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Advances in Applied Sociology
2012. Vol.2, No.3, 159-166
Published Online September 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/aasoci) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/aasoci.2012.23022
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 159
Sycophancy and Objective Journalism
Bonachristus Umeo gu1, Ifeoma Ojiakor2
1Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria
2Department of Mass Communication, Faculty of Social Sciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria
Email: ojiakor99@y ahoo.com
Received April 28th, 2012; revised June 2nd, 2012; accepted June 12th, 2012
Objective journalism is the desire and aim of every society and media house. However, such noble aspira-
tion is beclouded and usurped by sycophancy and sycophantic reporting. This development denies the
public the right to true information and invariably leads to loss of reputation by the media house. This
paper looks at sycophancy in the Nigerian media by looking at the reasons for its unbridled spread, effects
on the public, media houses, individuals and the government of the day.
Keywords: Sycophancy; Ethics; Objectivity; Objective Journalism
Despite the time and attention given to ethical issues, our so-
ciety is still riddled with different types and manner of ethical
maladies. The journalist who is a product of the society is will-
ingly or unwillingly affected by the sorry situation. One of such
problems is sycophancy which is chief among the ethical prob-
lems in Nigeria. The issue of sycophancy is important to be
addressed because it affects objective journalism as it is.
Barry white, a renowned singer has one of his lyrics as
“practice what you preach”. This goes a long way to resound
that talk is cheap. It is one thing to know the right thing and a
different ball game to do the right thing. These days, everybody
knows the slogan of a free but responsible press. Good a thing
that everyone knows that; but is it really practiced? Is objective
reporting attainable in this era besieged by sycophantic report-
Every member of a democratic society has the right to know;
since nobody wants to be fed with trash, the summum bonum
becomes objective reporting or journalism. Overtime, the press
has been riddled with all forms of ethical issues which have
invariably affected what goes down to the public as news or
information. Such issues include plagiarism, brown envelopism,
moon lighting, and of course sycophancy. One thing that is
logical is that unethical reporting results to subjective journal-
The question now is why is Nigerian journalism bedeviled
with sycophantic reporting? What are the causes and inherent
dangers of this ethical problem? Does it have any ethical im-
plication for the journalist, the government and the society at
large? What can be done to remedy the situation to avoid re-
peating the same old story?
Definition of Ethics
What is ethics? For a word that occupies such a central place
in communication, there abound definitions as there abound
communication scholars. That notwithstanding, Omole (2000)
in Okunna (2003: p. 2) defines ethics as
the shared normative values, which any society holds
dear and are used to judge the behaviour or performance
of any member of that society. It sets out the minimum of
acceptable behaviour which any member should attain to
be regarded as a good ambassador…
Ethics is a concept that borders on morality and conse-
quences of human actions. It also recognizes the fact that man
as a rational being has the ability to discern what is good or bad
and in line with the approved standard of behaviour in a given
society. Thiroux 1980 in (Okunna 2003) concurs by explaining
when we speak of people as moral or ethical, we usu-
ally mean that they are good people and when we speak of
them as immoral or unethical, we mean that they are bad
people. When we re fer to certain human actions as moral,
ethical, immoral or unethical, we mean they are right or
Another important characteristic of ethics is that it is volun-
tary in nature. That is, an individual chooses to do right or
wrong. Despite associations and bodies that regulates the ac-
tivities of its members; the decision to be ethical or not depends
solely on the individual. That is the relativity of ethical princi-
ples. According to Ozumba (2001: p. 2),
ethics as a science of good conduct can hardly on its
own make good men out of bad men. Its job is to instruct
us on how to be good men if we wish to be. This means
that the decision is all ours.
However, that decision to be or not to be might collectively
or individually be influenced by variables like sex, level of
exposure, orientation, religious background and what have you.
Contextualizing them, Okunna (2003) lists them “as cultural
socialization, personality differences and situational contingen-
From the vast definitions of ethics, it can be summarily de-
duced that ethics is a set of moral principles or values dealing
with what is good or bad. It has also been seen as that branch of
knowledge that is concerned with the standards of good or bad
conduct in society. Journalistic ethics, according to Okunna
2003, is that branch of philosophy which aids journalists in
determining what is right to do and is ultimately concerned
B. UMEOGU, I. OJIAKOR
with providing moral principles or norms for journalistic ac-
tions. Oloruntola (2007: p. 58) also shares his opinions;
Every profession of repute has for its practitioner’s
codes of ethics that guide the conduct of members in the
performance of their duties. Journalism as a profession is
not an exception as such codes of journalistic ethics have
been established all over the world both by members of
the profession and media organizations.
