By David-Chyddy Eleke
Many times over, journalism has been described as a thankless profession. The description has often come from practitioners, who may be speaking out of the experience.
I have often disagreed with that belief, but as time goes by, I am constantly nudged to the truth in that assertion.
The stay-at-home declared by the government as a way to beat the COVID-19 pandemic has further taken away doubts that I may have in my mind about the above assertion.
Society expects far too much from journalists, but give her very little chance to accomplish (even without enquiring after her welfare). If there is poor governance in the society, journalists are looked upon to ginger the government up. If there is corruption in the society, journalists are looked upon to unearth such practices and hold perpetrators to account. If there is insecurity in the country, journalists are seen not to have thoroughly held the security agencies to task. That is why most times, one will hear people say – if Nigerian journalists were up and doing, things will not be this way.
The government will always run to journalists to help burnish their image. The opposition will run to journalists to help them hold the government to task. The civil servant who is owed salaries will call journalists to a press briefing and call government all sorts of names. Even market women will run to journalists to complain about the payment of numerous toll tickets. But pray, who do journalists run to when they encounter their own challenges?
The journalists from whom so much is expected, are not insulated from the society? They have their own challenges. They are owed salaries too and treated shabbily by society. To whom should they run when they encounter their own troubles?
There is a robbery somewhere, and the journalist appears in the scene after the incidence and starts asking questions. By-standers refuse to volunteer information. They are like – Na for my mouth you wan hear say motor get four tires abi? But once home, they tune to their radio or TV to hear the authentic news of the robbery.
Journalists are among the essential duties providers in the recent lockdown order of the president, because of COVID-19. What this means is that even though there is a lockdown, journalists will continue to work. In Anambra where I operate, after a partial lockdown of two weeks, in which journalists continued to operate, the state governor, Chief Willie Obiano declared another two weeks of total lockdown, with aggressive enforcement by security agencies.
The total lockdown is still in place as I write. Markets are shut, commuters are stopped from operating, and even some essential duty providers are banned. It has remained a hard period, but journalists are among those to keep operating.
To cushion the effect of the harshness that will follow the stay at home order, wealthy individuals began aggressive donations to the ‘poor’. Well to do individuals donated food to people in their communities. Political parties donated to their members. Churches donated to their members. The government provided food to those considered to be the poor, but no one considered journalists. The only donations received by journalists in Anambra were from the state Police Command, who donated tags to journalists to help them move freely within the period (this was after many of us were molested by security agencies while doing our work), and I dare ask – are journalists considered rich, and have no use for the donation of food items?
Within this period of donations, journalists go round to cover donors and distribution of the items donated, risking their lives. Many times within the lockdown period, I have been called up to come and cover the donation of millions of naira to the Anambra State COVID-19 account. By going to do that job, I am risking my life and those of my family members, who I will always return to after such coverage. But does anyone ask how the journalists who go out to cover such events fare? Of course, no one does. Everyone expects to read quality reports in the media every day, but how the journalists source them, or the risk taken to source such information does not matter. After all, no be their jobs them dey do? We force them to become journalists?
Everywhere in the country, donations are flying in billions, to the extents that the Federal Government acknowledged that some emergency philanthropists were using the opportunity to shine. But, does it matter, so long as they help the poor to stay alive?
Everywhere I have searched, I haven’t found in the media where journalists were donated any form of relief materials. Not from state governments, not from the federal government, not from NGOs, not from wealthy individuals, not even from their media organisations, but we are everywhere reporting new cases of COVID-19, discharged cases, and even relief materials donated to others by public-spirited individuals.
Let us not pretend that the journalists are not among the poor in society because it is not true. Have we not heard that some journalists (freelancers) are simply handed ID cards and told that it is equivalent to meal tickets? Do you think such journalists do not contribute meaningfully to the information dissemination chain? Of course, many freelance journalists are the best hands ever.
Okay, now that the lockdown has kept everyone at home, but the journalist is expected to be at work, most now work from their homes (thank God for technology). Most of the news stories we read every day to keep abreast with happenings in the country are simple press releases, sent to journalists. Some are telephone interviews conducted by them, and most others are video conferencing, live social media broadcast among others. But in very necessary cases, the journalists leave their homes to get stories first hand.
At times like this, who has considered what the fate of journalists who get ID cards as meal tickets are. As I write, not any news organisation that I know has shared even a cup of rice to their staff to help cushion the effect of COVID-19 on their staffers. But daily, their news materials are expected in their newsrooms, for the day’s publication.
If health service providers have been dubbed as those in the forefront of the battle against COVID-19, and worthy of hazard allowance, who from who should journalists collect their own hazard allowance, since they too are equally in the forefront of the war against the pandemic?
No good pay, no insurance package, no hazard allowance, just a pass (tag) to take a journalist through the many checkpoints on the road, and perhaps, a mouthy title of the fourth estate of the realm, journalists must be exceptional miracle workers to have fared the much they have.
But, when our miracles fail, the public must acknowledge that we are humans, with our own difficulties, and needs to fulfil, therefore, the burden on our shoulders should be lessened a little, so the journalist doesn’t get blamed for everything that goes wrong in the country.