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Sheikh Zakzaky admonishes journalists on publishing the truth

Journalists and consumers of news had a healthy and frank debate on the issue of gratification to journalists often referred to as “brown envelope” in…

Journalists and consumers of news had a healthy and frank debate on the issue of gratification to journalists often referred to as “brown envelope” in this column last year. The contributors all agreed that it was inimical to media practice and constitutes a violation of journalism’s code of ethics. However, last weekend, March 6, 2010, I heard a different perspective of the issue at the annual Maulud lecture organised by the Resource Forum of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria at the Gamji Gate Multipurpose Hall in Kaduna. The guest speaker at the lecture and leader of the Shiite movement, Sheikh Ibraheem Yaqub Zakzaky, made a presentation on the decline in values in our communities and stressed the fact that we all contributed to the rot. He recalled the good old days when people could be trusted with money and goods were sold on credit to customers who paid promptly. People who placed order for various goods often instructed transporters to drop their consignments at various points in their neighbourhood for them to collect. He lamented that today, the equation has changed and corruption has eaten so deep into the society that people abuse trust and all occupations have their non conforming members and their warts. During the interactive session, he was asked to comment on the “brown envelope” syndrome. To my surprise, the Sheikh said journalists should collect any envelopes given to them since it is supposed to support the expenditure they incur in the process of covering news and events. He said even if they did not collect it, the money would not be returned since it had been budgeted for.  Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, however, said the fact that journalists collect the envelopes should not interfere with their reporting. ‘Envelopes should not prevent them from telling the truth and reporting with accuracy and fairness as their professional code of ethics demands of them. If they are given the envelopes to get them to doctor the truth and the journalists refuse to compromise, it will teach people a lesson and those who offer the envelopes will stop giving out envelopes to journalists or stop inviting them to their events.” There was a press conference after the lecture and when I told the Sheikh my stand and that of several media stakeholders on the issue, he reaffirmed his views. He told us the story of a governor of a state who was fond of giving envelopes to journalists to elicit favourable reporting. He had a brush with a particular reporter who used to collect the envelopes but continued to report events without fear or favour. The Governor did not like it and he personally barred the reporter from entering the venue of a dinner party he hosted because the reporter could not be compromised!  Is this the last word on brown envelopes?


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