It holistically recognizes man as a rational being and at-
tempts to maximize the positive inner potential of man for the
greater good. Rationality has to do with the ability to make
decisions and judgments based on reason. I think that is one of
the things that make man a higher animal.
Ethics and the Journalist
The journalist just like every human being needs an ethical
guideline to gauge its activities. The journalist who is like the
information house; the eyes and ears of the whole citizenry,
particularly needs to be ethically active so as not to misinform
or disinform the public.
From time immemorial, man has been under one form of rule
or the other. However, journalistic ethics came into the scene
following the excesses of journalists during the libertarian era.
Ethics as an offshoot of social responsibility theory maintains
that in media work, certain standards of performance should not
just be stated but followed. This led to the emergence of jour-
nalistic codes of ethics for a more responsible conduct. Moe-
meka 1991 in (Okunna 2003: p. 38) captures this by writing
that “this theory places due emphasis on the moral and social
responsibilities to persons who, and institutions which operate
the mass medi a”.
In the same vein, Merril & Lowenstein (1979) in (Okunna
2003, p. 48) summarized the importance of ethics in the prac-
tice of journalism thus:
ethics—at least a concern for ethics—instills in the
journalist a continuing sensitivity to his every action, to
his every decision; It integrates or blends with his total
search for truth, and it gives him greater awareness of
himself, of others, of the consequences of interpersonal
relations. A concern with ethics is the key plank in any
journalistic platform; it is the “alpha and omega” of public
Purpose of Ethics
The aim of ethics in journalism is to maintain quality in the
media. Ethics is fundamental to journalism because mass media
practice is based on a set of essentially ethical concepts of truth,
objectivity, honesty, privacy etc. The role of journalism is to
provide information for the enlightenment, education and en-
tertainment of the people and this raises ethical question on the
quality of the intelligence disseminated, manner of its acquisi-
tion and the objective for which it is used in the socio-economic
and political processes.
According to Ebeze (2004) journalists have actually derailed
from the objective work they are meant to do hence ethnic re-
porting, wrong information, sycophantic journalism, fallacies
reporting; thus, this contributed to the invention of ethics.
In a nutshell, the purpose of ethics for the journalists is
To protect the consumer, reader, listener or public in gen-
In fact, it also helps to protect the journalists themselves be-
fore they get drowned in the sea of societal immorality.
Provides the journalist with standards and principles that
will guide the journalist in making moral decisions.
Depending on the different ethical theories and individual
differences, ethics will ensure uniform standards of behaviour.
This is necessary as some will believe in the rightness of their
actions despite the resulting consequence(s); while other will
believe that the consequence of the action determines its right-
ness or wrongness. That being the case, ethics spells out what is
expected in a particular situation.
Provides a duty for yourself and others.
There are individual who play by the books as a matter of
principle; ethical provisions or codes of conduct as the case
may be helps them to play ball and effectively at that.
Encourages responsible action in mass communication.
This is the thrust of this paper as ethics has a sole purpose; to
encourage free and responsible press so that the consumers
have a stable platform to make decisions as rational beings.
It enables man to appreciate good or bad.
Helps individual’s live a more virtuous life.
Promotes and stabilizes social harmony.
Enables you to look at both sides of the coin before you
What is objectivity and objective journalism? According to
Objectivity is the state or quality of not being influ-
enced by personal bias, prejudice, feelings and opinions.
Objective news-reporting is that which is devoid of infer-
ences, judgment and slanting.
Objectivity in journalism is all about stating the obvious de-
void of personal emotions and bias. It is more like saying or
writing it as it is and not what the journalist will like it to be. In
fact, it really takes a disciplined mind to be objective because
the temptation to embellish a story is always on the high side.
Again, objectivity comes with a great responsibility. Little
wonder why Okunna (2003) is of the view that objectivity has a
strong affinity with responsibility as far as mass communica-
tion is concerned”. Corroborating this is Edeani (1993) in
Okunna (2003: p. 76) who explain that
objectivity and responsibility are two of the most im-
portant concepts in mass communication, in view of the
central position occupied by each of them in the perform-
ance of the press. Very rarely is press ever criticizes or
congratulated on its performance without at least one of
these concepts coming into play.
