Accountability Journalist, An Adversary Or A Conscience BY AGBA JALINGO

In Breaking News, Columnists, Opinion

The traditional role of journalism is an open book. To inform, educate and entertain. But there is also the watchdog journalism, which I personally prefer to refer to as ‘accountability journalism.’ This is a relatively newer dimension of the job in comparison to the traditional role, and the very kind of journalism that is unsettling. The brand of journalism that is hated and despised by the powerful and mighty and their apparatchiks.

Even in politically liberated climes, accountability journalism is still considered adversarial. The mere practice of holding government and the powerful accountable to the people, irritates a section of the society and pitches them against the accountability journalist. But media organizations have continued to feather their traditional role of agenda setting with advocacy and accountability, and are rethinking the romanticization of neutrality. They have moved from sitting on the fence to taking positions and even openly adopting candidates of their political leaning for elections, with intent to change societal narratives.

Back home here, the watchdog role of the journalist is so crucial to the growth and development of democracy that even the framers of our 1999 Constitution, in Section 22 provided that: “The press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media shall at all times be free to uphold… the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.” I think that should be clear and unequivocal enough to tell us the job the accountability journalist is cut out for. Namely, to hold government accountable to the people. Like a doctor has to treat sick people, or like a lawyer has to defend accused persons in court.

Then, every job has a jurisdiction. Every police man is attached to a station. Each doctor has a hospital he or she works. Every journalist has where he or she practices primarily. I, for instance work for CrossRiverWatch. By nomenclature, the reader should know that the focus of the platform is Cross River State. So, like a cop, or a doc or a shopkeeper who reports for work daily, any reporter working for CrossRiverWatch must wake up every day with Cross River State in mind, and like Buhari is to Nigeria, Ayade is the biggest headline from Cross River until he leaves office.

It is the job of the police to pursue and catch criminals every second without getting tired or complaining. It is the same thing for the watchdog journalist. To continually, perpetually, unfailingly, incessantly pursue, peruse, and squeeze the government for public interest. Anyone trying to persuade, convince, cajole or coerce the journalist away from fulfilling this role is not different from the person telling the police not to catch criminals again because “it is becoming too much.”

So for us in CrossRiverWatch, when we wake up every morning, the first question we ask ourselves is: What has Ayade said today? What have his commissioners said? What has the Speaker said? What new policy statement has the government made? This is even more imperative in a State like Cross River where there is a very thin, negligible line between the politicians in the ruling party and the opposition. A near absence of opposition.

In the light of such circumstances, those saying we are worrying Ayade are naive. We need more courageous media organizations and accountability journalists in our State to do this work. In the absence of opposition, the media must stand up and fill the gulf. The independent media in our State is still growing and growing rapidly too. What they require is a shining example of how not to relent or rest on our oars. Asking questions can never be enough, and the next governor had better be prepared.

Yours sincerely,

Citizen Agba Jalingo, Publisher of CrossRiverWatch and a rights activist, is a Cross Riverian and writes in from Lagos.

NB: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Agba Jalingo and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.

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