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Journalists and Brown Envelopes Journalists and Brown Envelopes
by Kola King
2021-12-22 08:36:13
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Journalists and Brown Envelopes
Conscience tortured by brown envelope

A news event that positioned journalists under the spotlight caught my fancy last week. The profession came under scrutiny for what many have described as the brown envelope syndrome. The brown envelope syndrome is an insidious disease that's capable of inflicting ernomous damage to the profession. Still, this innocuous but important story was reported, in the main, by the News Agency of Nigeria. Most of the newspapers appeared to have glossed over it, or preferred to bury it in an obscure page. It seems the media knows how to dish it out to the powerful in the society, but lacks the grace to absorb the home truth as it pertains to its behaviour or activities. Without recourse to a few home truths, the media might lose its bearing and focus. Just as there are bad eggs in all other professions, also journalism will not be an exception to the rule. But the good far outweigh the bad and the ugly.

juou00001_400Nonetheless, journalists are known to be the conscience of society. Like Ceaser's wife they are expected to be above board. Thus they use their pens to fight cant and humbug in the society. They also expose corruption and wrong doings, which the powers that be would rather prefer to sweep under the carpet. Also, they hold the powerful and mighty to account. The critical role of the press in society was highlighted by the third US president, Thomas Jefferson, who said he would prefer “newspapers without government,” over “government without newspapers.”

And it is not for nothing that the Constitution specifically lends credence to the role of journalists in society. In fact, it's the only profession that receives such honourable mention in the Nigerian Constitution. Which explains why they say the pen is mightier than the sword.

This newsworthy event transpired at a town hall meeting hosted by the Nigeria Guild of Editors in Lagos penultimate Thursday and addressed by the United States ambassador, Ms Mary Beth Leonard.

Training her bazooka on the grandees of journalism, she said brown envelope was ruining the media by eroding the public’s trust in the media. She decried the penchant for gratification by journalists while covering news events or, even, generally in the course of duty. She also expressed the view that this untoward behaviour had a way to compromise and undermine the good works of the profession, and render the gatekeepers ineffective.

According to her, “brown envelope journalism undermines the public’s trust in the media, erodes journalistic integrity, and defeats the media’s ability to play a transparent oversight role over government actions.”

For those who are unaware, brown envelope is derived from cash inducements stuffed in brown envelopes and given to journalists during press briefings. In a way, this could be likened to cash-and-carry journalism.

Moreover, the US ambassador further decried financial inducements of journalists, saying the “practice corrodes the institutional position of the media as what we refer to as the Fourth Estate, or one of our pillar of democracy.”

According to the envoy, one of the challenges that democracies worldwide face is an “unfortunate pervasive lack of trust in the media.” Of course, when you mix that with pervasive corruption in the media, then you’ll end up with a toxic brew that does more harm than good.

No doubt, the US ambassador has spoken a few home truths. Brown envelope journalists have brought journalism to disrepute. Which explains why the high and mighty treat journalists with derision and scorn. This ugly trend permeates the whole strata of the profession, right from the top to the bottom. Most often reporters claim their editors demand returns or gratification from them, especially those posted to areas regarded as juicy beats or strategic States, where politicians are renowned for their generosity and largesse to journalists.

Actually, corruption in the media becomes more worrisome when the watchdog becomes part of the problem, instead of being a touchbearer and guide for the society. Naturally, this will call to question the integrity of the media due to the perception that it is open and amenable to corrupt tendencies. Besides, it will steadily erode its oversight function of government actions, which in turn might place democracy in jeopardy.

Much as we can decry and frown at corruption in the media, we will be scratching the surface if we fail to dig deep into the whole operations of the media. In the short run, we will be treating the symptoms, while leaving the real ailment unattended to. Specifically, this goes to the heart of the profession in terms of structure, ownership and funding.

More often than not, media organizations are remiss in paying the salaries of their staff. Staff are owed several months in back payments. Working under this kind of stressful situation, it becomes easy for journalists to be compromised, and to fall prey to dubious politicians. However, poverty should not be an excuse for corruption. All the same, we need to address funding for the media, which would guarantee steady payment for journalists in their employ.

In the long run, the role of the media is to speak truth to power, and to call those in power to account. Now, the media also needs to profit from the home truths as enunciated by the US ambassador. In this regard, this moment calls for both soul-searching and self-introspection in order for the media to purge itself of any corrupt tendencies.

Finally, a compromised media is clear and present danger not only to our nascent democracy but to the society at large. Indeed the time has come to purge the media of brown envelope journalists. Journalism will lose nothing when the flotsam and jetsam of the profession are offloaded and cast into the trashcan where they rightly belong.

First Published in the Metro


     
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