This goes on to show that being objective and responsible is
the highest state any press could attain. More like the biblical
injunction of “seek to be responsible and objective and every
other thing will be added unto you”.
Despite the Importance, Gilmore & Root (1975) in Okunna
(2003) describe objectivity as the “short dead-pan news ac-
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
B. UMEOGU, I. OJIAKOR
count” particularly in the reporting of complex events in which
a little interpretation and evaluation are necessary for under-
standing and assimilation by the publics. This does not deduct
from the value of objectivity because interpretative journalism
can still be done objectively. This point is buttressed by Edeani
(1993) in Okunna (2003: p. 77) when he wrote that
the analysis and interpretation do not detract from, but
rather strengthen objectivity if they are done with honesty,
fairness and impartiality.
It is agreed that there are cases and stories that requires a
kind of i nterpretati on and analysi s for better un derstandi ng by
the consumers. Yet, this does not negate the fact that objec-
tivity is a virtue that should not be compromised in any way.
One can still be objective as can be while interpreting. It all
boils do wn to how we ll you put rein on yo ur emotions. I f that
is the case, objectivity is not a myth or unattainable but rela-
tive to the journalist in question and the principles he/she
upholds as ideal.
In other words, Objective journalism acknowledges the pub-
lic as rational and capable of handling the truth despite how
much it hurts. This does not negate the fact that some situation
might call for censorship but not at the expense of objectivity.
Writing on the place of objectivity in journalism, Ayodele
(1988) opines that
Objectivity in the collating and presenting of news is
the goal of the reporter, and a major principle of Journal-
ism. In spite of the fierce competition among newspapers,
newsmagazines, radio, television, or wire services, in re-
gard to who gets a story first and is fastest in making such
news items public property, objectivity in the disseminat-
ing of news is acknowledged as a significant hallmark of
modern Journalistic practice.
In the face of intervening variables like pressure, is objectiv-
ity really attainable? An answer can be seen in the words of
Ayodele (1988) that
…that objectivity in news reporting is a definitely at-
tainable goal, but that one must strive for it even in the
face of opposing realities. Adherents of attainable objec-
tivity in the media claim that the reporter need not shy
away from his prejudices, pre-conceptions, feelings and
ambitions. He need not pretend to be an automaton—un-
thinking, unfeeling, unemotional; “saying it as it is”, with
bland facts and figures, and no analyzing nor interpreting.
Rather, the journalist is to struggle to place under leash
It all sums up my earlier premise that objectivity is attainable
and relative to the journalist who chooses to be ethical or not in
the face of challenges. I also want to reiterate that in journalism,
there is no room for ethical flexibilities; either you are ethical
or you are not ethical.
The society directly or indirectly influences the people nega-
tively or positively. The journalist who does not exist in a vac-
uum is also a product of that society. In the course of being
professional, the journalist is confronted by demons in the form
of ethical problems and they include sycophancy (which is the
thrust of this paper), pressure, character assassination, bribery,
plagiarism, moonlighting and what have you.
Sycophancy is one of the most depressing problems in mass
communication. According to Obaze & Fasahnu (2006: p. 138),
sycophancy is a situation whereby a medium continues to
praise government or individuals despite ills or incompetence in
office. Again, it has been defined by (Okunna, 2003) as false
praises of those in power. Locally and internationally, this has
been a source of concern to both practicing and budding jour-
nalists. The second principle in the international code of ethics
has it that
the foremost task of the journalist is to serve the peo-
ples’ right to true and authentic information through an
honest dedication to objective reality whereby facts are
reported conscientiously in their proper context, pointing
out their essential connection and without causing distor-
tions, with the deployment of the creative capacity of the
journalist so that the public is provided with adequate
material to facilitate formation of an accurate and com-
prehensive picture of the world in which the origin, nature
and essence of events, processes and state of affairs are
understood as objectively as possible.
Coming back to Nigeria, NUJ knowing the relevance of Ac-
curacy has it as one of its principles and it reads thus:
1) The public has the right to know. Factual, accurate, bal-
anced and fair reporting is the ultimate objective of good jour-
nalism and the basis of earning public trust and confidence.
