I should here say that it is much to be desired that newspapers, television or news media generally should be free to bring to the notice of the public any matter of public interest or concern. But in order to be deserving of that freedom, the press must show itself worthy of it. A free press cannot be deserving of that appellation unless it is a responsible press. The power of the press is enormous. It must not abuse that power. If a newspaper should act irresponsibly then it forfeits any claim to the defence of qualified privilege. The press, in a society that upholds the rule of law as a way of life, has a solemn duty to feed the society with true facts and honest comments. That crucial function, in my view, tantamount to moulding, positively, public opinion
By Adedotun Ajulo
It’s election season in Nigeria again. It’s therefore not totally strange that the political landscape is getting charged with all kinds of raw emotions, jejune sentiments, deliberate vending of falsehood, half-truths, flagellation of toxic propaganda, amplification of misinformation and disinformation e.t.c all in a bid to cast a candidate or a political party in a bad light for the sole purpose of demarketing the candidate or the political party before the voting public.
Of a truth, though, this pernicious element of the electioneering process is not peculiar to Nigeria’s electoral culture alone. It happens abroad, even in much older and more refined democracies like the United States of America, France, and Germany, among others. The recent midterm elections in the US and even the presidential election in Brazil suffice to lend credence to this claim.
The difference between Nigeria’s brand, however, and the aforementioned is that the latter have institutions and robust media to checkmate the excesses of the extremists and political hooligans who hide under the guise of free speech to trade libel, defamation, propaganda and falsehood for political advantage.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, it is saddening and unthinkable to know that some sections of the media that ordinarily should be setting nation-building agendas for the candidates and their respective political parties as the country inches towards the 2023 general elections have now become willing tools in the hands of desperate politicians and their agents to pollute the political firmament with assorted junks of yellow journalism, pay-as-you-go commentary, one-sided analysis and rabid partisanship as against the ethics of the profession that include fairness, impartiality, objectivity, among others.
Sadder still is the realization that one of the nation’s leading media platforms – This Day newspaper in conjunction with its broadcast cousin, Arise TV – owned by Nduka Obaigbena, a rabid pro-PDP media proprietor, has now become the propaganda arm of the opposition PDP, casting aspersions at every available forum on the person of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress and the man destined by fate and diligence to win the 2023 presidential election. They have consistently thrown known law, convention and culture to the wind against the settled position of law. On the right of the press media, our courts have always posited thusly;
“… I should here say that it is much to be desired that newspapers, television or news media generally should be free to bring to the notice of the public any matter of public interest or concern. But in order to be deserving of that freedom, the press must show itself worthy of it. A free press cannot be deserving of that appellation unless it is a responsible press. The power of the press is enormous. It must not abuse that power. If a newspaper should act irresponsibly then it forfeits any claim to the defence of qualified privilege. The press, in a society that upholds the rule of law as a way of life, has a solemn duty to feed the society with true facts and honest comments. That crucial function, in my view, tantamount to moulding, positively, public opinion”.? The above dictum is still very much apposite here. Perhaps, however, I should go further by saying that a press that acts irresponsibly will lose its claim to any defence: which includes the defence of fair comment.” Per ADEREMI ,JCA (Pp. 14-16, paras. E-A).
Of course, the quoted position of the court above applies only to a responsible press. As much as I know and I believe a lot of other Nigerians agree with me, the Obaigbena media enclave is not a responsible press and thus deserves to be treated that way. A media platform that disregards all the known tenets and ethics of responsible journalism is grossly irresponsible.
The anti-Tinubu antagonism has now become a subculture within Obaigbena’s media enclave that virtually every columnist on This Day stable is now immersed in amplifying rhetoric, distorted and concocted narratives meant to obstruct the soaring popularity of the former governor of Lagos State. Perhaps it is safe to say that to earn your month’s pay as of and when due, the new rule is that you must write an article per week to soil the reputation of Tinubu otherwise you won’t get paid as the man is notorious for allegedly owing his employees several months salaries without paying them, among other underhand and unethical dealings.
The broadcast arm of the evil media enclave – Arise TV- is no exception as it continues to harangue and blackmail the presidential candidate of the APC to participate in its cash-for-filthy hand-teleguided town hall engagements disguised as presidential debates. The most notorious staffer on the stable of the TV station in this regard is some shallow and unprofessional guy named Rufai Oseni, who does not know the distinction between opinion journalism and impartial, balanced objective journalism.
Were the TV station a media platform that places a high premium on ethics, excellence, and professionalism, Oseni would have long been cashiered off the platform, dismissed without payment or at the very least, to help his destiny, send him back to journalism school to go and learn the very basic tenets of the noble profession that is as old as humanity. It’s not a crime that Oseni trained as an animal scientist but it’s intolerable and unconscionable to allow a man steeped in the ways and whys of animals to speak on issues completely beyond his ken without any relevant training. Little wonder he demonstrates a mediocre and inchoate knowledge of the issues he speaks on. And he does this with some magisterial candour. For Oseni, ignorance is bliss. Yet, ignorance is no excuse in law!
For its penchant for purveying damaging falsehood against the person of Asiwaju Tinubu, the National Broadcasting Commission recently slammed a fine on the TV station for breaching some provisions of the national broadcasting policy. One would have expected that the station would learn a lesson or two from the unfortunate development by now but it has continued to double down on its sinister agenda to bring Tinubu down at all costs against the rules of fair play and ethical journalism.
It’s pertinent to say that no provision of the country’s Constitution or the Electoral Act(as amended) compels a presidential candidate to participate in an election debate organised by any TV station let alone a station that’s the satellite campus of the PDP. The ownership of the station and simple profiling of its editorial crew show without ambiguity that the station is PDP and for the PDP. One of its marquee signings and the most recognisable face and voice on the station was the PDP deputy governorship candidate in Ogun State in the 2019 elections! There’s no record as of the moment that he has relinquished his membership in the PDP. It’s a no-brainer that the candidate of the ruling party will not appear on a compromised station with PDP apologists as its interviewers!
In any case, Asiwaju Tinubu has not broken any law nor run afoul of any convention that pertains to electioneering and election conduct in Nigeria by not appearing in a town-hall meeting remotely controlled by the PDP. He is way smarter than their plot. He was one of the first presidential candidates to release his manifesto entitled Renewed Hope 23. He has participated in numerous campaign engagements, meeting critical stakeholders, and talking to the Nigerian masses using various communication channels at his beck and call. He has also taken his campaign beyond the shores of the country to speak to the international community as well as engage Nigerians abroad on the need to elect him as the next President of the country.
There’s also no iota of doubt that he is the most engaged and engaging presidential candidate in this campaign cycle. He has been touring the country, meeting stakeholders – women, youth, business leaders, religious leaders and many more – to sell his policies and agenda to them. In political communication, there are formal and informal methods of reaching out to the electorate and other allied stakeholders. The most strategic candidate will always blend the two methods by deploying the tools associated with each of them for his political advantage. And that’s exactly what Asiwaju has been doing to the perpetual chagrin of Obaigbena and his media goons who desperately want Asiwaju to appear on their TV station to shore up their ratings.
• Adedotun Ajulo, Esq. is a Lagos-based Legal Practitioner and the Convener of Lawyers Network for Bola Ahmed Tinubu (LANBAT).