By Dele Sobowale
“Journalists say a thing that they know isn’t true in the hope that if they keep saying it long enough, it will be true.” Julien Benda, 1857-1952.
“A journalist should be pursuing a fair rendition of truth without regard to popular moods; the journalist should not be swayed by public opinion, only by the pursuit of truth..Malvin Kalb, 1997.VBQ, p 109.
I started compiling the VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, in the mid-1960s in New York City. That was long before it occurred to me that I would be a media practitioner; not a journalist. Nevertheless, I always strongly supported a free press as the bedrock of democracy. Freedom however is not supposed to be absolute. It must be accompanied with a high sense of responsibility on the part those in media. When that quotation by Benda came to my attention, my instinct was to leave it out. Immediately the thought came mind to ignore it, another thought rushed in accusing me of intellectual dishonesty if such harsh criticism of those (i.e journalists) I have already started to love were to be suppressed. Reluctantly, it was left in. It was fortunate I did.
When Mr Gbenga Adefaye, then the Editor of VANGUARD gracefully accepted to write the Foreword to the VBQ, he made a distinction which is pertinent to today’s article. According to Gbenga, who is now General Manager/Editor-In-Chief of the paper, “The quote from Benda….is simply put, about propaganda and not journalism. ..Because in journalism, “facts” are sacred, comments (based on facts) are free.” Nobody on earth is more qualified to define journalism than someone who had spent over thirty years in the profession and was once the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. Everything that follows from now on will be based on Gbenga’s submission about journalism and propaganda – plus my submission about deliberate or inadvertent falsehood being rendered as news report in Nigeria today by those claiming to be journalists. The famous, or infamous, RANGE ROVER reported to have been ordered by Senate President Bukola Saraki will serve as an example of what is becoming a national tragedy with regard to the Nigerian media – print, electronic and especially social media.
“Every piece of new technology…will in the end be used quite differently from the way in which its proponents first imagined”, said Sir Michael Perry, Chairman of Unilever in 1995. (VBQ p243).
Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc were invented to speed up communication between people in various aspects of their lives. Today, they have become instruments for disseminating defamation and falsehood at the speed of light. And, the booster applications now make it possible for the same person to send the defamatory message to thousands of people at once. When someone sent out a document linking former Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Governor, Sanusi Lamido, to Boko Haram, he sought to take shelter under the anonymity which social media now provides to those hell bent on calumny. Invariably, the peddlers of falsehood and defamation bet on two facts. First, that the vast majority of people are mentally and physically lazy and would not wait for substantiation of the claims before passing them on to people too eager to receive them; and sometimes too willing to spread them. Second, most of them are moral cousins to the late German dictator, Adolf Hitler, 1889-1945, who created the template for professional, as well as amateur liars when he declared that “The great masses of the people…will more easily fall victims to a great lie than to a small one.”
In the matter of the RANGE ROVER most media practitioners, leaders of thought, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, and the general public have fallen for a great lie with only a small dose of truth in it. Permit me to start from the tail end of the RANGE ROVER hoax which started with an on-line publication. Permit me also not to disclose the names of the publications and individuals which will come under the hammer here. I think the media have disgraced ourselves sufficiently before all thinking people. Directing fingers of blame will serve no purpose.
On March 30, 2017, a national newspaper carried a “news report” (remember facts are sacred) titled “N370 MILLION VEHICLE PURCHASE: Nigerians condemn Senate.” It then went on to publish reactions from seven individuals representing various organizations or speaking for themselves – obviously based on the question about a N370 million vehicle purchased by the Senate. The question which all those eminent Nigerians should have asked the seven authors of that report is: is there a N370 million RANGE ROVER anywhere in Nigeria bought by the Senate? In fact, there is no such vehicle in Nigeria. So, why did experienced journalists go about asking people about a fake RANGE ROVER costing N370 million? Is that journalism?
A day before, March 29, 2017, another national newspaper right opposite its Editorial on page 27, published an article titled “Does the Senate need N298m SUV”? It was well written by a contributor from Victoria Island. According to the author, “Just as the President cannot be insulated from the actions of the Presidency, the Senate President would be insulting the intelligence of Nigerians to claim that the Senate embarked on a wasteful spending of N298m and he doesn’t know about it.” Again, the question: is there a vehicle in Nigeria purchased by the Senate for N298m? And, if there is none, is it a demonstration of “intelligence” for the writer from VI to expect Saraki to own up to expenditure of N298m just to please the writer when there was no such expenditure? Again, the truth is there is no N298m vehicle in Nigeria bought by the Senate. The question about journalism, however, is not to the author of that ignorance mixed with defamation, but to the Ed-Page Editor of the paper.
Several days before the publication of that article, Mr Tokunbo Akindele, working for Lanre Shittu Motors, has testified openly that the vehicle was imported at a cost of $298,000 in 2015 when the prevailing exchange rate was N165 to one dollar which came to N49.17m and the Senate paid N62.5m for it in November 2015. He also disclosed that the vehicles documents were “fake” as far back as 2015. Two questions arise from these facts known to the Editors. First, since the correct value of the vehicle was known to be N62.5m on Monday, why again publish an article about a phantom N298m vehicle which is a figment of the writer’s imagination on Thursday? I certainly hope the Editors know that there is a distinct difference between a N62.5m car and another costing N298m – even if the writer does not know.
There is no need to list all the publications regarding this mysterious vehicle about which ordinarily sensible Nigerians have made comments without ascertaining the facts. I refrained from making any comments about the story when it first appeared for four reasons. First, the source of the story, the online media, is increasingly striking me as an unreliable source of news. This is not the occasion to list the number of stories attributed to it which have turned out not to be true after all.
Second, most of the media houses which based their own stories on that source were very unfair to the Senate and the Senate President. They invariably started out assuming that the online media was correct and few bothered to ask the Senate President his side of the story. Even those who did were already biased. When Saraki disclaimed knowledge of the vehicle, the attitude was “He must be lying”. Third, nobody was able to provide a document to substantiate the purchase price of the car. For God’s sake, this is a car not a helicopter or small jet. Who ever heard of a RANGE ROVER costing N298m or N370m – which ever figure the fertile imagination of our journalists conjured up?….
SHORT AND SHARP
- Arewa Consultative Forum spokesman, Anthony Sani, reportedly repeated the Nigeria Police line on the Ile Ife clash between Yoruba and Northerners saying “criminality knows no ethnicity or religion”. I agree. But will Mr Sani tell us how many people the police arrested for killing an Igbo man in Kano and parading his severed head around? We are waiting for him and the IGP.