Nigerian Journalists And ‘Brown Envelopes’ By Elor Nkereuwem

“Why is it alright for us to shout on
the mountain tops about what
politician has stuffed money in his
cap but make it a taboo to speak of
the corruption and rot in our
industry?”
Before last weekend, the question of
Nigeria’s underdevelopment, to my
mind, revolved around the
infrastructural and economic
backwardness that is
overwhelmingly apparent in our
country. Last weekend, at the CNN
Multichoice African Journalist 2012
Awards in Lusaka, Zambia, my
perception of the true state of my
country took a drastic turn.
It was a turn for the worse.
I have been a journalist for just
under four years, a larger part of
which was spent lambasting
government establishments and
politicians for ruining our country
and failing to utilize Nigeria’s rich
endowment in a manner that would
affect the so-called ‘masses’.
I was shamed this weekend in
Lusaka when I realised that the very
industry in which I work is no better
than the government, Federal and
State, which we so delightfully and
lavishly condemn.
I was one of the 34 finalists of what
is generally regarded as one of the
most prestigious journalism awards
on the continent. Having sat
through sessions and watched as
my Kenyan and South African
colleagues garnered almost all the
awards on offer, and having failed to
win in my category (losing to South
Africans), one lesson boomed
through my mind: as much as the
Nigerian media tries to project an
image of sophistication and
superiority, we are, at our best,
mediocre.
I must at this point concede that
one Nigerian, Ahaoma Kanu, went
home with a trophy for the Tourism
Category. I must also point out that
the nomination for the awards in
itself is a huge honour and four
different nominations for Nigeria is a
testament that we are not so far
behind.
That said, it is impossible to ignore
the fact that Nigerian journalists can
barely measure up with their
Kenyan or South African
counterparts. Kenya has swept the
overall prize for two years in a row.
For this year, a look at the sheer
sophistication and number of the
entries from this East African
country is sufficient testimony of the
quality of journalism practiced
there.
The Nigerian media cannot boast of
this. The reason for this is apparent.
The Nigerian media is unable to
function efficiently and
independently because journalists
are financially dependent on the
very persons they are supposed to
be watchdogs over.
How is it possible to ‘truly’ report
the not so flattering truth about a
person who feeds you? How is it
possible to genuinely pursue real
stories about real people when one
knows that at that boring, mind-
numbing ‘press conference’, there
is an assurance of a few thousand
naira or more?
How is it possible to sincerely write
investigative and enterprise stories
in that beat that one has been
assigned to when such a story
might hurt so-and-so director or
‘oga’ and subsequently affect the
financial benefits or travel
opportunities that accompany the
beat reporter in the Nigerian
environment? How is it possible for
an editor or publisher to consider
running those stories which may
affect his relationship with that top
politician and eventually affect his
income from advertisement not to
speak of the other ‘dashes’ that he
gains from such valuable
associations?
I will be the first to speak of the
shame that overwhelms me when I
see my colleagues rushing for the
‘brown envelopes’ that are usually
on offer at press conferences and
other events. I will be the first to say
that I am ashamed when I hear of
journalists begging or blackmailing
errant politicians or persons in the
private sector for financial favours.
Much more worrisome than the
existence of these shameful vices is
the fact that it has become a taboo
to speak of this subject in the
industry. Why must we speak of the
very issue that ruins Nigerian
journalism only in hush tones or
never at all? Why is it alright for us
to shout on the mountain tops
about what politician has stuffed
money in his cap or of what
politician has divorced his teenaged
wife and married a 14-year old to
replace her but make it a taboo to
speak of the corruption and rot in
our industry?
Is it the case that the Publishers and
Editors of the various news
organizations do not know that their
reporters actively take bribes which
have now been nick-named ‘brown
envelopes’? Is it conceivable that
editors take a share of these
financial favours, the same way the
journalists accuse the police officers
of doing? Is there no shame or pride
or dignity to be found in reporters or
editors?
Which brings me to the
fundamental question; why do
Nigerian journalists take bribes?
One argument is that journalists are
poorly paid. The truth is that ‘poorly
paid’ is an understatement. A
colleague once told me that one of
the most prestigious newspapers in
the country, head quartered in
Abuja, pays its junior reporters
about N30,000 ($187) per month.
Difficult as that is to believe, other
news organizations are no better.
The range is between N20,000 and
N40,000 ($124-$247). One or two
pay about N70,000 ($432)- these
ones are the high flyers.
It is therefore conclusive that more
than 80 per cent of the journalists
in the country do not earn enough
to pay their basic bills.
The response to this line of
argument is usually that the news
organisations do not earn so much
and cannot afford to pay more. I
argue that this is only partly true.
There is also the argument that
journalism is not a profession to be
entered into to gain wealth. If this is
true, this burden of ‘working
without a mind for profits’ ought to
be shared among publishers,
editors, and reporters alike. It
makes no sense to urge a reporter
to live in penury while the
publishers and editors live in luxury,
after all, based on the argument of
journalism not being for profit
making, a newspaper should be
more concerned about acting as a
watchdog than in making profits as
a business.
Publishers and editors also throw in
the argument that reporters are
allowed to bring in advertisement
sales and get paid commissions. It
is shocking that it is not
immediately apparent that there is
a huge issue of not just ethics but
conflict of interests here. Why is it
that in countries where advanced
journalism is practiced, a huge gulf
between the marketing and editorial
departments is deliberately created?
It is hard to understand why
publishers in Nigeria do not see the
need to create this distinction. Is it
reasonable to expect that a reporter
will report objectively without bias, if
need arises, on a body that he
earns commissions from? In any
case, why would a news
organisation not simply hire
professionals to bring in adverts and
then convert the commissions to a
salary hike? Why burden the
reporters with not just doing his job
but seeking income for himself and
the organisation?
The way I see it, the Nigerian media
industry sets up a reporter to be
corrupt; first by making him
susceptible to taking bribes and
second by turning a blind eye when
he does. From the point where a
rookie makes an entry into
journalism, in most cases, he is
groomed to accept financial favours.
It therefore becomes a huge task to
make decisions about the ethics of
the profession or morality when he
or she has fully grown into maturity.
Having said that, I believe that the
decision to either fit into a mould
created by society or to create a
standard for oneself based on
globally accepted norms is a
personal decision. As much as we
may argue that journalists are
prone to taking bribes because of
their poor remuneration, the truth is
that it is greed and the desire for
more than we can legitimately
acquire that pushes journalists to
take bribes. If a person cannot take
a gun to rob another person
because he does not have enough,
he ought not to take a bribe
because he does not have enough.
Both are criminal acts; if you are
religious, both are sins.
Whatever way one may choose to
explain the Nigerian journalists’
penchant for bribes, the fact
remains that the corruption in the
Nigerian media will continue to
affect the performance of the
individual journalist. International
competitions make the mediocrity of
our work apparent.
At this point, news organizations
must wake up; journalists must
wake up. Enough of hiding our
heads in the sand; enough of
becoming defensive when we are
faced with our own failures. If there
is a cloak of corruption that has
enveloped this country, the media
must be the first to shake it off and
be who we are supposed to be.

To promotes freedom of expression and right to contrary opinion, views expressed by Authors does not necesarily reflect the views of the blogger.

To promotes freedom of expression and right to contrary opinion, views expressed by Authors does not necesarily reflect the views of the blogger.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.