2) A journalist should refrain from publishing inaccurate and
misleading information. When such information has been in
advertently published, promp t correction should be made.
3) In the course of his duties, a journalist should strive to
separate facts from conjecture and comments.
If the above is religiously followed, what the consumer gets
will be nothing short of objective and factual reports.
Objective reporting on the other hand is that report that is
devoid of inferences, judgments and slanting. It is the absence
of objectivity that invariably leads to sycophantic reporting.
According to Okunna (1995), “a sycophant reporter is a jour-
nalist who flatters political leaders, wealthy citizens and own-
ers of media houses who as employers have formidable power
over journalist”. For instance Jacque Chirac, a onetime presi-
dent has been found guilty of two count charges of corruption
and misappropriation of public funds. According to a media
report on Aljazeera network, he employed ghost workers at the
city hall and diverted the money for his campaign. This is the
same man who the media while in power never criticized. De-
spite the political immunity covering government officials, my
question is if the press never knew he was siphoning and di-
verting funds at the time he was in office? From previous hap-
penings, I want to believe that they were aware but choose to be
mute about. How do they live with their conscience highlight-
ing praises of someone who has committed a crime but rather
chose to sweep it under the carpet or turn a blind eye?
In Nigeria, this is more pronounced in the political sphere
where journalists use the media to confer status on their favored
politicians and also to set agenda that will also favour the fa-
vored ones, Okunna (1995).
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 161
B. UMEOGU, I. OJIAKOR
Causes of Sycophancy
There are many possible causes of sycophancy but this paper
will look at the following.
Lack of Experience on the Part of the Political
In civilized countries or the developed world, leaders are
well versed and more mature and so appreciate constructive
criticism as against their counterparts in developing countries
where criticism is a no. For instance Barak Obama of the
United States of America knows that criticism sharpens one’s
initiative while Nigerian leaders will see such writer as the
worst enemy of the State, and one would not be surprised if the
writer is silenced forever.
This being the case considering the immaturity of the leaders
and the promise of death, the journalists will praise them de-
spite their ratings so as not to be at loggerheads with them.
Look at what happened to Dele Giwa all in a bid to be true to
his profession. He was murdered through letter bombing all in a
bid to silence his honest voice. Also considering the fact that
most journalists in Nigeria and other developing countries are
uninsured, they will not like to lose their life in exchange for a
colorful and lengthy oration at the funeral ceremony. However,
in the developed countries, they will dare the odds even at the
expense of their life as their names will be written in the sand
of time but in a country like Nigeria, who really cares about the
sand of time?
Prevailing Situation or Environmental Contingencies
The journalist in Nigeria does not operate in a social vacuum.
If the society is morally deficient, how is the journalist ex-
pected to rise above the moral decay. The journalist according
to Olomuyiwa (1988) is a product of the society. According to
the African society with its various facets-tradition, be-
liefs, images, goal, constraints etc must inevitably influ-
ence and be influenced upon by the journalist. The jour-
nalist helps to shape the size and direction of what is
communicated to the different publics of the media.
As far as information flow is concerned, they are the major
gate keepers in mass communication. They in turn, indirectly
sets his/her own agenda; what he/she finally select to commu-
nicate. You can see that both the powers of the journalist and
the public’s are interwoven to an extent.
Explaining this, Olomuyiwa writes that this dual yet interac-
tive role has its implications for the constant barrage of charges
of bias, prejudice, partisanship, untruth and especially syco-
phancy leveled against the media and its staff. That is to say
that the level of unethical practices among Nigerian journalists
is a reflection of what is happening in the larger society. Lai
In other words, journalists tend to succumb to the prevailing
situation because when the society is immoral, objectivity and
truth is thrown to the winds.
Lack of Professional Education or Training of
The right formal education is one powerful tool for the mak-
ing of ethical profession. When you pass through the rigorous
processes of training, then you will learn to appreciate your
profession and yourself; and will guard its prestige jealously. In
fact, studies have revealed that journalists with higher educa-
tion exhibit more professional orientation in performing their
Oso (2001) observes that
a good number of those who go about these days as
journalists have either not received any education/train-
ing in journalism or are not adequately trained and
equipped for the challenges of the profession.
What this shows is that the more educated one is, the more
confident and secured the journalist will feel to take on the
challenges that are bound t o surfac e .
