By Jerome-Mario Utomi
This particular piece stemmed from a new awareness gained while reflecting on the message by His Holiness, Pope Francis, to mark the 2021 World Communication Day which was celebrated on Sunday May 16. As we know, the celebration was established by Pope Paul VI in 1967 as an annual celebration on the Sunday before Pentecost day to, among other aims, encourage media professionals and stakeholders reflect on the opportunities and challenges that the modern means of social communication (the press, motions pictures, radio, television and the internet) afford the Church to communicate the gospel message.
Essentially, given that the celebration/message is from the Pope, the Spiritual head of the Catholic Churches across the world, coupled with the fact that it was ‘purely and squarely’ faith-based celebration, it may be reasonable to argue that of what importance will the message/celebration be to media professionals and other stakeholders who are non-Catholics?
One simple explanation to the above questions is that ’the cock belongs to a particular household but its crows belongs to the entire village’. Simply put, we don’t need to be Catholics before we can gain from such enlightened communication from a self-contained and quietly influential personality like the Pope.
Similarly, if effort is made to go beyond this peripheral argument to x-ray this year’s message, it will be overtly evident that the message is laden with ingrained lessons for media professionals and their stakeholders across the world- Catholics and non-Catholics.
Let’s begin with certainty by first subjecting a particular portion of the message which dwelled on opportunities and hidden dangers on the web, to a further analysis.
He said in parts: We can think of certain emergency situations where the internet was the first to report the news and communicate official notices. It is a powerful tool which demands that all of us be responsible as users and consumers. Potentially we can all become witnesses to events that, otherwise, would be overlooked by the traditional media, offer a contribution to society and highlight more stories, including positive ones. Thanks to the internet we have the opportunity to report what we see, what is taking place before our eyes, and to share it with others.
At the same time, the risk of misinformation being spread on social media has become evident to everyone. We have known for some time that news and even images can be easily manipulated, for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism. Being critical in this regard is not about demonising the internet, but is rather an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received. All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share. In communications, nothing can ever completely replace seeing things in person.
Back here at home, while the content of the Catholic Pontiff’s comment appears to be for global consumption and applicable to the generality of mankind irrespective of religion, creed, sex or profession, the second concern expressed by him which primarily focused on how “all of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it”, appears to be Nigeria-specific.
The reason that necessitated the above assertion is obvious.
Fundamentally, it is no longer news that very recently, Nigerians have used all forms of media (electronic, social, print and conventional) to cause despondency and exacerbates dropping spirit in our political shores. We have used the internet/web/social media to communicate more hatred than love, injustice than justice and deprivation than equity. And most regrettably, asymmetrical use of the media in the country has brought about a state of affairs where tribal loyalty is now considered stronger and more important than our common sense of nationhood.
The list of atrocities Nigerians have perpetuated using the media has recently become endless.
Wrong use of the media by Nigerians has promoted the proliferation of hate-speech and fake news. The new but negative orientation by our deformed use of the media in Nigeria has recently shaped fiscal, sociological, political and communal happenings in the country; resulting in pockets of ethno-religious upheavals and misgivings from one region against another or powerful personalities against each other.
Most regrettably, political leaders have used the media to fracture our nation’s geography into different strata, sectors and sections of aggression, polarised ethnosyncrasies and idiosyncrasies, all of which have led to agitations of different sorts and capacities. These have disjointed the amalgams of the country and made the nation that was once called The Giant of Africa now to be referred by friends and foes as a wobbling tripod.
Let’s cast a glance on how the media is harnessed by public office holders in Nigeria.
The basic truth is that it has become an attribute of the sort that to function well as government spokespersons in Nigeria, such fellow must be capped with the attributes of Paul Joseph Goebbels, a German Nazi politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was one of Adolf Hitler’s closest and most devoted associates, and was known for his skills in public speaking and his deeply virulent anti-Semitism, which was evident in his publicly voiced views. He was a propagandist.
This new found attribute by Nigerian government spokespersons have made the innocent/well intentioned position become platforms for fierce political and ideological warfare in ways that negates our rationality as human beings. Great amount of innocent human character has been spilled, wars of words waged, countless souls/ambition persecuted and martyred. Spokesperson has in recent times failed to communicate noble ideas and ideals. The consequence of their failures is responsible for why anarchy presently prevails in the country and accounts for why Nigerians daily diminish and are impoverished.
Much more importantly, Government spokespersons, for this piece, represent a veritable metaphor of their offices. Their characters have not only collaborated the claim in some quarters that such appointments were never targeted at improving information flow between the government and the governed, But a ploy to settle political jobbers and recruit rubber stamps who will falsely launder the image of public officers without recourse to, or adherence with the ethos of the office.
Instead of telling their principals what the real issues are or encourage them to keep promises that gave them victory at the polls, curtail the challenges confronting the people, and promote consensus politics, they (spokespersons) encourage divisiveness, uphold autocratic tendencies, and endorse/promote media trial of political opponents. And in most cases become propagandists using radio, television and the internet as outlets to relentlessly false feed Nigerians.
Each time they (spokespersons) are faced with embarrassing facts about their principals, instead of admitting their boss’s wrong-doing as expected of a well-trained information manager, they fall back on data that is hardly objective, generating inferences that can never be described as explicit. And the conclusion they reach is usually self-serving. They are not imagemakers but propagandists and attack dogs. They hardly pick calls or respond to enquiries from journalists, broadcasters, development practitioners and information seeking public despite the existence of the Freedom of Information Act.
Finally, any instrument proves useful and valuable only to the extent that it is deployed. And this piece holds the opinion that Nigerians/Media Professionals in this country can use different media platforms available to communicate and project positive ideas and ideal.
*Utomi, Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy, SEJA, Lagos wrote via: [email protected]