Dr. Joe Odumakin Speaks at CRWatch Anniversary Lecture

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by crossriverwatch admin

Dr. Joe Okei Odumakin speaking at the CRWatch 1st Anniversary Lecture
Dr. Joe Okei Odumakin speaking at the CRWatch 1st Anniversary Lecture

THE ROLE OF COMMUNITY JOURNALISM IN STRENGTHENING DEMOCRACY
DELIVERED BY DR. JOE OKEI-ODUMAKIN, PRESIDENT, CAMPAIGN FOR DEMOCRACY AND WOMEN ARISE AT THE 1ST YEAR CRWATCH ANNIVERSARY LECTURE, TUESDAY AUGUST 27TH, 2013 AT TRANSCORP METRO HOTEL, CALABAR.

A rather simplistic approach to our discourse might find us listing the well known functions of journalism in a democracy, with a few carefully chosen clichés and weather-worn phrases. Then our job would be done.

This is because the role of journalism is universal in the tent or the town-hall. It does not appear to me that the role expands in the metropolis. It does not occur to me that the role shrinks in the community.

So we might as well be looking at the universal role of journalism. The ‘dibia’ who asks you to bring the head and legs of the tortoise knows that you would have to buy the whole tortoise, He was just being coy.

However, Community journalism is defined by scholars as journalism that serves distinct communities typically small towns, suburbs or urban neighbourhoods, but also communities of identity or of short term goals.

Generally, these communities are “small” in some sense, and have certain aspects that set them apart from larger populations. The news that serve such communities also tend to be small, but more importantly, the journalists who produce these media tend to have fairly strong connections to the communities they serve.

A poorly edited small town weekly newspaper can have a tremendous impact on community life in a small town than the AIT or Punch Newspaper.

I am saying that community journalism serves the same purpose as national or international journalism, if we could rig such terms into this equation. But I enjoin us to please keep our focus on the ball called democracy. How does journalism strengthen democracy? This is the second issue.

How does journalism strengthen democracy?

It is not a democracy until it has absolutely free, responsible journalism. This is the strength which journalism brings to a democracy. First, it authenticates that democracy. It distinguishes between pseudo-democracies and the real stuff.

In the democratic dynamics are what the media thinkers recognize as the three “Ps”.

The Politician
The Public
The Publication

The publication is more than the arbiter, the interpreter, perhaps more aptly- the window through which the public sees policies as they come to interplay with the polity. The public then joins the current on the tide of one and against the other. The publication is the illuminator! Or at least so perceived or supposed.

Lagata is a Yoruba term which works well here. The role of the journalism becomes indispensable in a democracy, since direct representation is no longer achievable people could not have a direct say even in the best of democracies. So journalism offers a window through which a peek at the representatives’ actions and inactions are seen and interpreted.

Journalism is said to be (and I largely agree) a massive groupings of advertising agencies which sell votes and deny same, depending on how it views, modifies and presents the political equation to the public.

If it plays all these roles very well, then the public knows the truth, falsehood and the items between those two poles. This, in essence, puts the politician on his toes in perpetuity and he is on his best behaviour in office, against his natural inclinations.

I do not think the British judge does not want to be corrupt like his Nigeria counterpart. I do not believe that the U.S. Senator is averse to awarding himself an armed robber’s salary like a Nigerian senator.

But this deviousness in public office is checked by living journalism in those places of course with a few other complimentary institutions.

By the way, this does not totally vilify the Nigerian Journalism.

Journalism is often described as the Fourth Estate of the Realm. I think it has been a while since politicians have been devising and designing bribes for journalists.

Thomas Victorian Era Carlyle, a Scottish philosopher, historian and teacher ascribed the phrase to Edmund Burke-a British statesman and philosopher. (May be the award was not a bribe) Burke says:

“…….Three estates in parliament;
But in reporters’ gallery yonder,
There sat a Fourth Estate more
Important far than they all”.

Does this ring a bell in our time? How protocol struggles to insert “gentlemen of the press” in a place of pride but never really succeeds because there is no other comfortable position except second to the last “The chairman, special guest of honour, my Lords spiritual and temporal, gentlemen of the press, ladies and gentlemen. I do not think protocol managers of our time moved very much from Edmund Burke’s position.

But the hollowness of the tone is remarkably distinct. We could easily agree that there is no opening for ‘gentility’ in the profile of a reporter. He could not dress so. He could not be gentled.

