Nigerian Journalists And ‘Brown Envelopes’ Syndrome – Matters Arising

Nigerian Journalists And 'Brown Envelopes' Syndrome - Matters Arising

In the Nigerian media space, the term “brown envelope” has become synonymous with corruption and unethical practices. It refers to the practice of journalists accepting bribes or “envelopes” filled with money or other incentives in exchange for favourable coverage or silence on certain issues. This culture of corruption has long been a stain on the reputation of the Nigerian media and has contributed to the loss of trust in the institution.

 

The history of the “brown envelope” culture in Nigeria can be traced back to the 1980s, during a time of political turmoil and economic instability. With limited resources and low salaries, many journalists turned to accept bribes as a means of supplementing their income. Over time, the practice became normalized and even expected in certain circles.

Despite efforts by media organizations and watchdog groups to stamp out this unethical behaviour, the “brown envelope” culture continues to thrive in the Nigerian media landscape. The consequences of this are far-reaching, as it undermines the credibility of the media and undermines its ability to hold those in power accountable.

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Indeed, in media ethics, Brown Envelope Journalism (BEJ) is a term used to describe the practice of journalists accepting monetary or other incentives in exchange for favourable news coverage or the suppression of negative information. The phenomenon undermines journalistic integrity and the independence of the media, leading to biased reporting influenced by external interests. The practice is not limited to one country, rather it is observed in other African countries, namely Nigeria, Tanzania, and in Ghana where it is called soli and in Cameroon where it is known as gombo. The practice is also reported in Gulf countries such as Kuwait.

 

BEJ is often justified by journalists due to low salaries and inadequate compensation for work-related expenses. Brown Envelope Syndrome (BES) has remained a controversial issue in any debate centred on the Nigerian press, media professionalism, and media ethics. It is one of the major setbacks of media growth in Nigeria. BES is a system whereby journalists collect money or other material gifts from news sources, company executives, or event organizers to cover such events and probably give it the wildest publicity as the case may be.

In fact, this symbolizes the rot that has plagued the Nigerian media industry since the early 1980s to date. This paper therefore builds from an empirical study by the same authors, as well as literature materials to argue that media professionalism and the enforcement of the various ethical codes that preach professionalism are the practical ways to ensure ethical conduct and behaviour amongst journalists and other categories of media practitioners, especially in Nigeria where these are missing. This, according to the paper, is the missing link in the quest to rid the media industry in Nigeria from the monster called BES.

 

Brown envelope journalism is an unethical practice where journalists accept bribes or financial incentives, often concealed in envelopes to publish favourable stories or manipulate the news in favour of specific individuals, organizations, or businesses. The term “brown envelope” is used to represent the secretive nature of these bribes, as the money is typically handed over discreetly in a sealed envelope.

 

During Nigeria’s era of military rule, spanning from the early 1960s to the late 1990s, brown envelope journalism was prevalent. With the government under military control, the media encountered extensive restrictions and censorship. As a result, journalists and media outlets became susceptible to corruption, accepting bribes or inducements in the form of “brown envelopes” to favourably report on government officials and suppress dissenting voices. This compromised the integrity of the media and hindered the public’s access to unbiased information.

Thus, poor remuneration is a major contributing factor to brown envelope journalism. When journalists are not fairly compensated for their work and experience financial difficulties, they become susceptible to corruption and may accept bribes concealed in “brown envelopes.” This unethical practice compromises their journalistic integrity and impartiality.

 

When media outlets rely on financial support from the government, corporations, or other influential entities, journalists may encounter pressure to produce biased reporting or withhold crucial information in exchange for financial incentives. This compromises the integrity and objectivity of journalism, as reporters may prioritize the interests of those providing financial support over presenting truthful and unbiased information.

 

Media organizations heavily reliant on advertising revenue for financial support, journalists, and media outlets may experience pressure from advertisers to create content that favors their interests. Advertisers might use the threat of withdrawing financial backing to influence media organizations to produce favourable or biased content that aligns with their products, services, or agendas.

The lack of robust professional associations can contribute to brown envelope journalism. These associations play a vital role in maintaining ethical standards, offering guidance, and providing support to journalists. When these associations are weak or non-existent, journalists may face challenges in resisting pressures to participate in unethical practices.

 

This brown envelopes syndrome has also become norms among the media practitioners in the state of cradle of journalism, Abeokuta, the Ogun state capital, where the practice of ‘O’sin be, O’bene’ which means that You are not there, you can’t benefit, with this syndrome, people now leave their place of work to appear or attend to guests invited for briefing or to account for his/her stewardship in some years back, all in the name of ‘Brown Envelopes’ everyone will be eargering to get their dough/monetary rebate at the end of the briefing by the guests or other political personalities, including Governor, Senators, Reps, Ministers and others, people will now storm the briefing venue, so as to have their share in the money given to them.

 

To eradicate unethical practices from the journalism profession, it is crucial for both private and government-owned media houses to prioritize providing journalists with fair and regular compensation. This step will create a conducive work environment, making journalists less vulnerable to engaging in unethical behaviour and allowing them to uphold the integrity of their profession.

 

Encouraging media independence is vital. Media outlets must aim for financial autonomy to avoid undue influence from external sources. Diversifying revenue sources can help decrease reliance on advertising revenue and other potentially compromising sources. This approach safeguards the integrity and impartiality of journalism.

To deter individuals from engaging in brown envelope journalism, it is pivotal to enforce stringent laws against bribery and corruption. Both journalists and those offering bribes must be held accountable for their actions. Legal enforcement serves as a strong deterrent, discouraging unethical practices and upholding the integrity of journalism.

Recognizing and appreciating ethical reporting serves as a potent weapon against brown envelope journalism. Publicly honouring journalists and media organizations that uphold strong ethical standards reinforces the significance of truthful and unbiased reporting.

 

Through awards, accolades, and recognition, ethical journalism becomes a source of positive motivation for reporters and media outlets. Providing stable employment contracts and job security can reduce the vulnerability of journalists to bribery and unethical practices stemming from the fear of losing their jobs.

 


Adémólá Òrúnbon, an opinion writer, poet, journalist, and public affairs analyst, writes in from Federal Housing Estate, Olomore, Abeokuta, Ogun State.

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