By Hauwa Gambo
The duty of a newspaper is to present society – through news, features, and opinion – in its full form; sometimes unpalatable, sometimes unsavory, sometimes deeply troubling – but always fairly and truly; and in service of its goal to advance society through the ventilation of knowledge.
There are a few things about Nigeria that sicken me – they sicken me to the pit of my stomach. The fact that men are allowed to marry more than one wife, the fact that adult women are legally prevented from having safe and necessary abortions, the fact that my classmate cannot live an open and confident life as a gay man in Nigeria because our people see him as an aberration.
I find opinions that support the above abhorrent, and deeply hurtful to my humanity – especially because in this society, some brilliant, beautiful human beings are still harmed and hurt because of the above prejudices. Still, when I see them in a newspaper or on any other medium, my reaction isn’t as extreme as the opinions themselves – I don’t demand that the newspapers take down the opinion.
I don’t focus on the medium; but on the message. I think to myself – this is a discussion that we evidently need to have, that we need to wrestle to ground, that I need to engage, and societal conversations are not one-off, they are ongoing.
When opinions like the above are presented, including, and especially where they go against the sentiments of the medium in question; that medium it faces an age-long question – does it fall to the temptation of being the thought police?
READ: Temie Giwa: Rape and responsibility (Y! FrontPage)
Time and again, newspapers, magazines and other news media make hard editorial choices to stimulate difficult debate despite the expected, predictable, braying by dissenting voices that the platform in question has done it due to ratings, newspaper sales, or the new whipping boy: page views.
Of course, whenever people cannot understand why a man or woman takes a principled, thought out stand and insists on it, despite the backlash he/she receives, they assume he must be gaining some benefit – readership, in this case.
Unfortunately, that is just another excuse to shut out debate, and avoid difficult conversations.
When the New York Times insists on sharing photographs of corpses in Afghanistan against the objections of the American government and insists on the right for the public to know and debate, NEXT insists on publishing Femi Aribisala’s provocative pieces on Christianity because the debate needs to be had, CNN airs contents of diaries of the dead in Benghazi because the government has questions to answer or the Wall Street Journal allows a debate about the right to assault weapons (despite the fact that its proliferation might be leading this minute to the death of innocent children), it is in the principled, fearless understanding that while it needs to exercise diligence in making decisions on what to publish/air or not, the media has a strong, moral duty to err as much as it can on the side of disclosure.
There are many issues that should be settled that are sadly not settled in our society. Pretending that they are does us more harm than good. Bullying people who think differently or, even worse, attempting to heckle debate that can actually lead to better understanding, only makes a bad problem, worse.
Indeed, there was a time in America when slavery could be defended in the pages of the newspaper; there was a time barely a century ago where the rights to a woman to vote were hotly contested in the media. These viewpoints were not defeated by shutting them out (and even now they are allowed expression in various media – and then the opinion-bearer duly ridiculed), instead they were hotly contested and debated – in the legislature, in the judiciary and in the media; until the attitudes changed.
Like I have said above for instance, in another fifty years the right of a man to be gay or a woman to be lesbian will no longer be up for debate in a large swath of civilized society, but for now it is – and that is how it should be.
Therefore, as long as legislators discussing rape laws, judges dispensing sexual assault judgements, Vice-Chancellors decreeing dress codes still blame “indecently dressed” women for rape and as long as, morally and legally, opinion (mens rea) is distinct from action (actus reus), then it becomes completely in order for a society where this view is mainstream to present, facilitate, and even insist on a debate on that same issue.
That is exactly what YNaija.com did two days ago when it published the disturbing and wrong-headed opinion by an educated young Nigerian called Kenechukwu Uzochukwu that suggested women who dress “provocatively” need to be blamed for their rape and the rape of other women after them.
READ: Uzochukwu’s piece on rape: Of trolls and caveman
If the legislature, the academia, the church and the judiciary can engage these matters – then it is moot that so must the media.
A newspaper is not a NGO. It is also not a crutch for people to rely on for use as a tool to suppress viewpoints or world views they see (rightly or wrongly) as hurtful or defensive. It is also not at all responsible for the actions of people as much as the film, Django Unchained is responsible for gun violence across America.
The duty of art/media is to present society – through news, features and opinion – in its full form; sometimes unpalatable, sometimes unsavory, sometimes deeply troubling; but always fairly and truly; and in service of its goal to advance society through the ventilation of knowledge.
That is exactly what happened this week.
After Uzochukwu wrote his unfortunate article, the expected outrage was swift, as it should be.
But that is not the end of the story. Beyond the outrage, many seized the opportunity for debate – and proceeded to share cogent, well thought-out articles that detailed an opposing view. [You can read some of them HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.] The debate ensued across various platforms, both on blogs, the comment boxes and on social media, and Uzochukwu was engaged in a vigorous discussion, receiving robust feedback.
Within a period of 48 hours, he had faced such an avalanche of reason and logic (and, not surprisingly, some bullying) that he publicly made a turnaround in his stand, and apologised for coming to such sad and dangerous conclusions.
READ: Kenechukwu Uzochukwu apologises: “My article was insensitive and has hurt many”
It makes me proud to be part of a medium that understands the imperative of its position as a platform for dialogue and debate, no matter how difficult. It makes me proud to be part of a platform that has led Uzochukwu to change his mind.
That is the role of the media. That is the way a country advances. That is how society is transformed.
That is how it’s done.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.
Something must be said for reasoned analysis. My gripe with Uzo’s argument was that it was poor not that it was made.
You might have changed his mind, but you needed to look deeper to see that he was presenting an opinion that is evidently very secret in the minds of many, which also has very “tiny” points that need to be considered.
All men are not enlightened and there are many men who think like Uzochukwu and need to be engaged while listening to the “crap” they might have to say.
The truth is that the fight against rape “needs to include a small fight against how the human female form is presented, in the media, in clothes in entertainment…”
It is something I have been waiting for someone like you to acknowledge… I wonder if it is really ok the way every music video is about a girl who is almost naked…IT IS BECOMING NORMAL… I don’t know if it should be, you should explain to me.
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