By Akanimo Sampson
The recent encounter between former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode and a Daily Trust correspondent, Charles Eyo, during a press conference in Calabar, the Cross River State capital which went viral, has again taken a centre stage at an online media event.
The incident at the weekend ignited intellectual fireworks as journalism practitioners and academics gave different interpretation to it at an inaugural webinar organised by The Southern Examiner newspaper.
Professor Chuka Onwuemechili, of the Department of Communications, Howard University, Washington DC, spoke on the need for Nigerian journalists to adhere to international standards.
He described culture and courtesy as key ingredients journalists must take into consideration in driving interviews, emphasizing that being able to adhere to standards requires training.
He however, questioned whether the encounter between Fani-Kayode and the Daily Trust journalist could be considered a violation of standards, and said journalists have a duty to seek the truth.
Veteran journalist and former Chief Executive Officer of the defunct NewsWatch magazine, Ray Ekpu, and Chairman of the Lagos State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Dr. Qasim Akinreti, say the correspondent did not do anything wrong by being adversarial during the encounter.
But, top communications scholars in their contributions argued that the journalist in question would have escaped the bashing if he had researched the subject to understand his temperament, a factor they believed would have helped him navigate the interview safely.
Ekpu who headlined the event said it was unfortunate that Fani-Kayode decided to ‘erupt like a volcano’ instead of answering the question directly, saying it was up to the subject to answer the question properly, irrespective of whether the reporter had asked who bankrolled or sponsored the tour.
“But he could have also said who sponsored the tour?” Ekpu said, explaining that journalists at times tend to go adversarial in order to extract information from difficult subjects during interviews, although he equally acknowledged the fact that journalists must prepare for personalities like Fani-Kayode to understand their idiosyncrasies before launching out for interviews.
Describing himself as a fan of prosecutorial journalism, Ekpu said the import of that encounter is that Fani-Kayode has not been able to give answers why he is going about inspecting projects in Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-controlled states.
“The point is that he’s not been able to explain why he’s wandering about, going from one PDP state to another. Does he want to contest for the presidency? Does he want to be VP in 2023? Or is he making himself an inspector of projects?” Ekpu queried.
He said the journalists were baffled with his tour of PDP states, and wondered if he had the deep pockets to sponsor such a trip from place to place. Ekpu said the overarching question that remained unanswered was whether Fani-Kayode was making himself an inspector of projects.
“Because everywhere he goes, and inspects projects, he makes pronouncements on those projects, he doesn’t know whether they were well executed, whether the process of awarding the contract was right, whether the contracts were inflated, he just made pronouncements and in every case, he praises the state governors”, he added
He recalled an interview the then NewsWatch team had with President Olusegun Obasanjo, where he had asked a question which the president called ‘stupid’ repeatedly, and the team urged him to answer the question while he told Obasanjo pointblank that his action was ‘un-presidential.’
Akinreti, the NUJ Lagos chaur, said although many people were quick to blame the journalist for the manner he had asked the question, many people also failed to reckon with the fact that Fani-Kayode is a temperamental person who believes that he can always have his way.
He however, noted that the NUJ demanded an apology from the PDP chieftain which he also offered.
Professor Abigail Ogweezy, Mass Communications Department, University of Lagos; Professor Des Wilson and Dr. Grace Nwagbara, an Associate Professor, both of the Communication Arts Department, University of Uyo, and former Director of the National Broadcast Academy, Abiola Ajibola, an engineer, emphasized training and media research as prerequisites for a hitch-free interview.
For Ogweezy and Nwagbara, an interview is also a data gathering, and a process to collect data. Both submitted that if the journalist had profiled the subject before the interview, the outcome could have been different, and urged journalists to package themselves properly for such events in order to maintain their respect and dignity.
“If that young man had time to prepare and profile the personality, his temperament, the press conference would not have probably taken the shape it took’’, Nwagbara said.
Ajibola said many people erroneously blamed Fani-Kayode for his utterances without taking into consideration the sort of question the journalist asked, regretting that a lot of media professionals do not take training seriously.
Mrs. Bimbo Oloyede, a veteran broadcaster spoke along the same line, and said the language and diction employed during an interview underlies the individual journalist’s personal and corporate identity.
Wilson and Samshedeen Tiamuyi, former Deputy Director News, Radio Nigeria said any journalists must adequately prepare for an interview in terms of researching the background of the subject.
Wilson however, agreed with those that believe that the journalist’s role is not to make the subject comfortable during an interview but argued that a peaceful atmosphere was needed for the journalist to be able to get the information needed to inform the public.
“If your subject is angered by your question, then you’ve defeated the purpose of your interview’’, he said.
Answering a participant’s question on how to deal with a subject that evades or refuses to answer a particular question during an interview, Ekpu said the best strategy is for the journalist to keep asking the question, and rephrase the same question during the interview until the he gets an answer from the interviewee.
He added that the public will know that the subject has something to hide if he keeps dodging the same question.
A lecturer at the University of Lagos, and Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Southern Examiner, Dr. Unwana Akpan, expressed gratitude to the resource persons and the participants for gracing the online event.
About 40 participants attended the Saturday webinar which centered on ‘The Art of Interviewing.’