The Chains around Journalism

Before the widespread literacy in many parts of the world, information was generally related to people by word of mouth. The few educated people wrote letters and manuscripts but much of this information, as many could not read, were delivered to the common population through town criers or by administrators who read out laws and proclamations to their subjects.

By the seventh century, the Chinese were producing the world’s first printed newspaper called ‘Dibao’. Apparently, at the same period in Europe, many people were still illiterate, traveling story tellers spread account of wars, calamities, crimes and other matters of interest, said many accounts. Later, handwritten and wood cut illustrated news sheets regarding such things were sold in public markets and at fairs, stated one account.

Germany was said to be among the first birthplace of newspapers in Europe, then much later, the advent of the broadcast media which made it possible for the media to relate information quickly and cheaply to an anxious teeming population. This trend, then, made some publishers to employ professional editors to improve the quality of their news content. Also, the demand for news vis-à-vis the high cost of generating same, led to the creation of content providers or news agencies for the gathering and distribution of news to subscribing publishers.

In many developing countries, there are fewer than 20 copies for 1000 inhabitants but in developed countries, Norway for instance, there are more than 600 copies for that number of inhabitants, stated one accounts. In Nigeria, in the 1980`s, the leading newspaper titles namely, Sunday Times and Sunday Concord made a brace reaching 200,000 copies each in print run (or thereabout) per edition at 20 kobo each in the 1990`s, the same titles merely peaked at 150,000 print run per edition, this period coincided with the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and the cover price of newspapers jumped upward to 50 kobo, news papering as a business was considered as losing steam.

Today, the above mentioned newspaper titles belongs to the relics of history and when one puts together all the newspapers in Nigeria, both the old generation and new comers to the Nigerian news stand, their entire print run is nearly the same with the print run of just the two leading newspapers in the 80`s in Nigeria. In a country with a population of over 140 million apparently, 500,000 copies in circulation depicts how endangered newspapers in Nigeria are.

Although, the Times publication is seeking a come back but it is evident from this reporter’s findings that, the glory days of news papering in Nigeria seem to have left them behind and similar fates await nearly every other publication in Nigeria. The broadcast media is not left out of this misfortune or ‘credit crunch’ that confronts news papering in Nigeria.

The once glorious days of the NTA and FRCN have been confined in the negative fringes of politics and the monster of epileptic power supply with their new sisters both in the private and government stations struggling to remain on air let alone ay their staff. Unfortunately, most of these organizations have devised a means to survive by way of commercialization of news and partisanship etc has placed profit over social responsibility and signaled the death of creativity and objectivity.

Many observers claim that this trend have contributed to why many prefer to switch off their radio or TV whenever it is news time, as those that pay the piper will dictate the news of the day, ‘‘we at the NBC are trying to stop the commercialization of news in the broadcast media’’, said Doctor Igomu Onoja, the Zonal Director of the National Broadcasting Corporation in Maiduguri.

The media as an agent of change

According to one account, newspapers over the course of history have instigated, supported and justified wars; they cite the 1870-71 Franco – Prussian war, the Spanish American war of 1898 and the Vietnam War of 1955 – 75. Many celebrities, leaders and those that matter have been pulled down over scandals involving them in newspapers and magazines. In the mid 1970`s the water gate scandal, where investigative journalism set up a series of events that forced president Richard Nixon of the united states to resign against his will.

In Nigeria the self styled military president caught short his administration because of pressure from the media. Also, the way and manner the media worked to abort the tenure elongation bid of President Olusegun Obasanjo and the impeachment and sacking of some leadership in the National Assembly and other executives between 1999 to date, underscores how the media can be a mighty force to reckon with.

However the media goes beyond just bringing grief to individual politicians and policy makers all over. In Nigeria, ‘‘the media have positive historical evaluation in the sense that if you go back to the colonial era you will discover that the press in particular fought gallantly for Nigeria’s independence. “Immediately after Independence” said Dr. Abubakar Muazu of the Department of Mass Communication University of Maiduguri “the broadcasting media have been used to mobilise people around key issues of health, education and agriculture which are very central to promoting development in the country. You remember the popular mobile cinema unit called the Majigi in northern Nigeria” said Dr. Muazu.

According to Dr. Muazu and Dr, Igomu, the media is a vital tool in bringing about change in any societies therefore any misrepresentation of news must be avoided in other not to misinformed the general public, and to achieve this, the media must be able to demonstrate courage and truth in the discharge of their responsibilities as watchdogs and vehicles of conveying the different sentiment of the people in their societies.

The Ethical Question

Ethical issues have been around for quite some time now reporters who cover events demand for gratifications, revenues from advertisers apparently influenced reports in many organisations. In a country like Nigeria where the media depend mainly on advertisements to defray the cost of their operations and in most cases even to survive. In most cases most of these advert comes from government or companies that depend on government patronage or those that wish to remain on the good books of government invariably, they are the news makers and any attempt to undermine them, they may threatened to withdraw their advertisements.

Empirical evidence have shown that journalist or media houses are boycotted whenever these advertisers are passing information e.t.c while the others that who play ball receive exclusive interviews and invitations to accompany them on their travels or are often given seats to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Mecca.

According to many critics of the media, Nigeria is in need of an ideal journalist working in an ideal media house “but in a country like ours, where the advertisers more than the readers determined the survival of the medium of communication, the consumers of these information have to take any junk of information thrown to them, Malam Ibrahim Wamdeo, a public commentator in Maiduguri implied.

