Political PR-Bloggers and the Reality of the Fourth Estate in the University of Ibadan

The entire idea of democracy is an experiment that began in ancient Greek societies. Till today, this experiment continues to be tested in various human societies across the world. To be clear, it’s not perfect. As a matter of fact, as its experimentation through practice continues, questions about how best to organize democratic societies continue to rise. This partially explains why some scholars argue that the best form of government for a particular society is one that works, not necessarily democracy. However, in societies where democracy works, or more succinctly, in societies where the democratic experiment is still in practice, there are certain tenets that are inseparable. The inseparability of these tenets exists in such a way that in their absence nothing differentiates the democracy experiment from a hopeless utopian exercise. The most important of these tenets is a free press.

When Journalism Becomes a Taboo 

The media, better put journalism, is the fourth estate of the realm in any democratic society and it serves as a watchdog over other estates of the realm. The role of journalists is so key that once an individual wears that cap, his first loyalty goes to something else: not himself, the truth. Even though there is an endless academic debate here about whether a journalist’s loyalty to the public’s right to know does not supersede that of his loyalty to truth, one thing remains clear: journalism is the bedrock of transparency and public accountability upon which democracy stands. 

However, when this stops being the case and accountability journalism becomes taboo in any democratic society, then you begin to ask questions about the character of such a society. To be clear, a democratic society here is not necessarily a state or nation, it can be an independent community like a University, as is the case here. Even though when we talk about the endemic challenges confronting Nigeria as a state, the misrepresentation of the media will make that list but this does not water down the need to weigh on the dangerous lenses that journalism has been viewed from by certain sections of the University of Ibadan in recent times.  From outright social attacks to tacit and implicit threats, journalists within the institution have now become endangered species battling a climate of disregard that labels them as anti-positivity. This dangerous gospel is also being evangelized to students who make up the institution’s citizenry. 

Perhaps more worrying is how this gospel is being spread: through very questionable media platforms. In times like this, George Orwell’s prophecies through his many works of literature come to mind. See, the most deadly attack on accountability journalism is one orchestrated through questionable platforms masquerading as journalism outfits because what they do is blur the line between truth and falsehood, good and bad, or even right and wrong. They then make the public doubt the only estate of the realm that truly owes its first loyalty to them. 

Attacks like this on journalism are even worse because they are designed to make the press toothless and irrelevant, not just today, but for the foreseeable future by depriving it of what sets it apart from other realms: its constant commitment to the truth. With the passage of time, what starts as a politician’s desperate attempt to control the narrative through falsehoods then becomes the first step towards the death of democracy and the birth of totalitarianism in any of its endless forms. 

Depending on factors like time, context, and the individual’s level of desperation, it could go the way of the man who coined the word himself, Benito Mussolini, or his Russian counterpart Joseph Stalin. Or even more relatable, it could follow the dimension of modern-day pseudo-democrats who control the narrative of ‘truth’ using media organizations on their payroll or those they outrightly own. It’s a downward spiral that leads to anywhere but paradise.

To be clear, in all democratic settings, people with the intent to go to extents like will always exist – it’s inseparable from the view of humans as self-centered creatures by realist scholars like Thomas Hobbes and Hans Morgenthau. However, what determines whether they succeed or not is the citizenry. Will they take time to sieve the truth from falsehoods laced with stones of desperation? If they do, will they play their role as the occupants of the most important office in society by cutting short a journey that marks the end of a time when their voices have a say on matters that matter? The questions are endless and like in all critical situations, only time will determine where the pendulum swings. 


Meanwhile, it is important to note that while this is on, journalists, not PR-bloggers-turn-pseudo-journalists, must remain committed to the ideals and principles that set them apart: their unalloyed loyalty to the truth and constant commitment to the public good. Even though this call sounds cliche-ish, it is the burden we must bear because as the fourth estate, we can’t afford to let falsehood set forth.  This critical period brings to bear the essentiality of a verse in our Press Prayer which goes thus: May we be bold to confront evil and injustice: understanding and compassionate of human weakness; rejecting alike the half-truth which deceives, and the slanted words which corrupts . 


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