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Petty And Diabolical

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Dan Agbese

Dan Agbese

THE lot of the journalist has never been particularly enviable. The irrepressible Committee for the Protection of Journalists, CPJ, reminds us of that chilling fact each year. It issues an annual report that details the mind-numbing details of what big men and their minions everywhere do to silence journalists and prevent them from carrying out their primary function of informing and educating the people. The human mind remains imprisoned in the dungeon of intolerance even in this celebrated age of enlightenment. How awfully sad.

 

CPJ’s 2015 annual report is officially due out on December 15. It is not difficult to predict that its findings would make reaching for the champagne flute inadvisable. I am sure not much has changed globally in official attitude towards journalists in liberal societies as well as in dictatorships and the middling democracies in between with scrappy records of respect for the basic tenets of the democratic ethos. The needle in the intolerance quotient swings high. We have to await the official release of the report to have the full facts of how journalists fared this year in various parts of the world – developed, developing and under-developed.

I am sure not much has changed globally in official attitude towards journalists in liberal societies as well as in dictatorships and the middling democracies in between with scrappy records of respect for the basic tenets of the democratic ethos

Meanwhile, here are the very grim facts unearthed by CPJ: 1,155 journalists killed since 1992; 50 journalists killed this year alone; 221 journalists imprisoned in 2014 and 456 journalists exiled since 2008. The messenger is still blamed for the unpalatability of the message. I know of no professional group that has suffered this much in the hands of those in power and whose brief includes the full protection of the rights and the freedom of individuals, groups and professions.

In October last year, CPJ released its Global Impunity Index covering a 10-year period from September 1, 2005, to August 31, 2015, in which it listed “countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free.” The report covers 14 countries. Our own dear Nigeria is one of them. It comes in at number 13 “with five unsolved murders” of journalists.

The big players in the grim statistics of death are led by Somalia where, according to CPJ, at least one journalist is killed every year. That failed African nation holds the equivalent of the Olympic gold medal as the grave yard of those who risk their lives that the people might know the truth and be arguably set free by it. CPJ says “At least 30 journalists have been murdered without any consequences for the perpetrators in this index period…” The authorities in that sad country do not even bother to investigate the murder of journalists.

Weep not, brother. We are not about to become history. Sure, the world is full of intolerant and crazy rulers who, somehow, derive grim satisfaction from seeing journalists impaled on the spikes of their self-delusion. The good news is that these gods with spindly feet of clay have not yet found, and they are not likely to find, an alternative to the journalist and his medium. It seems to me that only an obtuse ruler would forget that the journalist has the last word on his place in national and world history. After all, he writes the big man’s obituary.

Still, it should worry us that impunity has become the defining characteristic of government-press relations in many countries. I am sure the CPJ chose the word most advisedly. Impunity is a systemic problem. It does not just happen. You can see its ugly face in people in positions of trust in our country who cynically abuse public trust. They steal the country blind at all levels. Nothing happens to them. They are the protected poster children of impunity. Impunity protects corruption and the corrupt in our land. I leave you to judge the effect this has had and still has on the anti-graft war. Sacred cows are sacred precisely because they are protected by impunity – conferred by reason of privileges or earned by questionable and usually sudden wealth. If you thought the problem in government-press relation was with rulers who were intoxicated with favourable opinions of themselves, think again.

I will read this year’s CPJ annual report against the background of a petty and frivolous attempt by a senator to gag the social media. Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi south), is sponsoring an anti-social media bill with the rather funny title of An Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other matters connected therewith.

He has been at pains to convince himself and the public that he means well. I am afraid he is doing a poor job of it. In an interview with the Daily Trust (Sunday, December 6), the distinguished senator said: “I sponsored the bill to sanitise information flow on the social media.” Na’Allah admitted that “the social media is a very valuable platform for dissemination of information,” but he is worried that “of recent it has few bad eggs that have turned it into a business venture.”

I leave you to judge the effect this has had and still has on the anti-graft war. Sacred cows are sacred precisely because they are protected by impunity – conferred by reason of privileges or earned by questionable and usually sudden wealth. If you thought the problem in government-press relation was with rulers who were intoxicated with favourable opinions of themselves, think again.

Wonderful. Do-gooders always manage to clothe their sinister intentions with the garb of altruism. I verily believe that this piece of legislation is destined for the dust bin. It would be impolite to suggest that the senator is not well informed about the social media. I think it would be politer to suggest that he has misled himself into believing that it is incumbent on him to catch his own five minute of fame at the expense of the social media. His bill, even in the unlikelihood of its becoming a law, would be impossible to enforce, and thus worse than useless. The operative phrase in his proposed bill is “frivolous petitions.” Who defines ‘frivolous’? I was not aware the social media had anything to do with petitions.

None of us can deny that there are excesses in the social media as, indeed, there are in the mainstream media. It is important to note, however, that the social media derive their social usefulness from their journalistic iconoclasm. Any attempts to gag them in the name of sanitizing them is petty and diabolical. Na’Allah beats his chest and says the senate would not back down on the bill. I hear the hollow sound of misguided macho. Perhaps he does not know that President Muhammadu Buhari would never be persuaded to gag the press, given his experience with Decree 4 of 1984. I advise Na’Allah to back down. I would hate to see him eat the crow.


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