According to Dr. Muazu the ideal journalist is what we usually strive for but in real life you cannot fine an ideal journalist because when you say ideal you are looking for somebody who is perfect. I agree that there are certain practices that can be considered in evaluating a journalist of quality, he implied.

“Given the context in which journalist operate in Nigeria it is expected all those issues that are raising questions around the profession should be eliminated as much as possible. So an ideal journalist in that context should be that journalist who understands the demands of the profession of journalism in terms of the quality of selecting sources, balancing stories, being objective and not being partisan and one who focuses on issues of relevant to the society” said Dr. Muazu.

The readers of a reporter of a news medium depends on the goodwill or otherwise of that reporter who is working at the outstation under less supervision of his/her employers he or she covers every beat, in every where in his state and also converse for advertisements. Despite the limitations he is subjected to he cannot risk being querulous to his employers in other not to lose his ‘editor–in–chief’ status. He becomes so influential especially when he is good at either intimidating his sources or woos them to maintain his grip on news. He depends on his colleagues who witness an event in his absence to forward it to his mail for him to change the caption and intro before sending it to his employers without bothering the reliability of what he is sending it.

Finally, he becomes over sensitive towards his junior colleagues especially the ones working under him in other not to grab some of the carcases around; he is always looking for faults, which in turn, undermines team work in achieving what is ideal.

According to Dr. Muazu one of the contributing factors to the widespread disillusionment over the print and broadcast media of late is the near death of professionalism or as Obiora Chukwumba of the Nigerian Film and Videos Censors Board will have it “lack of exclusivity”. The period where reporters struggle to be ahead of one another to publish the news and to be unique is fading away. “Today, if I give a reporter a news item and a couple of thousands of naira, tomorrow I will see the news item in more than ten Dailies”, said a serving Commissioner in the Borno State Government. “When I got that news item with some cash to support myself, I sent it immediately, what is wrong with that?” A reporter in one of the leading weekly news medium wandered.

“The media people tend to emphasise event rather than process, because they are working with the question of datelines, there is a time that they must submit stories and this is guided by the fact that they use western use of value of timeliness, personality or prominence, conflict and usualness consequence and trauma e.t.c to determine what goes out to the public. So if the emphasis is on that, certainly the character of report will be event oriented” said Dr. Muazu.

Even well intentioned journalist because they are made to file their reports during or after an event within the limited time given to them they misrepresent their facts and misinformed the general public in some cases. If you look at most of newspapers including radio and TV stations as much as they tried hard they have only one correspondent covering the whole state and that correspondent is working under a lot of limitations except for one or two papers.

“So you find most of these reporters going for the best option, they go to the government house on a daily basis because that is where they can easily get stories and easily reach their editors using government facilities, if they go out especially to the rural areas facilities are not there or are very unaffordable while it will be difficult for them to meet their datelines. “News about government is also good and important you can’t say it is not good even though it is over emphasised”, said Dr. Muazu.

The misguided Ministry of Information

In Nigeria, the minister of information thinks his job is just to defend the President and the government whenever there credibility are at stake this is how the ministry is conceptualised mainly, rather than make the entire information sector profitable and vibrant. According to many analysts it is only in the newspaper business that a manufacturer does not require a deposit or guarantee deposit from a distributor before the products are taken by the so called distributors and vendors.

Today what obtains is that the distributors and vendors require the manufacturers who in this case are the publishers, to appease them, to cloth them and generally to pamper them yet the distributors and vendors whether they engage in effective marketing or not at, all at the end of the day, they either make some cash from those that offer 50 – 100 naira to read a handful of newspaper on the newsstand without picking them and the distributors and vendors return them as unsold copies. The pressure risk suffered as a result of the lack of commitment by the distributors and vendors are unbelievable.

The newspaper proprietors association of Nigeria has been up in arms against advert agencies over an accumulated 18 Billion naira in debt to the various newspaper titles across the country. These huge debts are presently being considered as bad debts. Quality ink, paper reels, human labour and enormous time are cumulatively committed on a daily basis by newspapers to service the greed of advert agencies and distributors that incur more enlarged debt profile.

Another disturbing trend is journalists in many newspaper houses are owed salaries for months, some are not paid at all, and the implication of this problem further raised the question of ethics that confronts the media, ‘‘watchdogs have turn to beggars’’ making it possible for a lot of rubbish to get into the media.

The point of this anecdote is to articulate the need for some sort of regulation in the media; the Minister of Information must come up with an effective distribution framework for distributors and vendors, recapitalise media organisation in Nigeria to strengthened their capital base like the recent banking consolidation, and ensure that these companies take responsibility for both the conduct and the payment of members of their staff. The ministry must move in to ensure that news print and other imported materials for the media to operate are subsidised are crucial for the attainment of the kind of development the current government envisaged in 2020.

Conclusion

Nearly every newspaper comes with the same story except for the slanting and people feel cheated in their minds by the duplications. They want creativity and exclusivity, which eludes many journalists. According to many observers journalists must be employed base on practical considerations that bothers on their abilities not qualifications that emanates mostly from institutions that have not been able to curtail malpractices.

Journalist must act like commoners in the field rather than for them to maintain their illusive executive status, a reporter must be able to relate freely with his editors without the ‘rankaidade’s’ phenomenon, this will encourage a cross-pollination of ideas and closer monitoring by the less corrupt editors over the mostly corrupt reporters.

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