Journalism vs. 'Brown Envelopes'
THE ROLE OF POVERTY
We can go on and on with examples of the various manifestations of corruption in the Nigerian media. That would take a whole book. However, one fact comes out crystal clear in all of these: there is a nexus between corruption and poverty. Where corruption is endemic, poverty will be pervasive. The cold fact is that the media in Nigeria is under-capitalised. In turn, most journalists are poorly remunerated. For instance, TELL, Nigeria’s largest circulating independent news magazine, in 2010, owed its staff up to six months in salary backlog. That was apart from other staggering sums it owed printers, supplies of its consumables, among others.
The publication was forced to sell its largest asset, its corporate headquarters lying on about two acres of land on Kudirat Abiola Way, a prime area of Lagos, to pay the salary arrears and clear the other debts. Nosa Igiebor, who has been the magazine’s editor-in-chief since its inception in May 1991, admits that “As at the time…, we owed our staff six months salary,” and they were losing their best hands. So, the management had no other option than to sell the sprawling property to stay afloat.
At the present in Nigeria, not less than four media outfits owe their staff salary in arrears ranging from three to six months. In fact, as at the time of writing this paper, one newspaper owed its staff 10 months in salary backlog.
Even where salaries are paid promptly, many journalists still earn less than USD3 per day. In most Nigerian newspapers, graduate journalists receive as little as N30,000 or US$200 monthly. After paying rent, and perhaps setting something aside for food in the new month, the average journalist has little or nothing left for sustenance.
In fact, his situation has become so critical that at some point, it becomes extremely difficult to preach ethics to him. In good conscience, how do you preach ethics to somebody who is hungry? How do you tell a hungry, weather-beaten reporter not to accept ‘brown envelope’ or bribe, if we must call a spade by its name, when offered?
THE WAY OUT
It is easy, very easy, to quickly appraise all the facets of corruption in the media and outline its corrosive effects. It is tempting as well to prescribe a quick-fix or a fix-all antidote. But pragmatically, it’s not that easy, and it’s never going to be that easy. Maybe we should pause here and hear what the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, one of the founding fathers of modern Nigeria, said about the cancer of corruption.
“Corruption,” he said in one of his powerful deliveries in the 1960s, “is a big matter and one which had given us a lot of anxious thought. It is all very well to say abolish corruption as though it was a thing that can be cut off by turning a tap or pressing a switch. No, it is a matter which springs from the very roots of human nature. Is there any country in the world which can honestly and convincingly claim to be absolutely free of corruption? I doubt it very much.” (Agbese, 2008, p. 211)
Another strong pillar of modern Nigeria, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, concurred at another forum. He said: “It will, I believe, be generally agreed that eradication of corruption from any society is not just a difficult task, it is without dispute, an impossible objective.” (p. 11)
|Shola Oshunkeye - African Journalism in a Culture of Brown Envelopes.pdf||1.69 MB|