WHEN I read the article with the tittle “social media and its many successes in Nigeria”, written by Femi Oguntayo and published on the Nigerian Tribune of January 25th, 2020, I could not help but agree with him that the emergence of the social media to an appreciable extent have changed domes lives for good, help mobilize the society to pursue common goals and encouraged citizens to be bold in holding government accountable and responsible at all times. Oguntayo, in his article, highlighted how the social media has, over the years, brought the government at all levels, powerful people and celebrities in the country closer to the masses than in the past, and how it has turned out to be a productive tool for checkmating the activities of government and its policies. He further explained how the government of Nigeria also use the social media as an apparatus in measuring their popularity as well as the acceptability of their proposed policies to the people. This, he said, is why, often times, the government acts based on the reactions of Nigerians either by their acceptance or rejection.
Oguntayo made reference to a video in which a senator, Elisha Abbo, was caught assaulting a woman in an adult toy shop in Abuja. That video went viral and few days later the Senator was forced to publicly tender an apology and charged to court over the incident. I would also like to mention the video in which a little girl was captured protesting against the manner she was driven away from school because her parents could not pay her fees. It will be recalled that after that video went viral, the Delta State government visited her school, refurbished it and gave her an academic scholarship. The writer argued that Nigerians did not necessarily, over the past years, have to crowd the streets to make their grievances known, but had chosen to make optimum use of the social media in passing their messages across thereby serving as watchdogs to the government, and this is true. However, the writer merely concluded by saying “In all, the social media though may have some shortcomings, ranging from the undemanding spread of fake news and cyber-bullying”, as if the failings of the social media is a matter we could sweep under the carpet and go to bed.
As a matter of fact, it won’t be out of place if one tacitly states that the challenges that came with the social media are greater than the good it is doing for our young and relatively growing democracy today. One of the greatest threats to our democracy is the fact that the social media has given birth to many journalists that have not benefitted from formally organised journalism education and literature. These new breed of social media journalists who pride themselves as bloggers or social media influencers have succeeded in making the dissemination and consumption of fake news a way of life for Nigerians. And almost always, they have, perhaps out of sheer naivety, told the wrong stories about Nigeria to the world and in many cases ignorantly revealed our national secrets to willing enemies of our country. Recall a video that went viral in which a helicopter was captured airlifting somebody at the Ore axis of the Lagos-Benin Expressway during heavy traffic that lasted several hours. Few hours after the video went viral on the internet, bloggers, without verifying who was involved in the incident ,went on to publish a story, saying that the person airlifted by the helicopter was Mr. Julian Osula, the CEO of Julian’s Luxury.
The bloggers claimed that Osula hired the helicopter to pick him up in a bid to escape the usual gridlock, after allegedly spending over two hours in the traffic. And sadly, some traditional media outfits that were eager to be the first to break the news and beat their competitors to the news also published the story without verifying the authenticity and credibility of the source of the story. Three days later, just as the CEO of Julian’s Luxury vehemently denied being the one in the video that was given wide publicity without any attempt to investigation, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) launched an investigation into the incident to ascertain the grounds with which the helicopter was given the permission to land on a busy expressway. But not too long after the investigation commenced, one Mr. Femi Adeniji from Tropical Arctic Logistics Ltd told the BBC that there was no truth in the speculation that the helicopter, an air ambulance, was called by a billionaire who wanted to escape the huge traffic jam. Instead, he said, the man involved in the said video had been suffering from high blood pressure and was airlifted to a nearby hospital because his driver had panicked that he could die if nothing urgent was done.
Also, recall the bogus claim and misinformation that circulated on the internet that consuming alcohol is an effective measure against COVID-19, also known as Novel Coronavirus 2019. The story was accompanied by a screenshot with an image of Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s lead political anchor, with the text ‘Alcohol kills coronavirus’. But it was later found that the screenshot contained a number of inconsistencies, such as the font used which is different from the legitimate CNN font. At this point, you may want to ask why do people even believe these stories as soon as they see, hear or read them on the internet or the mainstream outlets? Dr. Fred Amadi in his book titled Errors In Nigeria Journalism Theories explicitly explained that the masses have always manifested consistent and similar traits while consuming news from the internet or mainstream media outlets. He further explained that “some of these traits include intellectual laziness much to the extent of inability to think for themselves. Among the masses fewer people express opinion than receive it. Subject to occasioned manipulations, the masses tent to view society in most of its large scale forms as if they were spectators than actors. “The masses (media audience) have no autonomy from institutions, especially of the media. On the contrary, agents of authorized institutions (Journalists) penetrate the masses, reducing any autonomy they may have in the formation of opinion.” It is because of this reason that communication scholars have always advocated that a journalist in whose hands the fate of such masses lie must be found to be a detached or disinterested individual.
They have argued that an individual that should be saddled with the responsibility to inform and educate masses with such traits must be one who have benefitted from a formally organized Journalism education, and that such person must write his report/comment in a way that conceals the presence of the speaker, his interest and desire, and how these are socially and structurally maintained.
In fact, in the words of Dr. Amadi the Journalist for the type of communication Nigeria needs now “is a person possessed of the personality trait or self perception of being detached. One who is capable of writing and deseminating unbiased, disinterested reports to persons and public.”
To ensure that these traits are honed and focused, he said “a journalist must benefit from formally organized Journalism education.” But unfortunately the persons who introduced the occupation to the geopolitical entity later christened Nigeria did not leave any literature showing that they went through a thorough Journalism.
Available records show that most of the earliest actors in the Nigerian Journalism scene were professionals of other calling who just saw certain opportunities in Nigeria Journalism and decided therefore to dabble into it. It is on record that Dr. A. A Harrison who assisted Rev Henry Townsend, the publisher of the first newspaper in Nigeria, Iwe Irohin, was a medical doctor.
As a matter of fact, Reverend Townsend himself was a Theologian of the Anglican Communion who dabbled into Journalism not because he had the educational credentials but becaus he saw in journalism, an avenue for quick and mass evangelization of the African of 1840 and 50s.
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And today, with the near absence of proper censorship of the social media space in Nigeria, the Mass Media industry appears to be going back to the era of Journalism without education. It is going back to the era when the history of Nigeria Journalism was built by persons whose academic first love were other disciplines but who later saw Journalism as the only stop station where relevance and self actualization could be attained.
To prevent this looming practice that threatens the core essence of the Journalism profession, Joseph Politzer wrote in 1902 that “Journalism is or ought to be one of the great and intellectual professions designed to encourage, elevate and educate in a practical way the present and still more, future members of that profession, exactly as if it were profession of law and medicine.”
- Lawal is on the staff of Nigerian Tribune