The Media, like some other institutions in the country is in dire straits and may not get better in the nearest future. Yet all hope is not lost. This is the position of speakers at the 4th Anniversary lecture by TheNiche Newspapers held recently in Lagos. Assistant Editor, CHINWE MADUAGWU, who was at the event reports.
The power of the media can never be over-emphasised. It can make or mar. It can be used to build and it can also be used to destroy.
As an anonymous quote, puts it, “The Media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” That is, indeed, how powerful the media.
Indeed, the media is a powerful instrument and how the media wields it’s powers varies from society to society depending on who owns or controls it and who operates (journalists))in the media space.
Recently, the media came under the searchlight as Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and a Presidential aspirant in the 2019 elections, with some other speakers examined the role of the media and how it has fared in Nigeria.
He bared his mind in a keynote address titled, “Development Reporting and Hysteria Journalism,” delivered at the 4th Anniversary lecture by TheNiche, an online Newspaper. He was pained that development reporting and investigative journalism, two sides of the same coin have been relegated into oblivion.
He traced the decline in development journalism to the 1980s, tying it to economic liberalization. It was his opinion that “the struggle for survival by the media, in increasingly capitalist economies by being relevant to its consumers by giving more attention to new trends,” contributed to the death of development journalism, though he owned up to the fact that a few specialized media, mostly in the Western world still practice development journalism.
Prof. Moghalu took a swipe at the ownership structure of the Nigerian Press, describing it as one of the reasons why the media cannot play an effective developmental role. “One of the ways by which the media can play the role of catalyst in social transformation is through investigative journalism. By uncovering evidence of malfeasance and shedding light on social ills, journalists can influence public discourse in a major way. There is so much that is wrong with our country today, and a vibrant tradition of investigative reporting can help change this.
“The tradition of investigative reporting in Nigeria has been dying slowly as news has become more commercialized. Speaking truth to power and going beyond press releases is never easy, but that is what must be done in order to truly make an impact.
“Good investigative journalism is about resources, and the ability for editors and publishers to resist external pressure when reporters ask uncomfortable questions, there is a general absence of both and that is a key reason why there are so many important stories which remain untold.”
Continuing, the Prof. said, “the ownership structure of the Nigerian Press has always been centered around politicians or those who aim to go into politics. Nigeria’s press cannot play an effective developmental role because the elite who own these media have no worldview. Their only concern is access to political power, and unfortunately, these outlets are deployed in pursuit and maintenance of this access.”
He argued that if a newspaper runs on advertising money from some connected people in the society such revenue would be at risk if the sponsors or their friends become subjects of an investigative report.
Other factors that have contributed in sounding the death knell on development and investigative journalism, according to the Prof., were what he described as “the prevalence of news as entertainment and Hysteria journalism.”
With regards to news as entertainment, he said, “it would seem as if people are more interested in Big Brother Nigeria, the English Premier League or following the lives of their favourite celebrities. So there is this tension: “Can the serious, in depth reporting necessary for good developmental journalism break through our increasingly cluttered digital lives?”
On hysteria journalism he said, “closely linked to the entertainment quotient of journalism we have today, is hysteria journalism, which seeks to play on the latent prejudices of readers,” with the effect of “reducing public discourse to a shouting match, leaving the public less informed.” He was, however, quick to note that the media alone was no to be blamed for this.
The greater part of the blame, he laid on “the destructive tone and divisive rhetoric of Nigeria’s political class.”
He cited some examples of hysteria journalism in Nigeria to include the on-going controversies over the “so-called ‘looters list’ of allegedly corrupt past government officials and party functionaries of the past PDP-led government and the response of the PDP and the discussion on the removal of subsidies in 2012 while in the West the immigration issue quickly comes to mind.
