Commentary: Eradicating Brown Envelope Journalism

Commentary: Eradicating Brown Envelope Journalism

There is no commonly agreed history as to the origin of news; news itself might have come with man, or even older than that. However, the values of news have not changed — timeliness, objectivity, factuality and newness. Any piece of news that negates those values, offends basic journalism audience sensibilities. Journalism itself, as terrainous as it has been adjudged to be, is still a respectable profession, one that stands tall amongst world’s most powerful occupations.

The age-old maxim that the pen is mightier than the sword, has a strong attachment to the revolutionary journalism; that aspect of news reporting that exposes evil deeds and sets a course of social change. However, that type of journalism demands courage, defies unethical blockage and douses every flame of sub-standardness. Sadly, those are the values that have eluded the modern day journalist, in the face of quality and stain-free reportage.

Brown envelope journalism, a newsroom coinage that describes the unethical fashion of news reporting, has maintained a huge dominance over modern media set ups. Thus, it is common for a journalist to be contracted and told to write a report in favour of a particular individual, for a negotiated sum. Such contract reports are, of course, ridden with propaganda, half-truths and calumny, and in some cases, name-praising and sycophancy.

In a deteriorated political environment like Nigeria’s, a media outfit could also be paid to write against an opposition, smear a stubborn candidate or de-market a particular political group. This dirty journalism often comes with its backlash, in that the contract journalists and their outfits are mostly not taken seriously by the ever-pedantic audience.

But the successful journalist has always been the one whose works bring the corrupt elements to their feet. Most journalists have often been found wanting when it comes to delivering the best reportorial services. In fact, those who patronize these professional crimes have always dismissed the act as part of the process. That is a disastrous scenario.

The origin of brown envelope journalism could be traced to the periods when news became a stock, a service in wait for the richest bidder. The media proprietors have also been accused of engineering these unworthy principles to remain financially aboard, while the journalists caught in this messy circumstance have declared themselves as helplessly trapped in the sour cocktail of being coerced to do what their heart detests or risk losing the only job that puts food on their table. And in a country where medium scale jobs are one of the scarcest commodities, the erring journalists are left to savour these bureaucratic messes.

There have been times when journalists are employed, given identity cards bearing the organizations’ names, and told to go into the field and hustle for stories and their salaries. In the same sad situation, you would come across journalists who say that “their pensions are on the streets.” So it is a common scene to see reporters jostling and whirling around wealthy people or public office holders to get interviews, leaving behind the real people whom the events pertain to. The end result of such haphazard reports is that diverse opinions are barely represented, while the real stuff is traded out so cheaply.

Media owners must encourage their employees through prompt and adequate financial packages. Days when journalists are seen as stray dogs on the streets of uncertainty, scavenging for even the most unorthodox means of survival must be abolished. Journalists who have cut out real passion for the job must be supported and shown real value. Just as the advocacy for training and retraining of media workers is advisable, journalists themselves must show respect for the revered occupation and stick to its scared tenets.

The trend of buying and selling of news is as dangerous as it is tainting. What is most sickening is that young journalists have been indoctrinated into the dirty process that has been viewed as an acceptable newsroom culture. Thus, it is a common scene to see journalists squabbling and swearing at one another over post-interview money from the same public officials they ought to be checkmating, in the presence of whoever cares to watch.

All stakeholders must ensure that the procedures leading to news production are sanitized in a manner that will put the profession back to its enviable place. Thank God the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, elected new crop of leaders in the state. The union and similar professional bodies must restructure journalism for people to understand their cardinal responsibilities to the occupation and its practitioners. Journalism development in Nigeria is not a negotiable crusade, but the cleansing must come from within the heart; the love for the job.

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