VANGUARD AWARD: A TRAVESTY OF JOURNALISTIC ETHICS

– BY NNANNA IJOMAH –

When I first read the news about Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s Vanguard award as the best Governor in the country for the year 2017 my emotions were torn between amusement and anger. My initial reaction was to say to myself, this must be some kind of joke being perpetrated on a gullible Abia public by some prankster in this era of fake news.

My next reaction was to make a few calls to ascertain the authenticity of the award and the Facebook posting. On authenticating the news, I couldn’t be more disgusted at how low Nigerian journalism has descended. With this award, there is no denying this simple truth, that the Vanguard Newspaper has not only demeaned the profession of Journalism but has also lost its luster as a national newspaper bound by the ethics of objectivity and truth-telling. It is also quite obvious that the newspaper by this singular act has crossed the line from journalism to partisan politics and when you do that, you can’t go back.

At the risk of being too presumptuous in assuming that the management or the editorial board of the newspaper, is involved in this scam of an award informs us that the freedom of journalists has become in most cases a very relative thing. That it ends where the interests of business, and financial benefits begin. For me, this award is not only a definition of wayward journalism but also emblematic of how most institutions in Nigeria have been destroyed by the corrupting influence of money. All over the civilized world, newspapers have a duty, to tell the truth, to do their due diligence in ascertaining the truth and to inform the reading public accordingly.

Unfortunately today in Nigeria, the mendacity of the media has assumed dangerous and ignominious proportions. While some lie without hesitating, others becoming mere praise singers and the harbinger of propaganda, a few still attempt to disseminate the truth occasionally so they can deceive the public with the requisite authority when it becomes necessary. Today in Nigeria, absolute truth has become a very rare commodity in the context of professional journalism.

As the Vanguard award has exposed for public awareness, many Nigerian journalists are no more than channels’ and echoers of what George Orwell called “the official truth”, either the version of truth the Government wants the public to hear, hence John Pilger, a prominent American writer once described such journalists as people “who simply cipher and transmit lies” Many of this ilk he went further to opine, “have become what the French describe as “functionaires “, functionaries, not journalists, adding that “with these types of journalists, they are anything but impartial and objective”. The problem with the words impartiality and objectivity in Nigeria’s journalistic parlance is that they have lost their dictionary meaning.

A good example or poster boy of journalistic deception and propaganda being the BCA, Abia State radio broadcasting station. For such media outlets like the BCA, the term “propaganda” rings melodramatic and exaggerated, but a press that –whether from fear, careerism, or conviction uncritically recites false Government claims and reports them as facts, or treats elected officials with the reverence reserved for royalty cannot be accurately described as engaging in any other function.

Even as a former low- level journalist or Reporter trainee with the now-defunct Imo broadcasting Service right after high school, I knew then that journalism was not the noble profession it professes to be, at least in the Nigerian context. I saw brown envelopes being exchanged as they still occur. I knew also that the politician who handed out those brown envelopes stuffed with Naira bills received favorable news coverage. I also was aware that the fact that the Imo broadcasting corporation was owned by the Imo state government, meant that news stories were always slanted in its favor.

This practice evidently still continues as can be seen by most state-owned media outlets. In essence, what I am trying to say is that I am not like the guy in the movie “Casablanca” who expressed surprise there was gambling still going on in the casino. However what I am shocked about is that what used to be the individual indiscretion of the journalist has today become a journalistic malpractice also perpetrated by media management officials. If not, how can anyone explain the award by the Vanguard Newspaper on a Governor who is arguably one of the worst in the nation?.

The questions I’m sure are fermenting in the minds of everyone are these-what criteria did the vanguard use in determining the qualifications for this award? What were the benchmarks used for measuring effective governance and achievement? What parameters did they use in assessing transformational leadership? What poll did they conduct to gauge public support and rate of approval by the Abia people for the job performance of Ikpeazu? This is a Governor who owes civil servants and pensioners in his state 7-10 month’s salary arrears.

A Governor, whose administration has accumulated more debt than can ever be repaid in the many years to come. A Governor, who has done a horrible job of being a prudent manager of the state financial resources. A Governor, who has been judged to be a purveyor of nepotism and favoritism, surrounding himself with intellectual misfits and drunks that can be described as square pegs in round holes. A Governor, who lives in a cocoon of alternative reality and his twisted and distorted view of it. The truth is that an award such as this has to be in line with competence and ability hence we don’t need the Vanguard award to shock our consciousness.

As evidence or proof that this Governor suffers from serious moral impairment, how can any Governor in good conscience, considering the poor financial state of his administration, the on-going strike by AbiaPoly staff and students for non-payment of salaries, not to mention that of teachers, spend millions buying first class plane tickets, chartering private jets and reserving dozens of hotel rooms in Lagos for the large entourage that accompanied him to receive his fake award. An act, reminiscent of Nero, the Roman Emperor who fiddled while Rome burned. That this Governor will receive a ‘Best Governor” award instead of such Governors as Obiano of Anambra State, Umahi of Ebonyi or Ambode of Lagos state boggles the mind and is beyond comprehension. That the Vanguard Newspaper will prefer Governor Ikpeazu to the afore-mentioned Governors is proof positive that the newspaper has sacrificed its virtue as a serious newspaper and that it celebrates mediocrity at the expense of true achievement.

Albert Einstein the renowned and celebrated scientists once wrote and I quote, “not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that is counted truly counts”. I will bet that in the minds of a majority of Abia citizens and in the annals of history, this award does not count and will never count for anything.

That in a few months to come, no one will remember it and neither will it be a determining factor in the way the Abia people will vote come the 2019 elections. As this Governor and his band of sycophants continue to luxuriate and celebrate this award, I make bold to say, it will not be worth the plaque on which it was engraved hence as the 2019 election approaches the venality, turpitude, and corruption of the Ikpeazu administration will be made manifest. This award in all reality is a lie and like all lies, they start out sweet and end up bitter while the truth starts out bitter and ends up sweet.

As in the words of Robert Muller, the Special Counsel who is presently investigating Russian Collusion in the 2016 U.S presidential elections, “if you have integrity nothing else matters and if you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters”.

This Governor is a man without integrity, vision, ability or governing competence hence no number of awards, staged adoption ceremonies and even endorsements by witch doctors will cloak him with an aura of integrity, acceptability, reverence or wash away the stain he has wrought on the art of governance. To the vanguard Newspaper management and journalists, I will say “you never justify someone’s incompetence with an award. If you do, you are not making them better, rather you are making them worse on the bad things they are doing”.

Nnanna Ijomah Is a New York-based Political Science lecturer.