A Sahara Of Lies, Vendetta Of ThisDay And The Institutionalization Of Blackmail In Journalism – By Onwuasoanya FCC Jones


A firm is seen as a different entity from its owner or owners in the eyes of the law, but the personal traits and ideologies of the chief executive of a business outfit must have some bearing to the way and manners such business is run. For instance, when a notorious fraudster sets up a legitimate business, somehow, his ideas about short-circuiting processes and jumping queues will find a way of creeping into the operations of the business. If this does not happen by way of cheating the system by avoiding payment of the right taxes and levies to the authorities, it will surely play out in the way they treat their clients. When you see business organizations who give wrong scaling of products or sell substandard goods or maneuver the process of services for undue gains to them, do not look too far to find out why it is so, the owner of the firm must be a man or woman of questionable reputation who likes to reap quick profits without caring about integrity.

A business that is based on the mass dissemination of information should have been expected to stay above aboard on matters that border on integrity and credibility because apart from being charged with the responsibility of informing the people, accurately, it also plays a prominent role in directing the mindsets and beliefs of the populace. Allowing individuals with questionable integrity to man a mass media firm, especially the one that is very popular with the people, is like allowing a man or woman with quick temperament access to the codes of a weapon of mass destruction. One day, his temperament will snap and he will let off the code. Even him might not live to regret that slip. What one thinks or how a group of people feels is not supposed to determine the news that will feature in a news medium, rather, the truth, verifiable truth, should be the main decider.

When a news is anything other than the real report of events in a particular place, that piece of information is nothing else but either a blackmail or propagandistic fiction. Mediums of mass communication must be protected from being used as a weapon of vendetta against governments, institutions and individuals. It must dispose itself well as a defender of the people and upholder of truth. The people trust the media to feed them with the correct information about events around them, and when this is not done, the people become puppets in the hands of the media handlers who manipulate them with false information, making them develop animosity towards the wrong persons, institutions and even tribes, while tilting their positive thoughts towards another group.

Investigative reporting is one of the most respected genres in the journalistic profession. A daring job, requiring so much courage and passion to execute, investigative reports bring bare some of the most hidden secrets about issues. It is the aspect of journalism that is most humanistic, as any good investigative report calls attention to vital and sensitive areas of life that certainly attract the attention of not just government but independent and international agencies and organizations that may weigh into the matter and find even if not lasting, but appreciable solutions to the issues raised. Fundamentally, an investigative must not necessarily be a classroom trained journalist, but needs to observe the necessary journalistic ethos, at the crux of which is, neutrality. Any news report that favors one group against the other is no longer a piece of journalism, but a hatchet job or even a piece of blackmail. While an opinion writer is expected to take sides in an argument, a reporter’s duty is to serve the society with reports of events as they happen, not as it will favor one group or hurt another. An article in the News Manual describes the job of a journalist as simply; “to let people know what is going on in the community, the society and the world around them. Journalists do this by finding FACTS and telling them to their readers and listeners.”(Emphasis mine)

A media outfit, be it a conventional newspaper outfit, a radio or television station or online news medium needs to be circumspect before it dishes out any news to the public. The editor-in-chief of such medium, who is expected to be vastly experienced in the journalistic profession, being the final author of whatever is dished out to the public through their medium is supposed to vet thoroughly any material before it is served to the public. Except in a situation where the publisher is also the editor-in-chief, the publisher is supposed not to have any journalistic contribution to what is finally served the public. A Style Guide is agreed upon by the editorial board, even though the publisher’s influence cannot be taken for granted, but ethically, a publisher’s influence ends at the business or financial aspect of the publishing business. Unfortunately, journalistic ethics have been so eroded that some publishers relegate the editor-in-chief to a mere house boy who does the bidding of the publisher, even in matters that have to do with the core of journalistic integrity.

This may explain the recent focus which the duo of Sahara reporters and Thisday newspaper had on Imo State, where it is known that rather than the usual practice of ‘bribing’ journalists and newspaper houses in order to get favorable coverage, the present administration in the State is focusing its attention more on working hard for the generality of the people. It is believed in some reliable quarters that instead of the intent to serve the people with the correct situation of things in the State, these media outfits may either be pursuing a vindictive mission against the administration for not ‘patronizing’ its outfit or is doing the bidding of some of their ‘clients’ who may have induced them to publish lies against the administration in order to place them (the clients) at a political advantage in future electioneering seasons. To situate this argument better, it may be necessary to trace the antecedents of the publishers and at least one of the reporters attached to these two media outfits.

There are very few people who take Sahara Reporters seriously. This is because a good number of what it churns out as a piece of investigative reporting have been found to be white lies and poorly crafted fiction served to the public as an outcome of intrepid journalistic investigation. Its founder, Omoyele Sowore, a former students union activist has been embroiled in so many controversies and brushes with the law over alleged defamatory and libelous reports. The medium has also had to retract some of its most widely received reports, after they were found not to be true. Presently, the medium which claims funding from grants donated by the Ford Foundation is facing a legal case with the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who has been recently discharged of all the allegations brought against him by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Some news blogs and internet sites have also come out with the allegation that the publisher of Sahara Reporters went berserk against the Senate President when his attempt to extort money from the former governor of Kwara State hit brick walls.

