The Role Of Catholic Media Practitioner In Contemporary Nigerian Media Environment
Being a paper presented at the Kaduna Archdiocesan Celebration of the 51st World Communication Day held at Queen of Apostles’ Catholic Church, Kachia Road, Kakuri, Kaduna on 28th May, 2017. The event was covered by our correspondent, Achadu Gabriel.
“Life is not simply a bare succession of events, but a history, a story waiting to be told through the choice of an interpretative lens that can select and gather the most relevant data. In and of itself, reality has no one clear meaning. Everything depends on the way we look at things; on the lens we use to view them.” – Pope Francis.
The Catholic Communicator is one placed between ethical standards and a media that is constantly awashed with falsehood and propaganda. To say the least, politics have become a common denominator in media praxis that seeks to blur objectivity and truthfulness as it pervades the noble profession of journalism, controlling it to its own whims and caprices. The Catholic communicators in this situation owe the society a service to justice, peace, development and of course hope.
This service would require of the Catholic Communicator to read reality through the right lens, according to Pope Francis, as he or she comes face-to-face with the challenges of the profession in the 21st Century Nigeria. This paper shall feast on the Pope’s message for World Communication Day as it seeks to arouse the consciousness of Catholic Media Practitioners to their solemn duty as vanguards of hope to a society, soaked in the throes of political maneuver, deception and propaganda.
The Nigerian Media Environment
The Nigerian media environment, to say the least, has been saturated with an uncouth desire for bad news, which is often cooked out of some political motifs either to discredit or to score cheap political points. The present reality of the internet and social media are gladly aiding the spread of, and most times, hype of bad news as a result of violence, insurgency, kidnap, militancy, etc., all creating palpable fear, anxiety and mutual suspicion among Nigerians.
A clear example of this is handy from an experience we had in a Whatsapp group I belong. Last week, someone posted a video to us and said it was strictly confidential. It was a video of Fulani terrorists in two boats with guns about to go for an attack. There was panic in the group, and some were like “let us forward it to the internet and social media so that the whole world will know.” In fact, someone had already posted it to his friends, who are security personnel, despite the caution from some of us.
In the midst of the row caused by the video, someone asked when the video was taken. It aroused some curiosity in me, and I simply went to YouTube and typed ‘Fulani gunmen in boat.’ Behold, the same video came up and it was posted in April 2016. The person that posted the video had to apologize to the group.
The Nigerian media environment has come to live with the reality of false news where everyone has turned to a journalist as the social media continues to gain grounds among the populace. The scenario has assumed some callousness as utter disregard for the sacredness of the human body has taken a centre stage.
It is a situation where you see decapitated bodies from accident scenes, bomb blasts, communal clashes or some ritual killing, etc., brandished on the social media with reckless abandon, thereby deepening fear among the populace.
The callousness has gone beyond merely sharing of graphic images to some kind of wicked intent by mostly people, who are bent on plunging our country into crises. They get pictures from other countries like Rwanda, Somalia, etc., and brand it as a Nigerian occurrence.
In the days when the Southern Kaduna issue was hot, someone got a picture from the gory incident of Dogon Nahawa in 2010 and tagged it “Southern Kaduna massacre.” Trust the social media, the picture went viral. It came back to my phone almost three times by three different persons within the span of three weeks. One could imagine the fear, the anxiety and the hatred that must have been cultivated in the minds of many Nigerians by that propaganda.
The political clime in Nigeria has also exacerbated the media environment. Media hype in reporting bad news is most times engineered by the whims of politicians in a bid to score political points. This has largely divided Nigerians along political, ethnic and religious lines.
Prior to the 2015 elections, a lot of hate speeches, propaganda, blackmail and half truths were hurled into the Nigerian media space as the two political parties we all know battled for the votes of the ordinary Nigerian. As soon as one of the parties emerged winner, it was the birth of another era of media frenzy as opposition battled to water down the effectiveness of the ruling, and the ruling immersed in a blame game to affirm its place.
This has left us with an environment where secrecy, rumor and gossips take the day, exemplified in the stories of the death of Buhari that went viral, almost plunging the country into confusion with an already palpable tension in the land. Religious bigotry also became paramount as so many messages of hate for the other religion are spread.
It is due to these media hype and the spread of falsehood and an uncouth desire for bad news that has made our country now to be close to slipping into pessimism. The consequences of these are enormous as calls for the resignation of the President were made, some quarters hold the belief the President was poisoned, and the more recent agitation for a return of the military junta rented the airwaves. What then is the role of the Catholic media practitioner in this scenario?
