5th March, 2012
I am discombobulated and even flabbergasted that our society today seems to give a relatively greater respect to lawyers, doctors or bankers over journalists. This is a mistake that if not promptly corrected will further propel our country on an already ignominious path.
It always leaves me stumped that the profession of journalism in our country is allowed to sink deeper and does not pass the smell test even as corruption and ignorance are now sky-scraping.
People are asking: “Where are the journalists? Where are the columnists? Where are the opinion and the editorial writers?” The answer seems to be a shameful and disturbing silence and an embarrassing void.
Some bigoted or wacky journalists even shamelessly believe that judges, lawyers or doctors are better than them. This is because they do not understand their lofty role in the society.
On campuses, lecturers tell journalism students that journalism is not a profession that will make them financially comfortable. This is a teaching that must stop.
“It’s not a profession to make money. It’s a social service. If you want money, go to the bank,” they say.
But journalism is a noble profession that oversees and keeps in check any other profession on earth. Journalism is meant to be the conscience of any society. And when the edifice of journalism crumbles, the country fails because if the conscience fails, no country can survive.
Journalism practitioners watch over the society and determine where a country heads, where the conscience goes, how the laws are made, how things should or should not be done, what should be praised and what must be condemned.
Journalism must be the last pillar of hope of any society and when the law fails, when people abuse their power and authority, when the social contract crumbles, journalists must stand by the people, by the conscience and hold the abusers accountable.
Any society that does not hold journalists in high esteem cannot succeed because a society without conscience may head in any direction.
Also professions that are held in higher esteem are not better than journalism.
For instance, you can work in the bank, count money and watch over deposits or big accounts, but what really is great about it apart from an official car and a relatively decent salary?
What is creative about it? How do you influence the society? How do you change behaviours or inequality in the society? How do you create a better world?
Better still, how do you tell those who make laws what is right and what is not acceptable? And when you are unjustly sacked in the bank, what can you do about it, especially when the law fails? When morality and conscience are the only bulwark left? Or even, what if you are abusing your power as a banker? What if you are stealing people’s hard earned incomes? Who should hold you accountable when the law fails? Most times, we all look the journalist’s way.
You can even be a judge or a lawyer and argue cases or dispense justice based on the laws available, but what if those laws are unjust and immoral? Who do we turn to for the advocacy of better laws?
And when lawyers or judges are unjustly sacked or axed for political or selfish reasons, when the law fails the lawyers and the judges, who do they turn to? They usually turn to the conscience of the society. They turn journalists for a final rescue.
Or how can we explain that in this digital age, we still pride ourselves with obsolete laws in our courts such as pictures taken with a digital camera are not admissible in court when manual cameras have almost gone into extinction?
Lawyers cannot change that law and judges simply say ‘that’s the law’ or ‘that’s what the law says’.
You can even be a doctor and treat people when they come to the hospital already sick based on the training in medical schools. But how do you advocate for better medical schools? How do you advocate for less strikes in our universities?
Can you even prevent sickness? How do you prevent eateries and restaurants from feeding our people with chemicals that end up giving them stroke, diabetes or cardiovascular diseases?
How do you influence the enactment of laws that can enhance better food processing and consumption?
These responsibilities are often left to journalists, to the conscience of the society, especially in corrupt countries where government agencies in charge of such tasks collect bribes and look the other way.
And because some journalists don’t understand their lofty responsibilities, their role in the society, they let themselves down even as publishers and the society enslave them.
And when dictators or oppressors take over power, bankers, lawyers, judges, lawmakers and other noise noisemakers flee. Everyone looks up to journalists, to the conscience of the society.
Truth be told, there are internal problems in our profession. For instance, some journalists are paid crummy salaries which can barely take them home, much less feed them and their families.
Some publishers are so irresponsible that they don’t pay journalists for months and some even shamelessly ask reporters and editors to get money from members of the public who want their services. What a shame!
And as a result, at press conferences, people refer to journalists as gentlemen of the press in condescending manner as they show up shabbily dressed and sweating.
Some quacks have also invaded the profession of journalism, but this is not specific to journalism. Quacks are all over the place, from the banks to our political office holders.
When journalism is weakened, the society is weakened. When journalists are not comfortable, they become puppets for corrupt politicians, thieves and dictators and as a result the same society that neglects journalists takes a hit and ends up worse, with more corruption and a comatose economy.
I urge Nigeria today to ensure journalism is given back the lofty place it deserves.
If not, we will have only ourselves to blame when the cookie crumbles.
•Ateba is a Senior Correspondent for P.M.NEWS. Email: [email protected]