Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Of Old Media, Internet Infestations, Saharareporters and Nigeria’s Democracy

“Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue” -Paul Krugman
The interview by the publisher was meant to distinguish TheCable online news medium from other “internet infestations.” It appeared in the Punch newspapers on April 29, 2015 with a glamorous picture of Simon Kolawole, the publisher. The question was simple and innocuous: “Q: Some of the online publishers run a very thin staff structure. What is your own experience?” But the answer by Kolawole was non sequitor and gratuitous: “You have just touched on a raw point. Typically, online publishing is one-man business. You simply get a guy to manage the technical side of your website. You go from website to website stealing people’s stories and rewriting them for your site. With RSS feeds, life is even easier. …TheCable, however, was not designed along this model. ... I get offended when people classify us with blogs or news aggregators. I have nothing against bloggers or aggregators, but we are not a blog. Maybe we will start a blog someday. I don’t know. But we are certainly not a blog.”
Call it righteous indignation or empty posturing Simon Kolawole, surely knows what his online medium is not, a blog? Tufiakwa! (Nigeria speaks for NEVER!) Unfortunately, fate has a curious way of puncturing a balloon filled with hot air and that it did the same day when the interview was published by Punch newspapers. TheCable proved to all its readers that its quality is way below the blog its publishers criticized adroitly above. TheCable as we learned later from Professor Wole Soyinka, takes its place among other “internet infestations” lol!. On that day, theCable had published a routine reportorial piece apparently from its many paid reporters (you know as Simon quibbled: “We have reporters”) on Professor Wole Soyinka’s lecture at the Hutchins Centre, Harvard University. What was astounding is not the fact that TheCable seems to imply from its report that it has a reporter present at the venue but the outrageous lie about the quote attributed to Soyinka on Ndigbo voting patterns during the just concluded election. Like Soyinka himself said, only morons will believe that a man, who time and again had risked his life to foster ethnic harmony in Nigeria will ever made the kind of statement attributed to him by the Cable. The funny thing is to hear my 16 years old high students who has only been to Nigeria once argued vociferously on Facebooks with his friends how Uncle Wole will never said anything like that.
So much for The Cable hypocrisy, the shining light in the dark embers of Nigeria’s journalism during the just concluded election however belongs to another online medium, albeit one of the places Simon Kolawole derisively called “news aggregators.” A website that successfully upended old media in Nigeria: Saharareporters! It is an online media that celebrates citizen’s journalism. It encourages its readers to be their own reporters and Nigerians high and mighty have responded to its kind offer, turning that news medium to a “must visit” place for anyone interested in authentic Nigeria’s news.
Nigerian politicians are often the last to know and feel the pulse of the nation, more because of their singular insularity from the sufferings of their people and their well ensconced disconnect with Nigerian masses and its many denizens. During the just concluded elections we could see that disconnect in the divergent media deployment of the two main political parties. Given the fact that it controls the government at the center, PDP, believes that they have enough money to buy the old media and they, NTA, AIT, FRCN, NAN appears to easily capitulate to the government. They along with sundry other private newspapers whose editors and publishers owes them favors worked for the government at the center. As the election drew near, President Goodluck Jonathan completely seized the national airwaves, broadcasting scurrilous personal attack on the opposition leadership in the name of paid advertorial camouflaged as serious investigative journalism. What they conveniently forgets is that majority of Nigerians no longer gets their news from Nigeria’s old media. Majority of Nigerian youths, farmers and sundry other citizens now have smart phones and those who don’t have cable TVs. Nigeria’s old media like, the much maligned Nigeria premiership league is often after thought, something you tuned to when you are done with dinner and you are half dozing after a long hard slouch meandering through traffic in Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna, Kano, Enugu or Port Harcourt. No one tune to NTA to get’s breaking news unless Nigeria has just won the World Cup and that is not going to happen soon. So where do people go to get their news: Saharareporters!
The saddest part of this saga is that the much maligned Saharareporters broke more news and did more investigatory journalism than the old media in Nigeria. The fact that some of the old media that appears to perform creditably during the election like Punch newspapers often took their lead story from Saharareporters is quite telling.
One could conveniently conclude that virtually every news piece that rocked the just concluded election was broken, not by old media but by Saharareporters and its citizens journalist. They told us of every corrupt move by the presidency and the governors. They report on the ministers and legist-looters who stole money. They were only matched by Punch newspapers, the only old media that periodically took apart every budget presentations of the current government. The opposition party also took advantage of PDP’s disconnect. On a day PDP postures to have GEJ addressed a 4 hour media chat they scampered and successfully arranged to have their candidate-GMB give an impromptu newsmaker interview to AlJazeera, CNN and BBC. They ended up owning that news circle and PDP media personalities were furious. They were calls for the arrest of GMB media handlers by Aso rock.
By far the most salient report that contributes most to our national discourse was Saharareporters expose on the Ekiti’s gubernatorial election. The revelation about the use of military to box in opposition candidates while the military give free rein to PDP candidates and their cronies on election helped Nigerian protect their votes.
One can make the error of reading too much into this type of narratives but the fact speaks for itself. If the last election had been held circa 1983, one could argue that PDP would have won the day no matter how unpopular it’s candidate might have been. Nigeria’s democracy need the new media much as it needs it’s old media to learn from their mistakes to grow our fledgling democracy. It is not that Saharareporters do not make mistakes very often they do but they are quick to admit it when they got it wrong. The problem with Nigeria’s old media is the arrogance and hypocrisy. Majority of breaking news we have had out of Nigeria in the last few years came from old media reporters whose editors and publishers are either too afraid or too compromised to publish hard hitting investigative piece turned in by their reporters. The latter very often release such piece to Saharareporters who published same out of the pernicious reach of Nigerian government officials in the US where the libel laws are a whole lot relaxed. There is no doubt that the publishers of Saharareporters would have been shut down if it has its offices in Nigeria. But that does not excuse the timidity of Nigeria’s old media. Very often the shackles on Nigeria journalist were that of their own mind. Some are too close to the government while others live in mortal fears of what will happen. In that environment you could hardly find courage.

The meticulous way Saharareporters took time to hire private investigators and voice confirmation specialist on the Ekiti election saga could be contrasted with TheCable moronic rush to judgment on the Soyinka’s story. That is a lesson for all internet infestations to learn. They that live in glass house should shudder to hurl rock objects across the confines of their homes. We have a long way to go to protect our hard earned democracy we need both old and new media functioning at their maximum capacity to get us there. Let’s celebrate Saharareporters even while we excoriate “internet infestations” whenever it rears its ugly head. 

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