At parliament all seems not be on well as reports emerge from the corridors that the journalists posted there have built a very bad, unethical and unprofessional reputation of demanding, in fact, extorting money and other favours from members of parliament (MPs) in return for favorable coverage. Of course we expect them to vigorously deny but the evidence emerging where journalists still in active service at parliament have recently been appointed as aides, media and political assistants, or even bag carriers offer some pointers.
The overwhelmingly slant and superficial coverage of the just concluded presidential and parliamentary elections is another good pointer that today’s news-people, passing for professional journalists are, perhaps, only journeymen in this trade, supposedly the watchdog over public power.
The above is further buttressed by out of depth public discourse that go for frontline political stories coming from parliamentary business on a daily basis, every week, and throughout the year that for long hasn’t been exposing the rot inside parliament. And to that extent, journalists covering parliament have short-changed the public, and all the while, their bosses, the news editors and media executives appear either unaware or have simply given up on professional supervisory role, after-all many of the news reporters are either paid peanuts or freelances left to apply their own wits.
Stories abound that because of a liberalized world, most media houses, especially radio and television stations, and the mushrooming online media mostly use freelance ‘journalists’ to gather and send them stories. No wonder, what goes as news stories is often more of salacious gossip, unverified rumours or slander than journalistic work backed by verified facts, hence, giving even social media platforms with no credible standing some relevance as they compete as to who breaks the story.
In the last parliament, journalists there had a war over whether MPs press conferences are orgainsed by Parliament’s Communication department or the parliamentary press association claiming that it should be left to them because they needed close liaison with MPs, and they took the day. But the real intention, it has emerged, was the need for direct ‘facilitation’ from MPs for covering the event, without which most journalists would leave the story unreported.
The bad habits of corridor journalism as opposed to following up issues in the plenary and reading long Committee reports, is reported to have morphed into waylaying MPs with the offer that to be featured on a news bulletin, they have to part with money. MPs who haven’t spoken in a committee or plenary are quoted usually, out of context from corridors because they have paid. Here, the parliament Hansard, is available for cross-checking with. If an MP doesn’t pay upfront, it becomes a debt and the journalists pursue them wherever they are. Playing hide and seek, from incessant phone calls, many MPs become fugitives sometimes absconding from Parliament altogether. In a away journalists have become second to moneylenders in tormenting MPs.
It said that journalists have devised a scheme of hopping from office to office, MP to MP, suggesting they become either media or political assistants with claims that they understand both terrains well. And never mind that Parliament has a fully-fledged research department with qualified researchers who appreciate the issues in parliament than journalists who have abandoned their duty for petty pursuits. In doing so, the journalists want to become part and parcel of the institution they should play watchdog over.
Some journalists have proposed to offer political consultancy services for some MPs and other political offices, which as journalists they are supposed to hold to account. If journalists take this route they will be unable to perform their role while keeping within the boundary of professional ethics because they are leading themselves to the ground of compromise.
During the 10th parliament most journalists including their leadership, took sides which is why many excesses at Parliament went unreported. They also took turns hounding then Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah and gave him a blackout. Instead of standing a respectable distance from MPs to give the country a correct picture of what obtains in parliament, journalists have become a headache to MPs because their extortionist conduct goes unchecked.
It would be perfect for them to make the bold career decision of quitting the profession to become full-time consultants and compete with others in the field, or officially become handlers of MPs at an arrangement of mutual interest and leave journalism to those interested in the profession. To stay in active journalism and hold MPs at ransom and become a pain to be avoided by MPs is the worst that should happen.
It’s important for MPs to learn the dynamics of the media and appreciate that when they read, research and ground themselves well in the art of public speaking and presentation both in the committees and plenary, media coverage will be a given. But when MPs avoid reading the lengthy but vital reports of Committees, avoid the parliamentary library or other self-enrichment initiatives, they will remain insignificantly in the corridors and will be easily forgotten.
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