In its obviously sponsored report against the Owelle Rochas Okorocha administration which it published as a piece of investigative report, Sahara Reporters in the most basic principle of journalism, which is ensuring that its readers are told the fact, not fiction. They forgot too easily that there is a rich avalanche of beautiful and exciting fiction, should the readers wish to entertain themselves. When the audience read newspapers online or out of it, they are seeking for the real happenings in the society and not some reports doctored to get back at someone or a group of people. It is unfortunate that Omowore who has lived in the United States for more than a decade could join the league of some village ignoramuses who criminalize appointing family members and friends into government positions. Does Omowore forget easily the powers and influences wielded by prominent political families like the Kennedy’s whose family members occupied and still occupy numerous political offices in the United States, the Bush family which has produced two presidents and about three governors, and uncountable political appointees, the Cuomo family, the Daley and more recently, the Trump family. Omowore understands but for some mischievous reasons will not like to tell his readers that in countries that work, less emphasis is placed on the family of political office seekers, but more on the efficiency and integrity of such office holders. America, Britain and other first world countries have continued to work because these cheap considerations of family and tribal links are deemphasized, while competency, integrity and merit are emphasized.

Using pictures of governor Okorocha alighting from private jets, some of which were taken long before the Owelle Rochas Okorocha became governor, Sahara Reporters refused to tell its readers that the governor was one of Nigeria’s wealthiest men and most celebrated philanthropist long before he delved into politics. Owelle Rochas Okorocha could have afforded ten private jets if he needed them, as a business tycoon. However, they refused to adduce any evidence that the governor owned the three private jets they showed him in. No matter how anyone likes to hate the Imo State governor, any reasonable follower of governance in Imo State will credit him with huge success in the area of fighting corruption and utilizing public resources for public good. Okorocha’s achievements in all areas of governance are unmatched in the history of the State. What should be news to any Imolite today, is for Sahara Reporters to investigate and find out where and how governor Okorocha manages to get the monies with which he executes the many projects he executes for the good of the State and the many other people oriented programs he undertakes.

Responding to a revealing article about the involvement of  Thisday  newspaper and its publisher, Chief Nduka Obaigbena in the infamous Sambo Dasuki arms scandal, a social media user, Omokehinde, wrote in the website of Naijagist.com on December 12th, 2015; “ These Nigerian media crooks delight in broadcasting falsehood just for monetary gain. They have all violated ethic and rules of good, fair and balanced journalism just because of what to eat from corrupt politicians. .. Nduka Obaigbena claimed that the 850 millions he received as bribe from Jonathan reelection campaign was a damage compensation for the bombing of Thisday’s Newspaper office by Boko Haram. This is the dumbest and most ridiculous reason I have seen from any executive of any company. Can anyone tell me the amount of monetary compensation paid to the families of thousands of victims of Boko Haram horror by the Jonathan administration?”

While the above commentary by the quoted social media user may not represent my perception of the person of Nduka Obaigbena and his media outfit Thisday, it is not far from how a good number of Nigerians view the reports from his organization. His faceoff with the EFCC over his involvement in the arms scandal is not actually the first nor the only time, the billionaire media mogul is having a brush with the law over suspected shady deals that has to do with his media organizations.

It has been heard from circles around the media mogul that the Thisday management is not happy with the Okorocha administration because the government does not ‘patronize’ its medium with advert placements and other incentives which they were receiving from previous governments in the State. Could this have informed the decision of the editorial board to go to the market with barefaced vendetta published as midterm scorecard?

A visit to newspaper stands on around the time this report first came out would tell you how the average Imolite treated the news. It was glaring to the average reader that the report was badly prepared without any investigation carried out. The most avowed hater of the Okorocha administration will not score him anything less than an excellent mark when it comes to infrastructural provision, education and job creation/empowerment. However, when someone sets out to score some cheap and vindictive points, very many things might be taken for granted. I wonder when Thisday became the spokesman to banks or the CBN for it to decide who owes banks, even when the banks have not come out to say that such institution or individual is owing it. Governor Rochas Okorocha has said it many in different public gatherings that Imo State under his watch does not owe any bank, and these banks and since no bank has come out to say otherwise, every reasonable human and institution has no reason alleging otherwise.

Obviously, what some media executives do is nothing better than outright blackmailing and extortion in order for them to stay afloat in business. Some media outfits publish stinking materials against targeted members of the public not because they want to expose anything untoward for the benefit of the society, but because they want to get the attention of such individuals or organizations. Do you sometimes wonder why it seems that to some newspapers and other media outfits, certain individuals, organizations or even political Parties are never good or never bad, depending on what the relationship between them is?



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