Monday, November 16, 2009

Celebrating 150 Years of Media Practice in Nigeria

Sorrow can take care of itself, but to get the true benefit of joy, you must share it- Mark Twain
Nigeria mass media is in a celebration mood and justifiably so. It is 150 years since Iwe Iroyin fun awon ara Egba ati Yoruba; the first newspaper in Nigeria was published in Abeokuta by late Reverend Henry Townsend. It debuted in 1859. Many newspapers have hit the news-stand thereafter. They include the Lagos Weekly Record, Lagos Standard, Lagos Daily News and West African Pilot. Others include Daily Times, National Concord, Third Eye, Post Express, The Diet, The Comet, Weekend Classique, A.M News and Daily Sketch to mention but a few. What all the aforementioned dailies have in common is that they are defunct. The high mortality rate of Nigeria’s print media made the diamond anniversary of Nigerian Tribune worth celebrating with pomp and pageantry. It is to the eternal glory of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo that Nigerian Tribune was established on November 16, 1949. That Tribune managed to survive 60 tortuous years of operation speaks volume of the resilience, focus and courage of the founding father of the newspaper as well as its successive managements.
Sixty hearty cheers to Nigerian Tribune; the paper of the masses, the voice of the oppressed, the champion of the cause of the Yoruba and the Nigerian nation. The little acorn sown 6 decades ago has grown to become a mighty oak. Today, there is no gainsaying that Nigerian Tribune ranks among the nation’s best in the practice of journalism. The paper’s editorial, news reportage, features, and commentaries help in shaping public policy. I am glad to be associated with this news medium which has been offering me its platform to ventilate my views on various topical national issues. I recall with nostalgia my first published article with the newspaper in its Monday, December 11, 1995 edition with the caption: Which Way to Survive? My advice to the management of the Tribune is to improve on the printing quality of the newspaper, particularly that of the picture.
Another legacy of Papa Awolowo is the Nigerian Television which came to being on October 31, 1959. Awo as the Premier of the Western Region demonstrated an uncommon vision when his administration thought it wise to establish the very first television station in Africa some 50 years ago. Then known as Western Nigerian Television (WNTV), the premier TV station was established in the ancient city of Ibadan being the capital of the then Western Region. WNTV later transformed to Nigerian Television (NTV) before being later renamed Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). It is said that there are now over 50 State owned television stations across the country as well as about a dozen licensed private TV stations. The revolution caused by the advent of TV in Nigeria is significant. Unlike just listening to radio, people are now able to enjoy both sight and sound simultaneously. Even the name given to the television in Yorubaland is indicative of its uniqueness. It is called amohunmaworan (which literally translate to a medium that captures voice with pictures). Today, the medium that started by operating for few hours a day has now grown to operate 24 hours service while there is now a flourishing business of Satellite Television which has further revolutionalised the broadcast industry with variety of local and foreign programming.
The overall assessment of 150 years of the existence on Nigerian Press shows that though it is a joyous occasion, it is equally a time for sober reflection. Legally speaking, section 22 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution states that “the press, radio, television, and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter (i.e. fundamental objectives and directive principle of state policy) and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”. Nigerian media have fared well on this count. However, better performance can be enhanced if the Freedom of Information regime is in place. This is long overdue.
It is true that s. 39 of the 1999 CFRN guarantees right to freedom of expression and the press. However, in practice, there have been several attempts to curtail these rights. This has been a recurring decimal under the successive regimes in Nigeria be it military or civilian. It would be recalled that many newspapers and broadcast stations were proscribed by the military juntas while several journalists were murdered, molested, injured or hounded into exile. Sadly, harassment and killing of journalists is yet to abate as under the present civil rule, similar incidences have been recorded. Media houses have been shut down while journalists have been murdered in cold blood by assassins. The last of these dastardly acts was the September 20, 2009 murder of Bayo Ohu, a political correspondent with The Guardian newspaper.
Among other challenges facing media practice in Nigeria is the poor funding of many of the media outfits by their proprietors as well as low return on investment. It is an open secret that many of the established newspapers and broadcast stations be it public or private suffer from inadequate funding. Salaries of media practitioners are not only relatively small, they are also not paid as at when due. Many of them are rarely exposed to specialised training; they have no insurance policy and are generally ill-motivated. This inadequate welfare package makes journalists susceptible to pecuniary influences and is partly responsible for the exodus of highly skilled media practitioners into other field of human endeavours. Closely link to this is the poor reading culture in Nigeria. In a country of approximately 150 million people, I doubt if there is any newspaper that can boast of a million daily print run. Many newspapers depend more on adverts than sales to break even while few additionally indulge in organising all manner of awards in other to shore up their income. Unhelpful is the high cost of production which has necessitated the constant increase in the price of newspapers and adverts and is largely responsible for the high mortality rate of media houses in Nigeria.
Internet or virtual journalism has also undermined the performance of our traditional print media. With a click of the button, people can now access media publications from all part of the world. The orthodox media has risen to the challenge by establishing their respective websites and publishing online editions which are available to readers with internet access free of charge; this has reduced the patronage of printed version thereby leading to loss of revenue. Worth mentioning is the menace of quacks among Nigerian media practitioners. It is a common phenomenon to see these fake journalists gate-crashing into workshop or conference venues with fake identity cards in order to earn a living. This is unbecoming.
The challenge before media regulators like Nigerian Press Council, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, and Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria is to stamp out all these unethical practices. These bodies need to engage Nigerian government to assist in the creation and sustenance of the enabling environment for media practice. Media practitioners too must reciprocate this gesture by eschewing the practise of junk or yellow journalism. They must be factual, professional and patriotic as any act of indiscretion on their part can set the nation ablaze.