By Jamiu Folarin
On Friday, July 3, 2020, SaharaReporters release pictures claiming that the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami bought house each for his three wives. The picture ‘expose’ by SaharaReporters is crystal clear to even budding journalists that it violates the basic ethical principle of journalism.
The first report by the online media platform showed pictures of three buildings allegedly bought by Dr Pantami for each of his three wives.
The outcome of the “investigation” by Sahara Reporters could only boast of five images not captioned, ‘exposing’ how Dr Pantami is living big in Abuja.
No other evidence, official nor unofficial documents, sources, reports, salaries, allowances, declaration of assets form and specific locations of the alleged building owned by the Pantami family. It is disheartening that members of the public will teach journalists how to go about our constitutional obligations and take lessons about our code of ethics from our audience.
The spokesperson of the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Mrs Uwa Sulaiman, also gave similar tutorial when she said: “In the same vein, we plead with the Nigerian media to deploy the strategies of investigative journalism and avoid false sensationalism in order to uphold the tenets of the noble pen profession.”
I waited till this time expecting that Sahara Reporters will come up with the reports of its “full investigation” after publishing the slide containing five pictures. I was, however, perturbed when the online media platform plays around the response of the spokesperson to Pantami to justify its allegations.
After the Minister debunked the ‘expose’ of SaharaReporters in a press statement, the online media again goofed by mischievously and deliberately manipulating the statement of the Minister to satisfies its owner’s whims and caprices.
Dr Pantami had clarified: “Minister Pantami has not purchased a single house anywhere in the world since assumption of office. Our attention has been drawn to the grave falsehood published by controversial online media, Sahara Reporters against the person of Honourable Minister Dr Isa Ali Pantami.
“The online media, has falsely accused him of procuring three houses within the period of his assumption of office. For the purpose of setting the records straight, the Honourable Minister has not purchased a single property anywhere In the world, in the period he has been in office as a Minister.
“One of the apartments in the images published is one which the Honourable Minister has occupied since January 2017, more than two years before becoming a minister, while the other one is a house he rented since 17th December 2019. Two of the images are not even known to him”.
But Sahara Reporters deliberately misrepresented the statement of the minister, which was stated in simple English. SaharaReporters promoted another falsehood in a follow-up “news” report published a day after with the headline: “Pantami Confirms Owning Houses In Abuja, Denies Buying Any Property Since Becoming Minister”.
“Nigeria’s Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, has confirmed that two of the three houses published by SaharaReporters belongs to him.”
*Please compare this:*
“One of the apartments in the images published is one which the Honourable Minister has occupied since January 2017, more than two years before becoming a minister, while the other one is a house he rented since 17th December 2019. Two of the images are not even known to him.”
“Pantami has confirmed that two of the three houses published by SaharaReporters belongs to him. He, however, said he had never bought any house for his wives after he assumed office as minister.”
The concluding paragraph of the story further gave away SaharaRepoters, affirming its bias: “However, the minister’s defence appears to have caused more damage as Nigerians on various social media platforms to continue to condemn his double standard of pretending to be a saint when he is not one”.
The above statement in a news report showed clearly that SaharaReporters is mixing opinion with facts which is alien to the principles of news presentation. Rather than apologising to members of the public for misleading them with false claims and retract the report with corrigendum, Sahara Reporters further throw caution to the wind to give credibility to its lies wrap in the toga of news.
How would you also describe the extent to which Sahara Reporters has gone to debase the Journalism profession by publishing this junk titled: “Minister Isa Pantami Abuja Houses And The Lies Used To Cover Mores Lies” authored by one Mashood Musbau (Just a concerned youth that wants a good Nigeria).
Even citizen journalists who are managing blogs to promote their contents would not stoop so low to publish the content promoted by Sahara Reporters. It was adorned with grammatical errors, malapropism, illogically and incoherent presentation.
