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Opinions of Thursday, 27 October 2016

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

The faceless media cabal and all the president’s men

By George Sydney Abugri

Every president ought to hire smart chaps like me and pay us fantastic salaries to teach them the ropes when it comes to meeting voters’ expectations, coping with rival politics in times of national economic difficulties, fending off negative propaganda and keeping tax payers and everybody else very happy all the time.

The President Mahama has accused what he calls a media cabal, of blocking the flow of accurate information about the performance of his administration from the public. The comment has raised the great hackles all over the place, but especially in media circles.

I don’t how the word got smuggled into the conversation but some media people veered off the subject into a discussion about how “neutral journalists” do not exist. I presume the thrust of their argument is that the media have rival partisan sympathies, in which case, the president should not expect all media to disseminate information favourable to his government.

That there is no question of neutrality in journalism and especially political journalism is obvious, isn’t it? What the dictates of ethical practice requires even with partisan media, is objectivity and not neutrality and on that score, the president may have a point. Take away objectivity and you are left holding a media product called gonzo journalism.

Gonzo journalism was coined in the 1970s to describe the work of journalists like the Hunter S. Thompson.

Gonzo journalism makes no pretence and offers no apologies for its lack of objectivity, fairness and balance. Gonzo journalists say that objectivity is only a myth and that striving for objectivity only gets in the way of telling the truth. It is not the kind of journalism I would recommend for any political reporter or editor in an election year or any other year.

All the same, the president has himself to blame for not placing a robust communication strategy as high up on his agenda as he should have.

Since he came to power President Mahama has been under unrelenting siege by teachers, nurses, doctors, anti-corruption campaigners, political opponents and their league of activists and virtually everyone who fancies a rant at the president, and you wonder where all the president’s men are.

Some members of the National Democratic Congres are beside themselves with righteous indignation and anger at the way the president’s men have left the man wide open to such vitriolic attacks. One of them once said that the president’s men have often left him with no alternative than to personally intervene or take action in various situations requiring the attention and action of people appointed by the same president as superintendents of various public sectors.

To say that the president should not be criticized, especially when all is clearly far from well with the health of the national economy and social welfare, is to ask rather too much of voters but hey, there is such a thing as putting a president under virtual siege from dawn to dusk without let and that is the subject under reference.

Some presidents are lucky to have guys like Reuben working for them in trying executive times. Dr. Reuben Abati was an unrelenting critic of every government in Nigeria until President Goodluck Jonathan appointed him Advisor on Media Affairs and Publicity and the man has since shown what every communicator at a presidency should do when his boss is under siege from all sides.

Apparently fed up with unrelenting criticism of his boss and particularly incensed by the claims on Facebook and social media, that Dr. Jonathan spent his time drinking “kain kain” {akpeteshie}, Dr. Jonathan’s advisor wrote a 1, 623-word newspaper article which took on all those who had been quite literally trying to hound his boss out of office with malicious criticisms in traditional and on social media platforms.

Dr. Abati addressed his piece to “the cynics, the pestle-wielding critics, the unrelenting, self-appointed activists, the idle and idling, twittering, collective children of anger, the distracted crowd of Facebook addicts and the BBM-pinging soap opera gossips of Nigeria” saying they were all in competition among themselves to pull down then President Goodluck Jonathan.

Describing the president’s critics as “an army of sponsored and self-appointed anarchists” he said “many of them don’t even know why or how they should attack the President.”

According to him “the clear danger to public affairs commentary {of such a nature}, is that we have a lot of unintelligent people repeating stupid clichés and too many intelligent persons wasting their talents lending relevance to thoughtless conclusions.”

“Hold on. I don’t want to be misunderstood” he hurried to explain. “I am not saying nobody should criticize the president…But the twittering, pinging, Facebook crowd of the new age, must be guided by facts.”

Maybe, President Mahama is the hapless victim of a weakness in government communications, which I daresay, is a creative science in its own right. What the president has needed all this while, is an innovative approach to government communications that is able to rationally explain national difficulties and challenges at the right time, while fending off negative propaganda.