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Nigerian Journalists and Brown Envelope Syndrome

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Nigerian Journalists and Brown Envelope Syndrome

By Matthew Eloyi

It is no longer news that the issue of brown envelope journalism has come to stay in Nigeria and it has destroyed the practice of journalism. One thing to note is that despite the decay of the system due to the topic of discussion, it will be erroneous to say all journalists are part of this brown envelope syndrome. Having that in mind, we need to appreciate the few “good” journalists in our society today who have refused to join the bandwagon of brown envelope seekers and have still kept faithful to the ethics of the profession.

According to Nkwocha (2004), the brown envelope is defined as “money given to reporters or editors to persuade them to write positive stories or kill a negative story.” Okunna (1995) also defines the term as “a monetary bribe handed out to an unethical journalist to pressurize him into doing what the bribe giver wants. Ekerikevwe (2009) also opines about brown envelopes saying that “It is a situation whereby journalists demand a bribe or other forms of gratification before they cover any events or even publish stories from such events.” Skjerdal (2010) says that “the term, brown envelope journalism denotes journalistic activity which involves the transfer of various types of rewards from sources to the reporter.”

Therefore, a brown envelope can be defined as any monetary gift, grant, inducement or reward of any kind given to a journalist to make a story favourable to the giver while hiding the truth.

Brown envelope syndrome has taken root in the media industry in certain countries and it has become a matter of controversy whether to discuss it openly in the media itself. Recently, some journalists prefer to practice brown envelope journalism even though it is almost impossible for people to see a journalist in that kind of disposition of getting involved in the act of brown envelope collection or giving.

It will suffice to say that this menace has come to stay in Nigeria because the journalists who are supposed to uphold the truth at all times without fear or favour are the very ones disrupting the truth for mere gratifications; leaving the masses at the mercy of whatever their paymasters have “cooked”.

However, research and experience have revealed that there are certain factors behind the brown envelop syndrome in journalism. Such factors include:

Low salary: It is very obvious that one of the causes of brown envelope is poor salary. When journalists are not well paid, you do not expect them to be faithful to their profession in the face of hunger. Definitely, they will accept any money that comes their way in other to make ends meet; mind you, they have families to take care of.

Influence of Advertisers: Advertisers have been known to influence news angles. Media owners, owing to the big revenue that is being accrued for them through advertising, consider the interests of advertisers, especially in the packaging of sensitive news items that concern these advertisers, thereby violating the demands for social and ethical responsibilities.

Presence of unprofessional journalists: Most people in the field of journalism today do not have any idea what journalism stands for. Some of them have graduated from English, History and other non-related courses due to lack of job, connection or because of their passion for the profession dabble in the field knowing nothing about the ethics of the profession. Because of that, they see the brown envelope as a means of making money.

False journalists: These are journalists who mostly gatecrash. They go for events they were not invited for and at the end of the day demand for money to publish stories. Sometimes these false journalists do not belong to any media organization.

To minimize the brown envelop syndrome in journalism, the following recommendations are made:

Increase in salary: For journalists to stop collecting brown envelopes, the media organizations they work for must endeavour to increase their salaries and stop paying them peanuts.

Professional bodies such as the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Press Council (NPC) should take the responsibility of screening new journalists to ensure they meet up the standard of the profession.

Journalists found guilty of accepting brown envelopes should be penalized to set them as examples for others.

Graduates from other fields should not be allowed to mess up the profession; there should be criteria for acceptance which is at least a diploma in Mass Communication or Journalism.

Nigerian Journalists and Brown Envelope Syndrome

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