Reporting public affairs: The missing link
Just as you don’t become a lawyer (a practising one) only upon studying law in the university or a teacher after graduating from a college of education, you don’t also answer to a journalist merely because you have undertaken journalism studies. You’d need to have been a practitioner of the profession and a subscriber to its lifetime discipline of keeping abreast of developments in the field through training, retraining and massive reading of literature churned out to update you.
This vision has led to the observation that practitioners of most of the professions in Nigeria are not growing. We’ve been rooted to the same spot for ages while the rest of the world has moved on. The nation as the end-user of the dissemination of information has suffered where others in this global village have flourished. This isn’t a floored position on account of the empirical evidence attesting to the substandard and unethical values in the institutions manned by our bureaucrats and professionals.
Therefore, the sum of the argument in one of Jackson Akpasubi’s latest books Practical Guide To Public Affairs For Journalists published by Mirror Color Print Limited, Lagos, is that these professionals would be better suited to contribute qualitatively to both the society and the vocation if they were exposed to new grounds in the field through books. It does not suffice, he insists, to flaunt a surfeit of academic suffixes. But really what is the point if you have all these good degrees and diplomas and they are of no functional application?
So, in his 11-chapter 217-page book, Akpasubi establishes the view that the media being the fourth estate of the realm, its members can only justify that role if they are able to handle their reportage of public affairs (i.e public policy) tactically and admirably. They must be exposed to specialized books like Akpasubi’s work under review. The author is able to draw on his own vast experience that has seen him operate in some of the country’s revered media houses (The Guardian, Concord Newspaper group, Sentinel etc; climaxing as the Director of News,TVC) to pontificate on a number of grundnorms.
The newsroom is the link between the people and public policy making, a relationship, which is pivotal to healthy growth and development of society. Another: the place of public policy in journalism practice today is becoming extremely complex in our globally interconnected world. Still more: social policy news stories have more human interest perspectives and must not be played down. Akpasubi adds that as a result of the expansion of public services and the rise in political importance and their statutory objectives as stated in chapter 2 of the Nigerian constitution, it is binding on journalists to monitor the government on its discharge of its responsibility to the people. The Constitution says the newsman must play the watchdog role. These newsmen then must be doubly kitted to perform that function if society is to exist organically.
Akpasubi reaches out to a host of classical definitions of public policy. But, my pick is this: “Public policy is the process by which governments translate their political vision into realities (programs) and actions to deliver “outcomes” (or) the desired changes in the real world. Examples of desired outcomes include clean air, clean water, good and affordable healthcare, high employment, decent and affordable housing, minimal levels of poverty, improved literacy, law, (low) crime rate, socially cohesive society, and of course high and qualitative educational system, among others.”
This sets the stage for the author to identify and zero in on areas constituting public policy. The checklist enumerated by the author includes almost everything under the sun.
They are to be handled by those the author calls “specialist reporters” not “general beat reporters” who “in the past” made “ministers and parastatal heads… frequently get away with not knowing very much.” To assist society understand issues and formulate helpful public policy, the reporter must “acquire the virtue of patience… It requires attendance at long often boring public meetings (especially when they are political) and court of public hearings. It requires poring over lengthy often confusing public documents… careful research… and of course, the ability to organise and compile information and to write precisely and accurately.”
But some observers would not allow a couple of Akpasubi’s postulations to go unchallenged. His tree of the different levels of Public Policy Process is one such bone of contention. The author presents Genesis as the first; the second is the Development stage; the third is Implementation; and lastly Feedback, which the journalist does through reports and analysis. Critics of the radical Hegelian school would swiftly take Akpasubi to task. Why is he stopping at Stage 4? They would counter that there is more activity after that level. They would move on to proffer the famous dialectical argument: thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis. Feedback stage would be overthrown to give way to a new Genesis that would also lead to new levels in an endless cycle of policies and further displacements. These are the dynamics of social growth and development.
Practical Guide to Public Affairs for Journalists has a word on reporting local governments. Correctly considered by many to be the key to reform and restructuring Nigeria, the book laments that the reporter has been sucked in by the jinx of viewing council administration as the home of “levy and tax collection.” If we have this attitude to the local government system in Nigeria, the nation and its democratic structure cannot ably evolve a progressive policy that serves the interest of the masses. But a relentless media scrutiny and reportage of council affairs can redress the situation. Just as there is too much power at the centre in Abuja, the nation’s capital, resulting in little development and empowerment of the people in the states, there is also sadly scant attention and resources in the local governments. This is responsible for the poverty of Nigeria despite our gargantuan potential.
Akpasubi’s second book is the 104 page Dictionary Of Media Terms. The idea for the project came when the author made his acclaimed transition from print to electronic (TV) journalism. He encountered a completely new world where he discovered that like the boy in an African adage you must not boast too much about the size of your father’s farm until you’ve visited that of your friend’s father. But given Akpasubi’s humble tradition and a habitual determination to always learn new things, he stooped to conquer and gobbled up all that was on offer on this new turf. This book is the outcome of his experience.
It is one of the few available for the public to learn about the shibboleth that those in the radio, TV, web, PR, adverts etc, use in their day-to-day enterprise.
The book’s beauty lies in its simplicity, one-liner definitions, and brief historical forays. Its resort to arcane technical explanations is unavoidable in some respects. But it is adroitly handled.
Now, although Jackson Akpasubi had his way in the two books with thoroughly researched presentation, he never could stop the printer’s devil from having its say many times over. The photographs could have been reproduced in their original colour format. In the case of the Dictionary Of Media Terms, there is no photograph at all. What saved the day are the colourful cover and the depth of discourse between the covers.
• Ojewale is a writer in Ota, Ogun State