He bemoaned the plight of journalists in Nigeria most of whom he noted were owed salaries running into months, insisting they cannot effectively carry out their roles as watchdogs without capacity. He summed up the state of journalism in Nigeria thus, “journalism in Nigeria has become a profession where you are not guaranteed the basics. In many outlets, journalists go for months without pay, while their bosses live large. The result is that the media becomes real estate to be bought by the highest bidder, because people have to feed their families. The truth is that much, though certainly not all, of what appears in news media in Nigeria today is paid for,” and “journalism in such a state can neither perform a public good nor serve developmental ends.”
He further bemoaned the lack of re-training of journalists by their employers describing it as a loss for the society. “The result of this current landscape is the inability of the Nigerian journalist to inform the public, be at the forefront of social transformation, and hold the powerful accountable. Every one loses.”
Moving forward, Prof. Moghalu proposed a business model that does not rely on the patronage networks of a corrupt political and business class.” He shared his vision for the Nigerian Press “as a creator and promoter of a national philosophical worldview that permeates all aspects of our national life,” thereby eliminating the various ethnic instabilities in the society. According to him, all the greatest countries in the world are driven by their worldviews actively promoted by their media, and there was no reason why Nigeria cannot do the same.
Prof. Moghalu expressed the hope that in the coming years, “the lot of the Nigerian journalist will improve due to the type of people who will finance media outlets; a new kind of elite who understand the realities of our time and are prepared to use their resources to create and promote strategic national goal.”
Mrs. Funke Egbemode, President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, and one of the discussants, without mincing words told the gathering that the future of the media was more bleak than it already is, especially the print, due to lack of patronage.
According to her, “you don’t produce what nobody is buying. People no longer buy Newspapers, but rather prefer to read for free while the advertisements are also no longer coming.”
She pointed out that “less readers means less manpower and less revenue,” adding that “online is where the media industry is buried.”
Prof. Remi Sonaiya, Head, Dept. of Foreign Languages, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-ife and also a Presidential aspirant who chaired the event adjured the media to ensure that Nigerians know they have credible options in the quest for leadership and to present such options to them even as she berated them for focusing on the two major political parties in the last general elections.
She described the media as stakeholders in the country and the upcoming elections.
Representative of the Senate President, Mr. Ben Murray Bruce, in his comments, reiterated the power of the media to make or mar a society and enjoined journalist to use that power in favour of the common good.
He also commended the media for the real time reporting of the recent invasion of the Senate by some thugs. According to him, what the media did on that day was to promote the nation’s democracy.
Mr. Obinna Nwosu, former Deputy Managing Director, Access bank, described the state of the media as a reflection of the state of the society. The responsibility of bringing about real change in the society, he said, cannot be left to the media alone. He called for all hands to be on deck in order to move the country forward.
“The easiest thing to say is that things are already bad, there’s nothing I can do. You have to rise above your situation. Make up your mind to be different and you will begin to see ways you can be different. Rise above your environment and you begin to make the change,” he said.
Mr. Oguwike Nwachukwu, Executive Editor/Editor of TheNiche, while corroborating what other speakers said about the problems and challenges facing the media, explained the motivation behind the establishment of The Niche Foundation for Development Journalism; “To us, The Niche Foundation is our modest way to serve our society better through the prism of those areas that are often neglected by most media practitioners. If you notice, most media houses and practitioners are fixated on investigative reporting but ours is Development Journalism because we are prepared to look at it in a more holistic way or if you care, in ways that the development of our society should be paramount.
“Our plan is to look at the agenda set for us by the world, continental and national bodies with regard to development and how we can, through painstaking reporting, be part of a society where everybody is happy.”
It was not all about the media as some contributions were made on how to move the country forward politically. With the 2019 elections gathering momentum, the audience were urged to ensure they have their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC), and to use them effectively to vote in credible leaders.
Prof. Ben Nwabueze, an elder statesman and foremost Constitutional Lawyer and Dr. Uma Eliazu, another elder statesman and renowned technocrat, lent their voices to the call on all Nigerians to participate in the upcoming elections as the future of the country depended on electing the right people into office next year.
The occasion also saw the unveiling of The Niche Foundation for Development Journalism by Senator Ben Murray Bruce.