Journalism has been playing a crucial role in Nigeria’s democracy and development process. The Nigerian society, just like every other society, needs the mass media because governance and the wellbeing of the people cannot be entrusted to politicians, the elite and the bureaucrats. This underscores the watchdog role of the press to ensure checks and balances that make the society work. Often times, most politicians, the elite and the bureaucrats in Nigeria are seen as the scum of the earth primarily interested in what they can grab for themselves. Journalists as the Fourth Estate of the Realm (the other three being the three arms of government – Executive, Judiciary and Legislature) plays the checks and balance function that makes public office holders accountable.
While media is considered as a fourth estate of the realm, it is also a part of the civil society arena which is well known to overlap other functional areas of democracy and governance. There are societies where antagonistic relationship between media and government facilitates a vital and healthy element of fully functioning democracies. In post-conflict or ethnically homogenous societies, a tension ridden relationship may not be appropriate, but the role of the press to disseminate information as a way of mediating between the state and all facets of civil society remains critical. So the press play different roles when viewed from different perspectives.
Metaphors are expressions used to conceptualise reality. They also explain how the social world and the identities and relations in this world are constructed. This also applies to journalism. The dog metaphor is used to explain the relationship between journalists and the society.
Media advocates, critics and scholars have used a variety of canine metaphors to describe the relationship between the media and other institutions in society. Dogs are used as a metaphor to explain the various ways journalists carry out their duties in the society. Here’s a quick look at the different perspectives of journalism described using dog metaphors as they exit in Nigeria and other parts of the world.
Lap Dog Journalism
This is a model of journalism where journalists are seen to be licking the hands of those in society with power. This kind of journalism is common in Nigeria. Most states have state correspondents of National and local newspapers on their payroll (monthly allowances) and this could affect objectivity especially while covering events or happening affecting the state government.
A typical example here is the recent event that took place in Ebonyi State where the Governor, David Umahi, said in a live broadcast held on Wednesday, April 22, that he had banned two journalists from the government house and from covering any government function. The journalists are Mr Chijioke Agwu of The Sun and Mr Peter Okutu of Vanguard Newspapers covering Ebonyi State for their respective organizations. Umahi said he was displeased with the leadership of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), for failing to discipline their members. The governor also said he would seize the allowances paid journalists working in the state for two months because he was unhappy with the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) for not disciplining their members. This incidents sparked outrage by several human right groups and other organization. Though a government official denied the broadcast a day after, the incident stirred outrage but also revealed an existing relationship with the press. Because the state government was paying journalists monthly allowance they expected them to remain lap dogs but that didn’t happen in the case of the Vanguard and The Sun reporters. So the state governor had to get angry and make a serious mistake against press freedom. This reflects the dangerous nature of lap dog journalism in Nigeria especially to the development of democracy.
Under the lapdog model, the journalists lack power to bite or hold public office holders accountable. The role the media play here is that of a civic booster. They are afraid of losing support of the elite they get advertisements from. This approach to journalism counters journalists’ self-proclaimed ‘watchdog’ responsibility. It suggests that news media are channels through which the agenda of the society’s elites are achieved. The media are accused of supporting and perpetuating the exploitation and social inequalities on which they profit under this model.
The basic tenets of the lapdog theory has been captured in the following three assumptions. First, the news media do not have independent power so they rely on government, corporate and elite sources for both information and economic support. Second, journalists show neither understanding nor interest in the opinions, attitudes and information requirements of any other group other than those of society’s elite establishment. Third, the news media are characterized by a consistent argumentative and political bias to the benefit of these social and corporate authorities to the extent that they appear to act as their trained pooch. This is a disturbing approach to journalism which is detrimental to the success of democracies as the participatory and representative approaches which characterizes such systems is not upheld by the media.
Watch Dog Journalism
This is central to the role of independent journalism in a democratic society and most journalists take pride in adopting this role by following the principles of fairness, truth, balance and accuracy in their reporting. In all fairness and honesty, there are several journalists and media organizations in Nigeria who play the watchdog role effectively in the country. Several administrations at both federal and state levels have been made accountable or exposed for corrupt activities by Nigerian mass media at various times. That is not to say that there are no bad examples among Nigerian journalists who practice other forms of journalism detrimental to the safety and sanity of society.
This watchdog model was popularized by the reports of Bob Woodward and Carl Beinstein of Washington Post on the Watergate scandal. It is a typical example of where journalists played the watch dog role in the society. In Nigeria during the military era, publications such as The News and Tell magazines, including Punch newspaper played crucial roles in exposing the draconian rule of the military regimes.
To effectively perform the watchdog role requires ample independence and professional autonomy on the side of journalism. This is a highly valued and shared ideal among journalists that allows them to self affirm and legitimize their task and its contribution to democracy.
The watch dog model of journalism plays the Fourth Estate of the Realm function in the society. Here, journalism is able to allow and force people with power, governments in other words, to meet their obligations to the public by publicizing several issues such as a scandal, corruption, and failure to address needs of the public. This is believed to be the primary and professional function journalism should play in any society.
Attack Dog Journalism
This is a model of journalism where most journalists and news anchors play attack dogs when they interview public office holders. First, they ask them pointed questions like a courtroom lawyer, and halfway through their answers, they suddenly cut them off. You see this every on radio and television programmes in Nigeria and other parts of the world oftentimes. When some journalists want to put public office holders on the hot seat especially regarding failed implementation of policies in the society they also use this model to elicit answers. Trial by media also comes under this model.
