The manner public office holders appoint assistants to handle media responsibilities is proof that proper information management is the life wire of business even in a democracy. For most of our political history, it used to be Minister for information at the federal levels and Commissioners for information at the state level. But today, exciting progress is being made in this direction; as we now have not just Minister for information, Commissioners for information and Chief Press Secretaries but Senior Special Assistant (Media), Senior Special Assistant Media (Technical), Special Assistant (Media), Special Assistant (information gathering), Special Assistant (Print Media) and Special Assistant (Electronic Media), in most of the government offices at both Federal and state levels.
In concept and reality, the shift has gained momentum and two types of reactions come into view. To some, the development looks good in words but useless in action. Aside from shooting up the cost of governance these appointments were not targeted at improving information flow between the government and the governed, but merely to settle political jobbers, many of the appointments into such office are to people who have no minimum prerequisite to function in that capacity.
it’s not surprising that the second group-which, of course, constitutes a greater number argue that a Media Assistant is but a mere robber stamp, a position used to launder the image of public officers without recourse or adherence to the ethos of the media profession.
These so-called media assistants expose embarrassing competency when they are challenged about their principals, as they fail to perform as well-trained information managers. Rather they fall back on data that is hardly objective and generate inferences that are never explicit. And the conclusion they reach is usually self-serving. Though one can sympathize with the awkward position in which these men and women (media assistants) are placed.
Particularly, when one remembers that power, in the consideration of an average public office holder in Nigeria is usually an opportunity to protect personal interest, as against what is obtainable in developed countries where power is a vehicle for effecting political, social, economic and cultural changes in the country. Substantially, away from the fact that every society/profession needs some shared values to hold it together, an important distinction to make is that the concerns of this piece in absolute terms are whether; and to what extent the media assistants’ attitude has helped the nation; deepen information dissemination, enrich democracy and promote peace and unity among Nigerians of different culture, ethnicity, and religion?
Most importantly, how efficiently and effectively have the occupiers of these positions been in analyzing trends, predicting consequences, and counseling political office holders? Some are mere puppets dancing to the tunes of their principals, filling up media space with gossips, misinformation, malcontents and messages that are self-driven. Clearly, having seen this controversy from both sides, it is clear that there are countless reasons why media assistants position in most public offices appear both unnecessary and unproductive. But, perhaps, understandably, the major one is the fact that communication from public officials/offices are self-undermining and often always reputed for encouraging complacency.
If an effort is dedicated to understanding the why the existing system is accepted and its fundamental assumptions not challenged? More critical questions will emerge. For instance, are media assistants in the first place aware that; every decision they make while discharging their responsibility require value judgment? Are they truly aware that different decisions bring different results; that all decisions have direct and indirect consequences intended and unintended, short term and long term? Are they conscious that their decisions affect others; that those decisions may influence thousands of people on a political issue?
Finding answers to these questions will have far-reaching implications on both the public officials and the entire Nigerians. As it is laced with the capacity to compel public office holders, engineer socio-economic prosperity while propelling the masses to work together for the greater good. To get started, beginning with the last question, it is a pedestrian knowledge that most of these appointees instead of telling their principals what the real issues are, or encourage them to keep their promises, curtail the challenges confronting the people and promote consensus politics, they (media Assistants) encourage divisiveness, autocratic tendencies, and promote media trial of political opponents. In most cases, they become propagandists using radio, television and the internet as outlets to relentlessly false feed Nigerians.
The viability of democracy depends upon openness and a two-way nature of the communication environment; that democracy depends upon the regular sending and receiving of objective signals. It is through the media that the people may know freely what is going on. And to misstate or suppress the factual news is a breach of trust. One urgent skill government media handlers must internalize is that aides can intelligently criticize their bosses.
Until necessary and deliberate steps are taken to tackle the seeming upsurge in of half-baked “media practitioners” to handle media related duties by political office holders, our great politicians will hardly escape the ridicule as they invariably expose themselves to better informed public.