This is the chief cause of ethical misconduct; the mother that
gave birth to other problems. An averaged journalist lives be-
low the poverty line; and until the issue of poverty is seriously
addressed with realizable solution, then no amount of constitu-
tions or codes of conducts will have any meaningful impact.
Nothing is perhaps more important than a good pay to keep
the reporter on the ethical path. According to Garba (1998)
“Abiola used to say that when you do not pay your journalist
well, someone else will pay them and they will work for him”.
This is dangerous because as an employer, you will be unaware
that your employee is moonlighting which poses a threat to
both employers but a bigger threat to the one that do not give
fat salary. This invariably aids moonlighting as an option to
dealing with poverty. Worthy of note is the fact that moon
lighting is also an ethical problem in Nigeria that has been gen-
erating great concern.
Nigerians are known to be survivors and the journalist must
also strive to survive even in the face of abject poverty to the
extent of cutting corners. However, this depends on individual
because the sycophantic tendencies of a journalist are to a great
extent determined by the bias, prejudice and constraints per-
sonal to him. What I am trying to say is that there are still peo-
ple who believe that “a good name is better than riches.
Influx of Government Owned Media
If the saying that “whoever pays the piper dictates the tune”
is anything to go by, then we must empathize with journalists
that work in the government owned media. They are like birds
in a cage that have their wings clipped and their legs chopped.
They can only move when their owner wants them to. In other
words, they do not have a will of their own; more like auto-
mated robots that move only when commanded to. What a life!
One can now understand why they conveniently play the role
of praise singers for the government of the day as if it is the
“natural” thing to do. In reality, journalists have a duty to be
objective at all times. The concept of duty therefore entails the
necessity of acting from respect for the law. This implies that
we have a moral obligation to do the right, remaining indiffer-
ent to the conseq uen ces.
Saying or writing things as they are might bring the reporter
and the government at loggerheads but Kantian opinions of
duty is deontological or obligatory. According to Kant in (Oji-
akor, 2004), acting from a sense of duty rather than concern and
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
B. UMEOGU, I. OJIAKOR
consequences is the basis for establishing one’s moral obliga-
Each passing day brings modifications to the already power-
ful effects of the mass media. This absolute power calls for a
check to ensure that the public’s right to true information is not
compromised. In other to be fair and truthful, the watchword is
objectivity. However, is Nigerian press objective?
To attempt to answer that question, several national dailies in
Nigeria were content analyzed to pin point the instances of
sycophantic reporting. Comparatively, old and current dailies
were compared to see if the trend has remained the same or if
there has been a change in the status quo.
Again, garland for the oriental Amazon—this report high-
lighted and extolled the achievement of Dame Virgy Etiaba or
“Mama Anambra” as she was popularly known by the citizens
of Anambra State where she served as an executive governor.
They recalled that she awarded contracts for 500 kilometers of
roads, paid leave allowances of civil servants from 2003-2006,
recruited teachers and what have you. No mention was made of
the millions of naira siphoned during her short stay as the gov-
ernor. The impression was that she initiated the contracts con-
veniently neglecting the part that her predecessor called the
shots before a legal battle that saw our “mama” to the highly
coveted seat. She may have done all that and more but the story
read like a PR insert to praise her while indirectly character
assassinate her predecessor. The story would have been bal-
anced if they had brought in her weaknesses even if they down-
play them a bit (The Guardian, 2007: p. 61).
Second example was in National Mirror newspaper with the
headline as “the man the cap fits” and another story on the same
paper that ran as “Sam Egwu: the father of modern Ebonyi
State”. It went on to explain how he transformed Ebonyi State
into veritable heaven as the then governor of the State. No one
gets it all considering that the worst part of management is
human management. As a human and rational being, he must
have made bad decisions and had his own share of bad mo-
ments. I suppose that aspect is on a need to know basis. Was it
an objective report?
