By Kelechi Mejuobi
Very unperturbed about the presence of the three musketeers behind the face of Trumpeta Newspapers, who stormed his private residence for a fruitful interface, Kennedy Ibeh, Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly didn’t mince words to express a reasonable degree of indignation about the peculiar style of one of the newspaper’s editorial staff who represents the medium at the Imo State House of Assembly.
After about half an hour wait in the cosy lobby of the Speaker’s private house, Ibeh briskly joined Messrs; Gerry Ogu, Henry Ekpe and my humble self, Kelechi Mejuobi for an interactive session.
It was the second time I had close encounter with the two-time House of Assembly member who represents Obowo State constituency since he became the number one lawmaker of the state legislature last year November.
His appearance showcased enough mien as not just one I can remark as a refined politician but a fellow who adopts diplomatic gestures to arrest conflicts. His uncommon gentlemanly approach was reassuring and enough reasons his colleagues didn’t waver to consider him Speaker after sending the previous two out from the gavel seat.
Ibeh sat down after usual banters and exchange of pleasantries which indicated he remains an easy going person at home mingling with every strata of persons in the society. He went straight to the subject matter. The Speaker immediately declared that he had nothing against the medium or the trio before him. Rather, opined it was the House. In his words, “in short, the lawmakers are no longer comfortable with the style of the correspondent who represents the interest of your medium.
“In short, we are tired of him”, he continued “ your group can do well to change him. I have no grouse or the lawmakers have nothing against you, but we want him changed” a decisive Ibeh summed up.
Flanked by aides who also listened with rapt attention and nodded in affirmation of his postulations, Ibeh opened up further on reasons why the stringent measure came up to bar the correspondent of the newspaper from the House complex. Even as he had no consideration of the implications of the approach of the state legislature to unorthordox practice of attempt to control choice of reporters to cover activities of the House, the Speaker querried why each leadership on several periods had differences with the said Trumpeta correspondent. According to him, based on reports, his two predecessors; former Speakers Chiji Collins and Paul Emeziem also expressed reservations concerning the journalist’s editorial style.
In the Friday edition of Trumpeta, last week, the Owerri based tabloid came up with a report suggesting that the Imo Assembly is up against the medium. Parading a headline “Imo Assembly Goes After Trumpeta”, the content gave a vivid account of how based on instructions from the top, security operatives in the complex were ordered to refrain the correspondent of the newspaper from gaining access into the complex.
Before the supposedly draconian order was passed to stop the newspaper, Trumpeta correspondent, including other editorial staffers had been receiving certain calls from unknown quarters. On Tuesday, last week House resumed for plenary, the correspondent was barred. Information went wild that he alongside other editorial staff of Trumpeta should keep away from the Assembly complex.
Fears were heightened of a planned targeted attack on Trumpeta editorial team when the security men at the gate openly displayed signs that the operators of the newspaper had been granted persona non grata inside the complex.
All reporters that approached the complex for entrance were subject to identification routine with an intent to fish out that of Trumpeta.
The process continued the next day. Indications were further rife that the decision to keep arms length with the medium was a concerted efforts properly consented to by the leadership, management and staff. Even as Trumpeta was not alerted before the decision at the reporter’s offence, the newspaper had to inform the public of the House plan. For clarity of purpose, the House of Assembly doesn’t belong to the present members of the 9th Assembly. Others had been there and left for new comers to take over. These crop of lawmakers may enter the record books of the state by denying news hunters access to the complex because they don’t fancy the editorial style of the correspondent of the newspaper.
Going by the expressions of the Speaker even as he had earlier denied frictions between the House and Trumpeta, operators of the newspapers need no soothsayer to be informed that the leadership and Members of the House are uncomfortable with Trumpeta’s story package.
Away from what transpired at Ibeh’s private House, members of the State Assembly and indeed politicians by now should know that politics is a media game where writers cannot refrain from publishing the activities of actors involved in the showpiece, including the lawmakers.
It is trite to state that lawmakers while undertaking legislative duties, oversight and constituency representation can’t also perform newsmen duties same time to the extent of dictating editorial style for a medium. Or at the same determine the editorial style that suits the state legislature and individual members of the House.
Of note is that since the inception of the newspaper more than ten years ago, no Member of the House has dragged the medium to court for libel, or defamatory publication.
This is because the medium has not hesitated to apply best practices and standard ethics in the course of its editorial practice. It hasn’t deviated from the stoic belief that freedom of the media irrespective of whose ox is gored is the fundamental principle that communication and expression through various media, especially publishable materials, should be considered a right to be accessed freely. Such freedom implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state; its preservation may be sought through constitution or other legal protection and security.
Trumpeta can’t be like other newspaper establishments as each medium has separate styles and operational metholody akin to its identity.
In line with this principle, Trumpeta has peculiar attributes which distinguishes it from others in the industry.
It is on record that despite the ill targeted scruple against Trumpeta by the lawmakers as revealed by the Speaker, the newspaper is yet to receive letter of complaints or disaffection from the House and members except one from one of the lawmakers.
Based on complaints from a section of his constituents which have continued to get attention in the social media and reported plans to recall him as claimed by one of the complainants, Trumpeta went to town with the information about plans to recall the lawmaker. Instead of applying the expected feedback mechanism of issuing a rejoinder to address the issues raised, what the newspaper got from the said lawmaker was various degress of threats from the House member through text and verbal messages.
The lawmaker who failed to realize he is holding the mandate of his constituents and is subject to their recall proposals any time they opt for it went far to boast how he would jail the owners and publishers for alleged criminal defamation because a story about his recall was authored . Maybe, he later realized what the constitutional provisions only allows him is to demand for retraction on the basis that his own side of the story was not obtained. However, what he failed to realize while issuing the threats was that as public servant holding mandate of the electorates, he is subject to assessment of not just his constituents but the media which acts as the watchdog of the society.
Irrespective of the fact that the matter has been settled with his threats becoming a forgone alternative, the new trend of the House members being uncomfortable with Trumpeta editorial style, especially that of the correspondent, remains an anathema to the much clamoured press freedom. One unquantifiable gains of democracy is press freedom and it would amount to a ridiculous sojourn unexpected from custodians of the constitution like House members to subtly seek means of media control and undue influence.
However, despite the challenges posed by the position of the House against Trumpeta correspondent, the medium appreciates the scintillating approach of Speaker Ibeh who adopted a very rare strategic approaches to the matter. Unlike some who may apply a rather brutish means, the number one lawmaker of Imo has scored a great point in this dispute resolution. He deserves a pat on the back even as he needs to be reminded of the tenets of United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states;
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through the media regardless of frontiers”..