Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Challenges of media practice in Nigeria

Jide Ojo
“Quality journalism enables citizens to make informed decisions about their society’s development. It also works to expose injustice, corruption, and the abuse of power…Freedom of expression and press freedom are not luxury attributes that can wait until sustainable development has been achieved – it is an enabler for the enjoyment of all human rights and, therefore, vital to good governance and the rule of law.”
- Part of a joint statement for the 2015 World Press Freedom Day issued by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
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On May 3, 2015, the world celebrated another Press Freedom Day under the theme, “Let Journalism Thrive: Towards better reporting, gender equality and media safety in the digital age.” It has been an annual ritual laced with symposia and awards. This year’s theme is very fitting given the escalating danger of media practice globally. According to Time Magazine of December 16, 2014, “Media activists say attacks on journalists are becoming increasingly barbaric.” At least, 66 journalists were killed across the globe in 2014 while another 178 media workers were imprisoned, according to industry monitoring outlet, Reporters without Borders. They also noted that the number of kidnapping cases skyrocketed dramatically in 2014 with 119 journalists reportedly being abducted, a 37 per cent increase year-on-year.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day got me reflecting on the state of media practice in Nigeria. Journalism practice in the country has come a long way since its debut in 1859 and there is no doubt that the Nigerian media has helped in the birthing and consolidation of democracy in the country. The media in the country has been described in superlative adjectives as being vibrant, fearless and resourceful. However, media practice is becoming increasingly endangered.
Using the just concluded 2015 general elections as a mirror of the state of media practice in the country, it is noteworthy that the members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm performed creditably well in the discharge of their duties. The members of the Nigerian media were trained by the Independent National Electoral Commission and some other agencies ahead of the elections. In discharging their duties, they did inform and educate the masses about the electoral process. They wrote editorials, did news analyses, conduct opinion polls, and organise political debates among the candidates and their political parties. Many electronic media outlets also designed political education programmes through which election experts were invited to shed light on some knotty political issues. Between March 10 and April 23, 2015, I participated in 25 of such events, both on radio and television,   many of which were live discussion programmes.
No doubt, it was a cocoa season for the media. A season of harvest of megabucks. Many of the media houses laughed to the banks as politicians heavily patronised them through placement of advertisements, live coverage of political rallies, sponsored documentaries, commercial interviews, political jingles and paid news reportage. The political billboards mounted in strategic places across the country were part of political media expenses. In the course of the electioneering, the media kept the electorate and the citizenry informed about the process enabling them to make informed decisions on Election Day. Even the Nigerian Union of Journalists keyed into peace education by urging journalists to embrace conflict sensitive reportage.
As the saying goes, there are two sides to every coin. The media in the course of their political reports also exhibited some excesses. A number of the reports of some of the media houses were not only sensational and exaggerated but were also patently biased. Some of them threw ethics and standards to the wind and acted recklessly. They dished out falsehood, half-truths and jaundiced reports for public consumption. They concocted stories and forecast winners based on primordial sentiments. There is no doubt that the ownership structure has a lot of influence on the orientation and service delivery of many of media outfits. Many otherwise apolitical news media outlets came under political pressure of their owners or due to pecuniary gains. Truth be told, most of the private media houses are owned by politicians or politically exposed persons and like the saying goes, he who pays the piper dictates the tune.
In a bid to optimise their financial gains from the electoral process many aired or published hate speeches, and inflammatory comments. Others also breached the provisions of Section 100 subsections 3, 4 and 5 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, which talk about equal treatment of political parties and candidates. Many state governors also infracted on Section 100 (2) of the Act by employing state media to the advantage of the ruling parties and the disadvantage of the opposition political parties in the state.
The ugly aspect of the media practice during the 2015 elections was the attacks carried out by politicians and their agents on journalists. On Saturday, November 29, 2014, suspected political thugs smashed the camera and tore the clothes of Channels Television crew members that were at Yebumot Hotel Ilorin, Kwara State, venue of the local government congress of the Peoples Democratic Party. In another incident, Charles Eruka, a Channels TV reporter was attacked by political thugs while covering an All Progressives Congress campaign at Okrika, Rivers State on February 17, 2015. On April 27, 2015, unknown gunmen stormed the office of TAO FM, a community radio station in Okene, Kogi State. They bombed the radio station with Improvised Explosive Device and reportedly killed four people in cold blood. The barring of the crew of the African Independent Television from covering the activities of the president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari on April 27 based on some nebulous security concerns as well as ethical issues is another worrisome development that left a sour taste in the mouth because as it turned out, the president-elect was not even aware of such order which means his aides were just being overzealous.
Aside from the physical attacks and molestations suffered by journalists in Nigeria, one other sad thing the members of the pen profession have had to endure is the poor condition of service. Many journalists are being owed salaries and allowances. They are asked to use their identity cards as meal tickets and have had to depend on tips and bribes euphemistically referred to as “brown envelopes” to survive.
The regulatory bodies of the various media cadres have a lot of work to do to sanitise the industry. The NUJ, the Nigeria Press Council, Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, The Radio, Television and Theatre Arts Workers Union of Nigeria and the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria need to build a synergy to ensure that the noble profession of journalism maintains high ethical standard in accordance with the profession’s code of conduct.
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