A look at the Guardian paper of 9th October, 2007 will see
this headline “Unizik: the making of a modern university”. To
be truly objective, effort would have been made to get the
views and opinions of the students and staff. Such revelations
no matter how bad they may seem at that time will help to
know the important areas to address. For instance, what about
the transportation problems of students, the frustration of stu-
dents by unethical lecturers, and the politics of admission proc-
ess which by the way is common among tertiary institutions? A
balanced report will have signaled more significant develop-
In the electronic media especially the State owned stations,
that is the order of the day. Even when a government has be-
come unpopular, their mouth piece in the name of the press still
sings their praises. One can now understand why some citizens
prefer to watch and listen to “serious” networks like Aljazeera
for objective news. Objective news according to Ayodele (1988)
is news that is undistorted by personal prejudice. It is news that
is fair, accurate, and factual. Nevertheless, it is not news that
has been gathered and presented by an unthinking, unfeeling
professional. Objective news is devoid of inference, judgment,
Comparatively, let us examine some current dailies before
arriving at a conclusion. Purposively, this researcher chose to
choose dailies from 1st November 2011 to 30th December, 2011.
This was to content analyze with a view to fishing out syco-
phantic reports. The dailies are the Guardian, This Day, The
Sun and The Vanguard Newspapers.
I want to draw your attention to Daily Sun of December 29,
2011 with the headlines as “Obi’s strides in Anambra State.
The writing was on the efforts and impacts of ANIDS on the
development of the State. I quote “it is fairly reasonable to ar-
gue that Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State is a handworker.
This fact is not constable, at least to keep observers of devel-
opment progression in the State within the last five years”.
He went on to list the remarkable improvements made in the
education, health, judiciary, transportation, environment, indus-
trialization, security, roads etc. I want to make it clear that the
researcher does not agree with the writer but to an extent, I beg
to differ. Let us look at education sector for an instance; refor-
mation in the education sector is at whose expense? How much
do State owned universities pay as tuition fees? In the secon-
dary school section, there is inadequate teachers which led to a
situation where teachers are employed by the school manage-
ment with the consent of the Parents Teachers’ Association
who pay the salaries of those teachers PTA levies, and not the
government. If the school excels in academics, the government
takes the credit. I do not want to believe that the writer did not
conduct a research before this write up, if he did, then he would
have found a way to applaud the concerned parents who are
pulling their weight to reform the education sector for the bet-
terment of their children and the society at large.
Coming to the transport sector, I want to ask; does the state
of roads affect the transportation fares? My answer is yes! Way
before the price hike as a result of the removal of fuel subsidy,
passengers have been paying more than usual owing to bad
roads especially the Onitsha-Awka expressway. No, I do not
want to go into whether it is a federal or State road because it
does not change the fact that it is a death trap. Surprisingly, this
reporter wrote in from Onitsha yet conveniently left out the
state of the roads when he was commenting on the transport
sector. If this is not a sycophantic report, then why not call the
attention of the object of your praise to what the masses are
going through as a result of the roads. Some of the aftermath of
the roads on the masses are; lateness to work since they have to
avoid the potholes and the bumps, ill health because bumpy
rides always have their toll on the body, holes in their pockets
since they spend supposed savings on transportation etc. At this
juncture, I want to refer you to a report on National mirror of
December, 12 where the State Assembly decried the deplorable
state of Nneogidi—Agulu Nise road, passing a motion on the
State governor to give out the contract for the road construction.
I can go and on to fault this report, but let us look at other dai-
There was also a report on Guardian of November 15, 2001
with the headline as “Chime reassures Enugu youths of em-
ployment opportunities. It was a report of the Governor of
Enugu State, Mr Sullivan Iheanacho Chime, reassuring the
people in Lagos that he is on the verge of creating employment
opportunities in the State. It also mentioned his efforts towards
that by registering job seekers, collaboration with National
Directorate of Employment (NDE) and what have you. I am
curious to know how he intends to achieve all this when it is
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 163
B. UMEOGU, I. OJIAKOR
difficult for him to pay the minimum wage to his workers. If
you cannot pay the workers you already have, with what are
you going to pay the new recruits? Well, unless the job oppor-
tunities will be for the artisans; if that is the case, what happens
to the graduates? Are they over qualified to be meaningfully
engaged by the government at all levels?
What we were not told was if it was a press conference or a
social function because a smart journalist or a courageous
member of the audience would have asked this question. This
writer should have questioned this development.
However, it was observed that the two months selected had
something in common; they were filled with stories about and
on the death of the CEO of guardian newspaper, Alex Uruemu
Ibru and Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu; the National Awards by
the Presidency on the selected few; and the pros and cons of the
removal of fuel subsidy. Almost half of the selected newspapers
were filled with stories of the above mentioned issues and/or
congratulatory message to the award recipients and even birth-
day messages to the Nigerian president, Dr. Goodluck Ebele
Jonathan. As a result of this observation, it calls for an in-depth
content analysis of the publications prior to the November/
December issue s.