He is in perpetual pursuit of facts. The truth about individuals, groups, corporations’ forces. And when he finds it, he must report it. He must tell. No I think the fourth estate business was a soap job which stuck, but it underlines the kind of pressure the publication puts the politician under. And the extent to which the politician could fairly go to create a familiar relativity. A pleasant identification with co-estates.

So, if we go back to our course, the journalist shapes, sharpens and shares opinions, views and facts about the coordinates and dynamics of power in a democracy. He ultimately helps to put good politicians in office and helps to kick out rotten ones. When the pace and intensity of this scenario endures, that democracy becomes strong. Where it is in fits and starts, selective or absent, that democracy dies.

Community Journalism is of local orientation. News generation, coverage, which has its principal focus on neighbourhoods, suburbs, villages, small towns.

To bring back my earlier position, the scope of operation could be smaller, but the spirit, ethics and professional expanse of the industry must retain the size fit for the metropolis. I am saying the consciousness must not diminish from the FCT to Obubra. Then democracy is helped.

I have always asked why civil activism is almost totally displayed so far away from the local communities. Is it because it is where the largest attention could be secured that activists flock to? Or is activism ongoing in the villages but there is no media coverage?

I congratulate CrossRiverWatch on this tough route. I pray it shores up enough resolve to stand in the storm which must come. To endure the lack which approaches and to embrace its fate when it meets it.

Community journalism in Nigeria in my experience and prodding could be bliss to the mind which seeks to sell an image to the community’s political powers. Such publications just go to the government offices and a few other influential folks.

It is more profitable than robbery. It is a perfect way to bury democracy.

But the true entrepreneur of community journalism bears a huge burden. Where do funds to keep afloat come from? Majority of our folks are not literate. The literate folks are tired of reading books (this is a global plague).

So, the advocacy goes beyond the principal intention. There is an endurance test ahead. There is a great need for creativity. A quest must be raised and pursued for that key to the heart of the potential community buyer. Does it reside in language? Would we have to publish in EFIK? Is it in photography? So that the graphics have an allure integrated into their production?

What creative dimensions, what strategies would have to be found to call the attention of an illiterate, hardworking, poor, deprived and oppressed community dweller to buy? Yet, it is possible. If truth is constantly published. If there is no easy reason to sniff.

Having said all that, we must reckon with the media space today firmly in the pocket of the politician. It is not a totally novel phenomenon, but where it is not countered by the true free press, it kills democracy. Therefore, if the communities have vibrant journalism, if might serve democracy well against the rampage of politician-owned media.

I could not say where the print media is headed, ten, fifteen years down the road. The blogosphere is draining life from the print, even the broadcast media as was known. Perhaps, the community journalist should also be projecting. But only as much as his endurance, his resilience go take him.

There is no light, but he must pay more even for the darkness. So if he wishes to innovate a netizens center in the community, he has the electricity regime to contend with.

The community journalist is a direly needed tool of social and political re-engineering. The politician says “all politics are local”. He holds on to the “grassroots: as if his life depended on it. This is the direction everything must go. Local.

If the central planners were the most astute people in the world, they would still fail the details of thousands of communities which make up the federal Republic of Nigeria but they do not even begin to understand what astuteness alludes to and that is why we are lying prostrate as a nation.

We have to build our nation from the communities to the centre, not in reverse.

Now if a community medium reports a crime here and the Federal police is first on ground, represented by a team just transferred from Abuja. You know the story.

Leo Lerner founder of Chicago erstwhile Lerner Newspaper used to say “A fistfight on dark street is more important to our readers than a war in Europe”

However there is a great responsibility on the part of the community journalists to maintain a balance between the gravitation of their publics towards self-interest with the wider national and world-based stories.

We are in the era of globalization. The conflict of maintaining community values and fortifies the status quo and necessary information change from the need for a broad range of information (pluralism) must be resolved by practitioners with fidelity to the best practices in journalism.

It must never be lost on the practitioners of Community journalism that the Chief task before them is to provide the local communities the accountability journalism they need in order for democracy to thrive. They have to publish what the politician – media would ignore because the ownership constrains. That our communities are perishing today as a function of lack of knowledge which “edited” information promotes given the influence of politicians on the media.

If the control of the politicians extends to community journalism, democracy is in great danger. To my mind, this is a challenge to practitioners for the sake of public goods nature of accountability journalism to seek social mechanism other the market to increase the resources available for news reporting.

This is the surest way to safeguard the positive externalities of community journalism which include less corrupt government, a better informed and more participatory electorate and better government performance. The under promotions of news reporting threatens each of these things.

Once again, I salute the courage of the mind behind CrossRiverWatch. I hope strongly that they excel where may have faltered and failed.

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