Guide Dog Journalism
This is one of the new models in the society. This is a kind of journalism that not only gives people news and information but also encourages them to fulfill their responsibility as good citizens. It challenges them to get involved in resolving problem. This kind of journalism does not allow for passiveness of audience members but urges them to take action. Citizen journalists are noted for this. Many social media platforms in Nigeria urge people to come out for demonstrations using this model. Popular demonstrations such as the one led by Pastor Tunde Bakare (Occupy Nigeria Protests) during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan and that of Oleye Sowore (Revolution Now) under Buhari government were largely organized through social media platforms. Under this model the media do not just report about bad governance or such issues but also call on the audience to take action to correct the anomalies.
Junkyard Dog Journalism
This is a kind of reporting that is harsh, aggressive and intrusive, anything goes philosophy. It rarely cares about the principles of fairness, truth, balance and accuracy which are the basic tenets of professionalism in reporting. It stemmed from the concept of yellow journalism which is characterised by sensationalism and largely unethical practices.
Junkyard journalism is also called junk food news reporting, junk news journalism or junk journalism. This is a sarcastic used to describe news stories that deliver sensationalized, personalized, and homogenized inconsequential trivialities, especially when such stories appear at the expense of serious investigative journalism. Under this model, journalists do not give the public straight, well-documented, understandable information about those things that make societies ill economically, politically or physically. Instead, the news consists of sensationalized, personalized and unprofessional content. This practice is majorly characterized by biased presentation of news.
Junk yard journalism is a dangerous trend which is evident among many journalists in Nigeria especially due to the growth of brown envelop syndrome in the media sector. Journalists move from the watchtower where they are playing the watchdog roles, to the junkyard, where blackmail, cheap publicity, beggarly reporting and ‘gangster’ journalism are seen as means of survival by journalists. A situation where most media houses are not paying salary regularly or not even paying at all, junkyard journalism which is characterized by unethical practices, becomes the order of the day among Nigerian journalists. This is what has led to the growth of fake news in Nigeria and across the world.
The social media are the most culpable in the practice of junkyard journalism in Nigeria. Most of them succeeded in causing more harm (in terms of fear) than good during the pandemic that hit the entire world. Nigerian government officials at various levels spend so much time fighting misinformation, fake news and junkyard journalism practice among the so-called citizen journalists, to prevent them from distracting the real fight against the pandemic. Many online news platforms rarely investigate stories before they publish, neither do they even hear from the person alleged to have committed an offence in a story. Their interest is to draw traffic to their websites and this is terrible for professionalism in journalism. Of course, some media critics and observers have continued to insist that citizen journalism is not journalism at all because most citizen journalists lack understanding of the basic principle and tenets of professional journalism. Junkyard journalism is an unethical practice harmful to any democracy in the world.
Guard Dog Journalism
The Guard Dog Theory suggests that mass media and journalists basically support dominant political institutions, major economic groups, and their values, but can and do criticize those organizations, especially when elite class members of those groups violate system values or when they criticize each other. It is quite different from lap dog journalism (where the journalist is totally loyal to the elite class). In this scenario, journalists provide support for the existing power structures, even while occasionally producing content critical of it and elites.
The incident that took place in Ebonyi state between the governor and two journalists also reflects the existence of guard dog journalism in Nigeria. Because they are being paid monthly allowance by the governor, journalists in the state are expected to play the lap dog role but the two journalists working for The Sun and Vanguard went out of the ‘unwritten agreement’ to play the guard dog role by biting the person they are protecting. That is one of the major features of guard dog journalism. This practice exists among Nigerian journalists working in different parts of the country.
In contrast to a passive “lapdog,” the guard-dog media occasionally attack an individual in power, but they focus the blame on the individual, not the system. Journalists rely heavily on official sources and explanations of events in news writing. They use official sources to make stories look robust and well investigated when in actual sense they are protecting the elite class.
This theory is premised on the middle ground between the Watchdog and Lap Dog models. It claims that mass media are neither lap dogs of the powerful, not watchdogs of the weak and oppressed. Because elites primarily control the media agenda and provide most news and information to the journalists, the media act as a guard dog not for the entire community, but for political and special interest elite groups that hold political and economical power.
The guard dog model posits that journalism is characterized by three features. First, the news media act as protector of particular groups within the power elites. Second, the focus and approach of the news media are shaped according to who is being protected and who is defined as the threat (external/internal, political/racial, etc.). Third, in times of political conflict and/or scandal it is common for the guard dog to turn on one of the masters.
While the lap dog gives total protection to the elite class the guard dog might attack them occasionally. The distinct difference between a guard dog and a personal protection dog is that a protection dog takes its lead from the owner and acts on command while a guard dog will maintain their duties on their own. This is why occasionally journalist operating this model may write stories that are not favourable to the elite class they are protection but could blame the elite for such stories, not the system.
The major kinds of journalism practiced in Nigeria are captured in the metaphors discussed here. Though journalism is a tasking profession, the Nigerian mass media should strive to adhere to the tenets of professionalism in their profession. In a democratic dispensation, journalism is the last hope of the nation. This underscores the need for the Nigerian mass media sector to clean itself up. It should look inward, self-question, retool itself and retrain its members, especially with a view to preventing the practice of lap dog and guard dog journalism. Media houses in Nigeria should also improve the welfare of their staff and ensure regular payment of salaries to journalists to facilitate adherence to the ethics of the profession.