Dangers of Sycophantic Reporting
The inherent dangers of sycophancy have been outlined be-
It makes the entire profession to lose its credibility or to be
irritating to the public who often see through the masks.
This could be the reason why Aljazeera network is pre-
ferred when it comes to objective news. This shows that the
audiences are active and knows which station carries cor-
rect news and those that air doctored news. Explaining that
the publics are no fools, Ajayi-Gbadabo (2000) writes that
“protecting citizens against unfair media reports is the re-
sponsibility of the press to ensure that citizens are protected
from media excesses that can amount to assault on the sen-
sibilities of the people”.
It is now virtually impossible for the journalist to effec-
tively discharge his duty while he is so much involved in
It is difficult for those being praised to perform impres-
sively. This is because the praises will becloud their vision.
According to Okunna (2003), sycophancy leads to derelic-
tion of duty because they are not allowed to see the mis-
takes and correct them. Even when they realize that they are
not doing well, they are content to hide behind the misin-
formation by the press under the illusion that the public will
be none the wiser.
It leads to abuse of power of the mass media. According to
(Okunna, 2003: p. 87), during elections, unethical journal-
ists use the media to confer status on their favorite politi-
cian and to set the political agenda in favour of these politi-
cians even when they lack legitimacy and do not deserve
the praise heaped upon them”. The electorate who is pow-
erless in the face of the all powerful effect of the media is
deliberately manipulated into adopting that candidate. In
Okunnas’ opinion, this manipulation is one of the negative
effects of sycophancy. On a second thought, does syco-
phancy have any positive effect?
It denotes the public their right to true and correct informa-
tion. Using the report on Obi as an example, if I have been
none the wiser, could you imagine the noise I will making
in the course of arguing that the governor have performed
above expectations. To people that knew the true state of
things, I will sound like an empty drum. That is why the
public needs to be given true and correct information so that
they can make their judgm en ts .
It has no redress in court. Unlike libel and slander for which
one can sue a publication, there is no constitutional provi-
sion for sycophancy. If there is, journalists would have been
careful not to be dragged into a legal battle.
False praises bring about false behaviour.
To make it clearer, let us divide it into ethical implication for
the journalist, government and the society.
On the Journalist
The implication of sycophancy on the journalist is that it
does not allow the journalist to criticize the government. But
then, what do you expect since who pays the piper dictates the
tune and dance steps as the case may be. Furthermore, the
journalist who is no longer objective irritates the media audi-
ences who often see through the falseness of the media content
packages by the unethical praise singer, Okunna (1995). This
ultimately leads to loss of credibility and respect for the media.
The situation is clearly put in the biblical proverb that “of what
use is salt if it loses its taste except to be thrown outside and
In addition, since the journalist is so much involved in over
praising, when will he/she have the time to report other things
that are happening around him to the detriment of the public.
On listening to State owned media, the news package is always
what the State governor did or is planning to do. What about
those events that are happening in the State that the public need
to know about? When the lens of the press is one the govern-
ment officials and newsmakers, who watches the State?
On the Government
As noted earlier, false praises bring about false behaviour.
This means that if you are not doing it right and the media is
saying that you do, you will now relax and overlook your duties.
In the words of Okunna (1995), it leads to dereliction of duty
on the part of the recipient of the false praises.
This over praising acts as a curtain where they hide behind
the flattering, but thankfully, the people are no fools. Whenever
a government comes to power, there are expectations on the
part on the electorates; so when the road are in bad condition
and the press is telling them that the government is building
roads, are they trying to play on their intelligence. After all,
“you can tell a blind man that there is no oil in the soup and not
pepper”, in this case, we have eyes to know when a government
is making good of his promises.
