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Prejudice over a town hall debate

By our reporter

Bias. This is one word no journalist or media house anywhere in the world ever wants to be tarred with.

Like a killer shot to the head, it directly rubbishes your claims to professionalism. Proven, it makes members of the public scoff at your news items with a huge, salty head pan of doubt or, at least, smell a lack of objectivity in your information dissemination.

When any of these two types of reactions occur, consistent to the frequency of your biases, alarm bells begin to ring as such media house has, wittingly or unwittingly, set off on an infamous journey downwards whereas its mission statement, at inception, projected an upward trajectory.

It’s a miserable trip, akin to one of the pre-Kontiki expeditions; a trip laden with glum, well-recognized stages.

An early stage is the phase of lack of public reckoning; the entity thereafter teeters on cliff edge as the once sparkling columns of much-needed advert and sales revenue begin to flag badly, in red; then the entity grunts in the throes of death, and finally, progressively breathes its last; then gets buried and becomes yet another anecdote on the pages of our media history.

No one wishes evil on anyone else, but professional and ethical controversies can rock any entity to its knees.

The raging war of words between leaders of the Media and Communication Directorates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council (PCC), Bayo Onanuga and Dele Alake respectively, and the ownership/management of Arise TV, led by its founder, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, has got Nigerians lapping up every minute of the drama.

At stake is the insistence of the broadcast medium, which has organized and invited presidential candidates to speak during its so-called town hall debate, that all concerned have to show up.

It followed it up with a critical editorial by ThisDay board of editors angled to embarrass the presidential candidate of APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who has not appeared on the programme yet. ThisDay is owned by Obaigbena, who is its Chairman/Editor-in-Chief.

Last Monday evening, the APC PCC, in a joint statement issued by Onanuga and Alake, attacked Obaigbena, stating that the Arise TV town hall debate was designed by Obaigbena to embarrass Tinubu.

Accusing Obaigbena and ThisDay of corruption and lacking in the moral pedestal to moderate public discourse, the PCC warned that Tinubu would not fall for an alleged underhand game carefully crafted to do him in.

Within 24 hours, Obaigbena refuted the claim, stressing in a four-page statement that journalists were not Tinubu’s opponents in the 2023 election.


He claimed that many APC-PCC members had personally called to dissociate themselves from Onanuga and Alake’s position, which he alleged to be blackmail, personal attack and bullying.

According to him, “every day the media calls on public officials and those who seek public office to account,” adding that there was nothing personal against Asiwaju.

However, on Wednesday night, Onanuga and Alake responded, insisting that the ThisDay Chairman was being economical with the truth and chasing shadows.

They said: “Obaigbena tried to deflect attention from those pertinent issues we raised about ethics. There is nothing he said to creditably detract a jot from our accurate summation of his well-known perverse and ignoble approach to media practice over the years, a practice that continues to undermine the integrity of journalism profession in the country.

“In his first statement attacking us, Obaigbena craftily attempted to mis-characterise as an attack on free speech, our principled stand against his blackmail to have Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu appear on Arise TV and its PDP-sponsored Town Hall meetings.

“In the second statement, he was still adamant that our candidate must attend his Town Hall debate, despite our stance that our candidate is already executing another communications strategy to reach the most important target: the Nigerian voters.

“We repeat: We will not make our candidate available to validate a scheme which, in the light of unassailable information at our disposal, is nothing but a racket by the Arise TV owner, designed to embarrass our candidate.”

Section 40 of Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)—on Fundamental Rights—grants every citizen of Nigeria the right to freedom of association. Most Nigerians have queried the ThisDay Chairman on whether he is aware of this provision which allows Tinubu the latitude to associate only with persons he feels are amenable to him.

Many wonder if there is a sinister motive for the insistence that the APC presidential candidate has to appear on the programme. Is there a well-laid plan to embarrass him? If there is, then why not use the platforms of ThisDay and Arise TV and await legal backlash, once defamation is involved?  Many questions…

However, many also warn that with the visible waning popularity of both media brands in vote-heavy parts of the country on account of this debate controversy, early alarms signals are on as to the future of the Obaigbena media empire. A stitch in time saves nine, they say.

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