By: Roland Bayode & Deborah Omoare
Journalists possess agenda-setting power. Through their work, they are able to influence and portray realities about the word through the spits of their ink. No wonder some refer and affirm the fourth estate as the only recognized profession needed in heaven. Even in heaven, they say, people need information.
But the power that comes with journalism in Nigeria is at a great cost to journalists’ mental health and their welfare. Both are being neglected in the national discourse.
Newsmen and newswomen report events, ideas, innovations, experiences, salient and topical issues that can move the society forward, yet issues concerning journalists are hardly reported.
Reporters’ lifestyle is rare to come by, an irony for people who belong in a profession that demands a 24-hours news cycle. Do journalists report not to be reported?
Oftentimes, journalists are found at the frontlines, reporting the world most venturesome crisis, serving as watchdogs of the society, always disseminating reports from the crime scenes, accidents, investigative stories, conflict zones and many other toilsome stories. Some of the consequences of their job being post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, stress to mention a few.
Another alarming issue journalists in Nigeria battle is poor remuneration and welfare arrangement.
It is also hard to tell whether the Nigerian society appreciates what journalists stand for as some of them receive destructive criticisms from their audience. Some Journalists who beam focus light on the vices of a top government official are sometimes tongue-lashed for what is regarded as hate speech.
Recently, Nigerian lawmakers had attempted to introduce Hate Speech Bill in what seems like an attempt to avoid criticisms all together.
Yinka Olatubosun of Thisday Newspaper discloses that journalists mental health issue has been a serious threat to the profession. She finds therapy by engaging in creative tasks to ease herself of mental stress when the tension is high. “I sew clothes, and I make beads using beads making apps. This way, I provide some therapy of sorts for my mental wellbeing”, she said.
As regards the threat and risk involved in the profession, she believes the ability to discern and share little or no information about one’s self is key. “I don’t display my location on social media and I don’t respond to strange calls. I am also quick to discern a potentially dangerous situation and avoid it.” She further argues that journalism is a noble profession that has been turned to a crazy one by the incompetent people who hold certain positions in media houses today.
“If you study the way journalism is practised in other places, you will see that it is the Nigerian factor of poor network, bad roads, corruption and others that have contributed to that view of the profession.
“I have been in a newsroom in Berlin for a week and I don’t think what I witnessed qualified to be called crazy. We may work crazy hours because of the news circle routine but the profession itself is not crazy.”
Gbenga Ogundare, a Former Editor at the National Standard Magazine and currently a freelance journalist believes that no human endeavour is devoid of hazards and threats.
“It is troublous in the media here because if something goes wrong with a journalist on duty, no one will take responsibility, not even the organization you are dying for. So the best form of precaution for me is being security conscious both on the field and online.”
Ogundare added that stress, fear, anxiety and depression are the perks of journalism for the majority of the pressmen.
“I have been thoroughly ridiculed in the court in the past because I could not pay my rent. Yet I had a former employer who is still owing me a payment but refused to pay. It’s difficult not to display symptoms of mental stress at that point.
“The same thing is happening to many colleagues at the moment who slave on despite being owed arrears of salaries running into 12 months or more. One cannot even think of planning a holiday to relieve yourself of the accumulated stress of work.”
Sharon Jason, a Senior Reporter with Television Continental (TVC) says pressmen are not programmed robots without feelings. As for her, whenever she has done a story that is so emotional, she tries to take a break or avoid such stories and after a while, goes back into it.
“The practical things I do is to go to the spa, I can watch movies or even decide to dance in my room. It could be loud music for just a period of time and I’m fine.”
She also reveals that when it comes to surviving threats of killings, journalists must become unpredictable and trust their instincts.
According to her, “Being unpredictable is so important even among a peer group, I have done lots of stories whereby I feel like I’m being followed. As a smart journalist, you should know where to walk, where to eat and if you have to stay out late, you have to do that with some set of people for protection.
“Know the kind of vehicle you enter. Above all, it’s prayers, when you are prayerful, your instinct will lead you.”
She remarked that journalism is a madhouse because they are in the midst of madness but they must ensure it doesn’t affect their personal lives or individual relationships with other colleagues.
“We have deadlines to meet and everyone is busy playing their own parts to ensure a successful production. We would fight, play, laugh but above all, no mistakes.
“The job has to be done and we don’t have to miss any story. We can shout on ourselves to get it done. Once we are done, we go back to our normal life and respect each other afterwards.”
Mr Lekan Otufodunrin, former managing editor of The Nation Newspapers narrated one of the threat issues he had to deal with while working as a Correspondent for The Punch Newspaper at Abeokuta. He was backed up by some colleagues and the Nigerian Union of Journalists.
“I was also once arrested when I was News Editor for a report by one of my staff and detained for a week. It was traumatic, but I coped knowing its part of the hazards of the profession.”
Mrs Ejiro Umukoro, a multi-award-winning journalist describe journalism as her creative juice pump. Practising journalism she says gives her a feeling of fire. She derives joy from being driven to create difference and make impacts.
“We go out of our way to do extraordinary things using ordinary tools and skills at times to create exceptional impacts.”
She discloses further that journalists deal with theories, conspiracies, confusions, opinions, stereotypes and narratives that make them want to push boundaries.
“We do things nobody will tell, we shake foundations, we shatter the status quo, we question authorities, we demand and make sure things changes in the society.”
The Supernova veteran added that some put their life on the line in wartime covering stories that can never be gotten any other way round except the press are there in person. Despite frustrations and others, they still return to the studio with their sanity so intact and tell a story.
Journalism can never be silenced. It must speak, be seen, be heard if the world must continue to exist, truly no work merit one’s life but if journalists are gone, who will mount the post to perform their task?
Journalism might not necessarily worth dying for but it is worth living for.
The mental welfare of the watchdog must therefore equally be prioritised and protected.
Government, stakeholders and the entire citizens at large have a role to play in helping our press as it helps the nation.