On the Public
The public has a right to know and to true information but
sycophantic reporting denies them this right. It is a known fact
that the result of sycophancy is mis information/dis information
as facts are distorted and information is doctored to please an
egocentric sponsor. Furthermore,
as the game of praise singing goes on, the journalist
fails to do the job that needs to be done which is catering
for the diverse informational and communication needs of
the public in a conscientious and responsible manner—a
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
B. UMEOGU, I. OJIAKOR
failure which is a betrayal of the trust which the public
places on the press to champion public interest (Edeani in
Decades after Nigerian renowned musician cum evangelist
Sunny Okosun asked which way Nigeria in one of his songs, no
definite answer has been given rather, our society is still head-
ing downwards socially, economically, morally etc. That not-
withstanding, all hope is not lost if only there will be reorienta-
tion in our beloved country. There are things that were a taboo
in the past that have come to be recognized as a “natural” or
“normal” thing in our society. For instance, advance free fraud
or 419 as popularly known in Nigeria have come to be seen as
the profession of smart and intelligent people. I remember
growing up that when men that made money comes back home,
people are generally reluctant to accept any form of gifts from
them. That has changed because such people are now besieged
by their community to accept titles. Yes! That is how far we
have morally derailed. If there should be a kind of mind man-
agement package to alter the current picture in our heads that
the end justifies the means, maybe, the society in general and
the journalist in particular will wake up to the clarion call of
In addition, if the press should say, when a government is
still power, what they say when they have left power; we may
be nipping sycophancy in the bud. For instance, when Ngige
was in power, everyone including the State owned media knew
he has a stolen mandate but kept quiet about it. The moment he
stepped down, the media became over flogged with negative
stories about him.
Another instance is that of Jacque Chirac who has been con-
victed on two counts charges of corruption and embezzling of
public funds. The press knew this was happening and kept mute.
Had it been they subtly hinted that Chirac has been busted, the
level of the embezzlement would not have been so high as to
earn a conviction. There is a way of stating the obvious without
being hurtful. It all goes down to choice of words and presenta-
tion which the journalist is expected to be familiar with.
In addition, I also recommend that the issue of sycophancy
having no legal implication should be urgently addressed so as
to cut down its presence in Nigerian journalism. In as much as
it is fair to acknowledge when someone does a noble thing or
delivers on his manifesto; it should be a serious crime to overdo
it. Constitutionally, there should be a boundary when praising;
and when it is false praise singing, it leads to distortion of facts
with the intention to deceive and that, should be a serious crime
if the fight against corruption is expected to hold sway.
On a lighter note, this paper recommends that government
and corporate bodies should create platforms to honor the jour-
nalist who have been true to their profession. When one knows
that all actions are on the radar, they will be forced to dance in
line; with time, it will feel like the “natural” way to act and
everyone becomes a winner.
Finally, I will like to add better remuneration and condition
of service of journalists. I will like to point out that this will
work in conjunction with a reorientation. This is because ac-
cording to Ebeze (2007), how much is really enough? What this
means is that it is not about money but about re orientation.
This is because if you are paid millions of naira, that tendency
to cut corners will still be there. Furthermore, how much is
really enough considering the fact that “more money attracts
Also writing on remuneration, Mohammed 1996 in Olorun-
tola 2007explains that
“while journalist in the west may be well paid, insured,
endowed with state of the art equipment and facilities and
are highly mobile; their third world, and particularly Ni-
gerian counterparts are poorly paid, uninsured, immobile
and with poor working environment”.
No wonder such job insecurity makes them vulnerable and
susceptible to corruption and abuse of professional ethics. If
poor remuneration makes them to be unprofessional, then it is
logical to assume that a better pay packet will alleviate the
I wish to start my conclusion with the wise saying of N. N.
Evarts that “as there is nothing great in the world but man, there
is nothing truly great in man but character”.
Objectivity in journalism is not an abstract concept or an un-
attainable feat. Truth be told, it is supposed to be the goal of
practicing reporters and budding journalists to strive for objec-
tivity which is contained in the larger ideal of truth. Again, also
considering the enormous power vested in the media, the press
owe it to the people to rise and live above the sea of corruption
that is threatening to drown this country as we know it. As al-
ways, they will be solidly backed by the agenda setting and all
powerful effects theories of communication effects.
Every journalist in particular and every member of the soci-
ety should embrace morality and ethics as an unbreakable prin-
ciple. By so doing, it will ensure that future generations are
brought up with a sense of responsibility and impartiality.
Again, there should be no room for ethical flexibilities; either
you are ethical or not. The ethical ones should be applauded
and encouraged so as to sway the unethical one into being mor-
ally firm. This is in appreciation of the fact that people change
from time to time. It is about time to change for the good.
I understand that re orientation and subsequent erasure of
pictures in our heads will not happen overnight; but it has been
said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with not only a
step with that determined person. Will you be that someone?
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