That is lazy and arms-chair journalism at its worst. You took pictures or got them from someone and you came up with that as an ‘expose’ and outcome of an investigation? I recalled that when I observed the same infraction with the editorial policy of The Punch on President Muhammadu Buhari, someone pleaded “media’s doctrine of necessity” as a reason to allow the newspaper organisation to continue violating journalism ethics.
I was also shocked that some supporters of the newspaper said gross violation of journalism ethics should be allowed in that circumstance because the President is becoming “autocratic”. Rather than responding to attack my person and barrage of orchestrated criticism against my position on The Punch editorial on President Buhari, I resulted to putting the issue into further perspective as a way of encouraging professionals committed to journalism code of ethics to keep their heads when others are losing theirs.
According to Franklin, Hamer, Hanna, Kinsey & Richardson, in 2005, it was observed that the achievement, which gradually uncovered the Watergate scandal led to renewed enthusiasm in American newsrooms for investigative journalism. But there was also increased soul-searching about ethics.
Some commentators began to warn that reporters who were overly-hostile to and cynical about politicians, public institutions and business risked alienating the public from journalists, or could erode public faith in democracy. It must be noted that the Freedom of expression and the press is the cornerstone of an egalitarian society.
This freedom is situated in the people of any given society. And the mass media provide the platforms towards the attainment of this ideal. As a result of this, the journalism profession enjoys the liberty to carry out the responsibility reposed in it by the society and the constitution.
In the discharge of this responsibility as situated in the Libertarian theory of the press, the same public complained of the abuse of the power reposed in the Fourth Estate of the Realm (the mass media). One of such allegations is the combative mode activated by some media organisations while dealing with other Estate of the Realm (Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary).
Franklin et al described the above scenario as “adversarial” and “hyperadversarial’ journalism. When media organisations are in combative mode in addressing perceived maladministration or abuse of rule of law by the government, they take the toga of activism and advocacy that might be inimical to the ideals of journalism.
With the recent report by Sahara Reporters on a Minister in President Buhari administration, it points to the same concerns I raised about journalism ethics of media institution in Nigeria. The preface of the code of ethics for Nigerian Journalists stated in clear terms: “Journalism entails a high degree of public trust.
“To earn and maintain this trust, it is morally imperative for every journalist and every news medium to observe the highest professional and ethical standards”.
It further added: “In the exercise of these duties, a journalist should always have a healthy regard for the public interest. Truth is the cornerstone of journalism and every journalist should strive diligently and every journalist should strive to ascertain the truth of every event”.
Section 2 (iii) of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) code also emphasised “Accuracy and Fairness” with a specific explanation that “In the course of his duties, a journalist should strive to separate facts from conjecture and comment”. Some media organisations have allowed their hatred for some public officials and resolve to embark on a personal vendetta to becloud their sense of Justice, Fairness, Credibility, Integrity and ultimately consideration for Public Interest as sanctioned by the Journalism profession.
The assertion of a veteran journalist and journalism educator in the United States, Deborah Potter, warned that media organisation such as SaharaReporters must trade with caution: “Journalists are not mere transmission belts for their own viewpoints or for information provided by others. They do original reporting, they do not confuse fact with opinion or rumour, and they make sound editorial decisions”.
It is, therefore, instructive to take to the advice of spokesperson of Dr Pantami, who asked the general public to “ignore all attempts to slander the name and image of the Honourable Minister”.
Mr Omoyele Sowore and his Sahara Reporters online platform are now embroidered in conflict of interest. This will no doubt affect the remnant of trust the media consumers had in this online platform.
Fight your battle against President Muhammadu Buhari and his Ministers without necessarily abusing the trust reposed in you by the society (public interest) through the media platform. It is high time that stakeholders in the journalism profession bring back sanity to the Fourth Estate of the Realm as its integrity and credibility is being threatened.
I submit therefore that the report of Sahara Reporters on Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami is another low in journalism ethics.
Jamiu Folarin is a freelance journalist and lecture at the department of Mass Communication, Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State.