Sixty-two years after independence, stakeholders, after assessing the media landscape, argued that the sector was doing relatively well. However, they stressed the need for the media to uphold ethical conduct and to hold public officials accountable at all times.
In a conversation with The Guardian, the first female professor of mass communication, Chinyere Stella Okunna, recalled that it was about the good, the bad and sometimes even the ugly.
As one of the mighty ‘weapons’ who fought to end undemocratic colonial rule and secure independence for Nigeria, she noted that the ‘good’ showed the media to struggle valiantly in many cases to maintain the democratic culture in the country.
Okunna, who currently teaches in the Department of Mass Communication at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, said the ‘bad’ can be seen in the media’s failure to hold leaders accountable. democratically elected, as bad governance continued to thrive across the nation.
In this regard, Okunna insisted that the media does not speak strongly enough in condemnation, for example, through ‘naming and shaming’. In “ugly” extreme cases, she added, the media (especially government-owned media) has aided and abetted such bad governance, serving as praise singers and propagandists for horribly incompetent and undemocratic at the national and state levels.
She identified the challenges facing the media, including control of ownership, particularly by government, outright greed and other incentives, which, once accepted, prevent media professionals from performing of their constitutional responsibilities and to do the right thing. She said ignorance and poor training/education are other factors.
Ahead of the 2023 general election, she said the media’s role in elections would include mass dissemination of all relevant information to enlighten/educate the electorate, and act as ‘whistleblowers’ whenever someone something untoward happens during any aspect of the electoral process. : campaign, voting and counting, transmission of results, declaration of winners.
Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) President Mustapha Isah noted that the Nigerian media played a key role in forcing the British colonialists to grant Nigeria independence in 1960.
For him, when the army truncated democracy in 1966, the media did not relent until democracy was restored in 1979. He recalled that “the army struck again in December 1983. Barracks. It was at the risk of our lives. In the process, some media houses were closed, some journalists were killed, others imprisoned, while some went into exile. It was really a tough time for us, but we didn’t give in because of the love for our nation.
Since the return of democracy on May 29, 1999, he notes that the media have played their role in ensuring its sustainability. According to him, “as the watchdog of society, we raise the red flag when we see undemocratic actions and undesirable elements trying to undermine our democracy. The best way to maintain democracy is through good governance and the conduct of free, fair and credible elections.
However, he expressed concern about the effect of the economy on the media. He observed that “to hold government accountable, you must first survive as a business. The difficult environment in which we operate affects us greatly, resulting in some media houses owing their employees back wages. It is difficult for them to sponsor investigative reporting. Ads are drying up due to the weak economy, coupled with the advent of online media. »
To get out of it, he advised the media to innovate and evolve with the times. He added, “Media convergence is the sure way. This allows a media entity to do print, electronic and online news. We have to embrace technology. Access to information must be democratized. More investigative reporting needs to be embraced.
On the role of the media in ensuring credible elections, he said it was simple: “All actors must follow the rules. The INEC, the political parties, the candidates and the electorate must respect the provisions of the Constitution and the electoral law of 2022, as amended. The media should monitor compliance and raise the alarm when they see violations. »
Advising the media to properly scrutinize candidates and political parties, he said, “their policies and programs must be questioned. It is not enough for a candidate to promise 10 million jobs in two years, he must tell us how he intends to achieve this. If you promise free education from primary to university level, you should clearly state where you intend to get the money to execute it.
“You must tell Nigerians what you are going to do differently when you promise to tackle insecurity. The media should provide the electorate with credible information about candidates to enable them to make informed choices. The media should avoid reporting speeches that divide politicians. Those who want to use ethnicity and religion to mislead voters must be exposed.
Jide Jimoh, professor of journalism at Lagos State University (LASU), said the media has done well in some areas and there is clearly more diversity in ownership and circulation.
As the print media dwindles in number and diversity, he noted that the internet has enabled diversity in the digital sphere. He observed, “We now have newspapers that are completely online and they are exploring alternative funding models, like the Premium Times and Cable. The media have become democratized to the point of entrusting substantial power to ordinary citizens who can exercise their freedom of expression. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the media is now a wild garden and all things gross and gross simply possess it.
He identified challenges as economic pressure caused by a declining economy, poor welfare of journalists, noting that a poorly paid journalist was unwittingly outsourced to the sources he is supposed to interview.
Jimoh also said the high cost of inputs, including diesel and printing materials, is another challenge. He cautioned journalists against sensationalism, but to focus on issues that matter to the common interest instead of the vituperations that divide some political gladiators.
For him, “if Nigeria ignites, neither the journalist nor the politician will be able to exercise their profession. We need to incentivize politicians to issue-based campaigns, just as recent editorials in The Guardian have advocated.
On his part, Program Manager, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Ayode Longe, observed that before independence, the media was one of the tools that nationalists used to fight for Nigerian independence and that ot independence, the media held the various governments, civilian and military, accountable for their decisions and actions.
He recalled, “I still remember The Guardian and The Punch newspapers as well as Tell Magazine, The News and Tempo magazines, which were thorns in the flesh of the Babangida and Abacha governments. They pissed off the military so much that the government at different times outlawed them. However, Tell, The News and Tempo magazines went underground and continued to publish. It was the era of guerrilla journalism in Nigeria. Thus, the Nigerian media has metamorphosed into the kind of tool to engage any government in power at any time.
To make the media truly strong and to be able to hold the government to account, he added, “we need strong and independent institutions that will help fight the war on corruption and the media will be a very powerful ally. in the battle. Without such institutions and systems, the media will not be as strong as it should be.
“It must be said that the media are also a reflection of society. Nowadays corruption in the media is rampant and important news is killed or distorted to favor certain people. This, as I said, is a reflection of society. The society itself is corrupt and the citizens are not helping things: someone in the government is embezzling funds and what you hear is that if you were the only one, would you have done better? Or someone serves the government and leaves after meritorious service without embezzling the money from the government and people blame him and say if he has served for so long and has not built a house he will remain poor for the rest of his life. Thus, people are also sometimes the problems because they encourage corruption in society.
For the media to do their job conscientiously, he also pleaded for a moral reorientation of citizens, better and continuous training of journalists, the payment of salaries and wages when due and that the government do its part by being serious in the fight against corruption.
In conclusion, he said, “As we approach the general election of 2023, the media must realize that they can ensure peaceful coexistence or provoke war through their reporting and must therefore be aware of this” .
According to him, in order to sell or attract people to their websites, they must not “spread fake news, they must avoid sensationalism and any news that could set the nation on fire”.