“Fear not, for I am with you”: Communicating hope and trust in our time. This is the beautiful theme Pope Francis chose for us in this time as we look into ourselves to see what we are communicating in our environment. The Pope puts it succinctly, “I would like to encourage everyone to engage in constructive forms of communication that reject prejudice towards others and foster a culture of encounter, helping all of us to view the world around us with realism and trust.”
This statement of the Pope brings to light so salient qualities of a Catholic communicator poised to use the right lenses to view reality and communicate hope. The Catholic communicator must be someone, who uses constructive forms of communication that have no place for prejudice towards others but capable of mending relationships.
It means, he or she should not be seen fostering hate speech or giving vent to triumphalism of the Catholic faith, but must work towards fostering a “Culture of encounter” among people. Our communication must be able to bring people together and, if we are already taken over by some fear and prejudice of the other, there can never be a time we will construct narratives of love, peace and hope to all in our society.
Having done away with fear and prejudice, the communicator is now poised to use the right lens to read reality, diagnose it and construct messages that will give hope and enlightenment. Pope Francis puts it that “Life is not simply a bare succession of events, but a history, a story waiting to be told through the choice of an interpretative lens that can select and gather the most relevant data. In and of itself, reality has no one clear meaning. Everything depends on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them. If we change that lens, reality itself appears different.”
The most celebrated reporter is not the one, who reports bad news or the one, who exposes the weaknesses of political office holders. He or she is the one capable of using the right lens to interpret reality and offer credible information that communicates hope to the society.
Pope Francis offers us a wonderful suggestion, which is the right lens to use in selecting relevant data to view reality:
The Good News: One easily hears people these days lamenting, ‘where is the good news when everything has become terrible in this country?’ People are dying, terrorists and herdsmen are rendering people homeless, there is hardship everywhere and life is unbearable. In this situation it is very easy for the communicator to become so pessimistic and would never see anything good to report.
Pope Francis gives us a clear understanding of the good news, which he said “This Good News – Jesus himself – is not good because it has nothing to do with suffering, but rather because suffering itself becomes part of a bigger picture. It is seen as an integral part of Jesus’ love for the Father and for all mankind. In Christ, God has shown his solidarity with every human situation.”
From the lenses of the Good News, suffering of mankind is not ignored but it is seen from a bigger picture that, even in the midst of the suffering, mankind can still encounter God. What then is Jesus telling us when tragedy strikes? He is simply telling us not to be afraid, he has overcome the world. In the face of persecution, there is so much the Christian can do without recourse to violence and vengeance.
Parables and Imagery: Jesus is the communicator-per-excellence as he uses parables and imagery to communicate the love of God. The Catholic reporter should not just be a forwarded as received person. He should not be one, who depends on blogs and, most often, fake online news portals that have their malicious intentions quoted in their fake news. The Catholic communicator must be creative and must be able to see the presence of God’s kingdom in the events of daily life and struggle.
Friend of the Holy Spirit: Pope Francis puts it succinctly that by “the power of the Holy Spirit” we can be witnesses and “communicators” of a new and redeemed humanity “even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:78).
The Catholic communicator must be a very good friend of the Holy Spirit, in order to be guided in the truth. Viewing reality from the lens of the Holy Spirit makes everything be put in its proper perspective and the truth shines forth in the midst of falsehood.
Amidst a media environment saturated by the darkness of ignorance and error, bigotry and ethnic chauvinism, where hope gives way to despair and pessimism, the Catholic communicator must turn to the Holy Spirit, who “continues to sow in us a desire for the Kingdom,” so that we may continue to draw “inspiration from the Good News amid the dramatic events of our time.”
We must as friends of the Holy Spirit, “shine like beacons in the darkness of this world, shedding light along the way and opening ever new paths of confidence and hope.”
The question each one of us should ask ourselves is, what lenses am I using to view reality as I face a society that keeps drifting towards anarchy and doom for reasons of vested interests that twists the story of human existence to their whims and caprices?
In the long run, having obtained a story – no matter how bad and terrible – do I give hope in the end? Today, our Holy Father, the Pope, has called upon us not to be afraid to be vanguards of hope as we place every one of our activities as media practitioners at the service of truth towards building the kingdom of God here on earth.
We can only do this when we view reality through the right lenses. May the Holy Spirit imbibe in us the desire to do so now and always, Amen.
By Rev. Fr. Shawuya Anthony Bruno, MA.