“If I had to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without government I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the later” – Thomas Jefferson, 1788
Thomas Jefferson was America’s third president and one of her intellectual heroes during the early days of the great American renaissance. Before becoming President, he was the Secretary of Trade to France and provided the initial intellectual cannons that shaped the Constitutional Conference of 1776. Of all the freedoms he canvassed, be it freedom to life, private property and pursuit of happiness, freedom of the press was one of his more celebrated contributions to modern democracy as we know it today. The above quotation was his most ardent defense of press freedom in which he argued that it was better to have free press without government, if need be, because it is only through such medium that the people will hold their governments accountable.
Jefferson further argued that even when the people make mistakes in excising the freedom to sensor their government, it should be permitted because “it was out of the same progressive mistake that all governments were born ab initio through the peoples consent’. Therefore, every government once elected was a mistake that should be continually corrected by keeping them faithful to the true principles of democracy and good governance by allowing free press to ceaselessly interrogate their activities. Aro eh! What a mind! This was how the press became the “Fourth Estate of the Realm” after the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Analogously, the lessons of the above views by Jefferson in the context of the needlessly misguided struggle for Nzuko Aro ownership of Aronews become valid in this instance and I will explain in a moment.
The purpose of this piece is not to reopen the debate about the logic of who owns Aronews as that has been sufficiently addressed by the numerous claims and counter claims from the contending parties, but to advert our minds to the more important conversation we should be having, which is completely lacking in the entire discuss. That conversation should be whether the interest of Aro Kingdom will be better served with Aronews as a newsletter of the Nzuko Aro government or a newspaper that will hold the government accountable to the people. On the later score, I am inclined to cast my vote with Thomas Jefferson for obvious reasons.
Indeed, the preceding Nzuko Aro government under Mazi Emma Kanu Ivi which included some members of the current leadership of Nzuko Aro, also voted with Jefferson when they realized that progress in engineering Aronews to serve the Aro people through the Nzuko Aro’s management of Aronews was not sustainable and therefore reached out to the majority shareholders of the newspaper for its privatization. The results so far vindicate this decision and should actually be applauded by any rational mind conversant with the antecedents of government ownership of press institutions in our country and beyond.
Aronews as a community newspaper is now richer in content, people oriented through their editorial policy and expanding to cover the interest of Aros in Diaspora who need this medium to reconnect with their roots and be part of the 21st century resurgence of united Aro Kingdom for peace and progress. Championing this Aro renaissance will be tougher if Aronews does not meet the minimum professional qualities of a community newspaper. The fastest way to ensure that it failed was for it to be controlled by Nzuko Aro given their proven lack of resources, inefficient managerial and intellectual capacity to sustain such a mandate.
All over the world, the views of independent news organizations on the performance of governments are taking more seriously than the self-assessment inherent in government using its own media to judge its performance. In the current American presidential primaries, the endorsement of Hillary Clinton by independent papers such as Washington Post and others boosted her campaign because the American public views such endorsement as coming from informed independent assessments of the candidate. On the contrary, ask yourself where are newspapers like Daily Star (Enugu), Daily Times (before it was privatized) and many other newspapers which did not survive because they became official propaganda instrument for government in power in Nigeria. I dare say that the same fate will befall Aronews if it is allowed to be run by Nzuko Aro and gradually turned into a propaganda instrument to massage the ego of a few of their top shots, whether they are performing or not. The signs of this degenerate trend were already being noticeable when efforts were made to sensor articles and direct opinions of Aro News by some officials of the current Nzuko leadership. In fact, this was indeed one of the contentious issues that motivated the need for its privatization.
Again, we came to this unfortunate junction with the issue of the logic of ownership of Aronews because the real discussion about the future of Aronews degenerated into personality and ego clashes. If not, how can we explain the fact that people who are sufficiently knowledgeable about these matters suddenly took sides against the more informed logic of what will become the fate of the newspaper if it were to be controlled by Nzuko Aro. Even if their reasons were plausible, were they sincerely convinced that such arrangement will be in the overall interest of the growth of the paper and indeed the realization of its editorial policy? I am not convinced of this logic one bit! Why are they ignoring the strides Aronews was making in recent times which they could not make in the short period it was under the management of the Nzuko Aro? Why are we often blinded by sheepish followership of ideas and people without questioning the rationale behind their own reasoning? Why? Why? Why?
My advice to the current leadership of Nzuko Aro is that they stand to lose nothing by supporting the progress Aronews is currently making. Insisting on the claim of ownership and for the process to be reversed having gone this far simply begs the question. We should think of the greater role the paper will play in the future peace and progress of the kingdom and for it to play such a role, it must survive today and be sustainably run as a community trust but with funds from private sources so that the paper will rely less on public funds to achieve its corporate objectives. To the current board and management of Aronews, I advise that they should be fair to all in their reportage and canverse those views that unite rather than divide us as a people. This is the only way we can leverage on the important role of the free press as a tool for social mobilization, and rural development, to better the lives of our people at home and in Diaspora.
Finally, to the incoming Nzuko Aro leadership, a rebranded and more efficiently run Aronews will serve your government better as it will become the voice of the people constantly watching your progress or otherwise. The paper will offer you genuine advice on how to improve governance and also praise your government when it sticks to good governance and in delivering community development and enlightenment to our people both at home and in Diaspora. However, a bit of constructive criticism will not kill your government; it can only make your government better and stronger by directing your attention to areas where lapses are noticed. Your duty, as a government will be to take such criticism in good faith and try to improve upon identified lapses. Let us join hands together to build Aronews for us and our future generations. Ndewo nu!