others in the land, there is hardly a way the media can refuse to be neutral and truthful especially as it did not create these events. The government should create a conducive atmosphere and a better way to get the media to work as the government’s partner in progress rather than being antagonistic.

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