•There is something unseemly, flagrantly unethical even, in the way beat reporters carry out their work
Their remit is to report comprehensively and insightfully on a given turf, the policy domain, the persons who shape and the persons who execute policy, as well as performance and constraints, the goal being to help the public have a good understanding of what is going on in that turf.
To carry out this remit, reporters need to maintain an air space between themselves and the institutions and policy-makers they cover. A critical edge helps, but the reporters’ role need not be adversarial.Their autonomy should be beyond question.
But the practice often falls far short of the canon.
Beat reporters routinely confer awards, spurious for the most part, on the persons and institutions they are supposed to cover, a transaction that is not entirely disinterested. The watchdog becomes cheerleader and enabler.
The recipient, for the most part unworthy even of the bogus conferment, nevertheless embraces it and celebrates it and flaunts it as a true measure of his or her status.
Governor of the Year. Newsmaker of the Year. Most media-friendly Governor of the Year. Minister of the Year. Banker of the Year. Chief Executive of the Year. Lawmaker of the Year. Parastatal of the Year. Local Government Chairman of the Year: These are some of the dubious honours beat reporters and other media institutions solemnly confer on those they are supposed to cover.
The criteria and process informing the selection is neither stated nor apparent.
This practice reached the nadir of infamy with the recent selection of the supremely unworthy Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West) as Senator of the Year by the Senate Press Corps.
Neither in bearing nor in conduct nor yet in speech can he in any serious reckoning be deemed qualified for that distinction. On the contrary, his comportment inside and outside the Senate has tended to bring it into disrepute. We speak here of his crass exhibitionism, his inclination to violent conduct, his inconstancy, and his brazenly un-parliamentary disposition.
Whether the conferment was made for valuable consideration as has been alleged or from careful deliberation, it calls into serious question the judgment and orientation of the Senate Press Corps. It is subversive of the best practices, and the National Executive Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) was right to have disavowed it. Besides, the Senate Press Corps has no recognition under the NUJ Constitution, and hence no locus standi to confer any award.
A new spirit seems to be at work in the NUJ. In the past, its leadership would have acted as if the award was none of its business. After all, NUJ and its state councils were themselves in the unethical business of conferring bogus awards on all kinds of persons for all kinds of dubious achievements.
We recall here how a delegation of the National Executive Council of the union travelled to Akwa Ibom State to confer a meaningless award on the state governor and how, on their journey back, members of the team were kidnapped and divested of the hefty cash reward the governor had given them for their labours.
The leadership of the NUJ at every level must therefore strive to live up to its new-found commitment to the highest standards of professional practice.
Media proprietors also have an obligation to set a good example for their staffers. When they mobilise their corporate power to confer bogus awards on dubious recipients for valuable consideration, they cannot in good conscience punish their staffers for doing the same.
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