News Analysis

Don Scores Mass Media Low in Participatory Development

Head of Department of Communication and Language Arts, University of Ibadan, Professor Ayobami Ojebode has identified commercialisation and ownership influence as some of the factors that aid underperformance of mass media in participatory development.

He stated this at the institution while delivering the University of Ibadan’s 466th inaugural lecture entitled “In search of muted voices for the mirage named development”

Professor Ojebode noted that media in Nigeria were no longer for public service as they had stopped from serving the purpose of liberating citizens and supporting them for participatory development, rather their engagement had been how to make money by all means.

“When the struggle is between serving as citizens’ voices and generating income to the station, income wins and citizens’ voices muted. Other things happen: news is co-modified, commercials offered as programmes, and key constituents of the society neglected”.

He emphasized that the deregulation of broadcasting in 1992, which made provision for private stations, resulted in making media organisations business enterprises.

“With the deregulation of broadcasting in 1992, which ushered in private broadcasting stations, competition for funds emerged. Government stations received marching orders to begin to generate revenue through advertisements and other means. Within short time, the true colours of the stations as business ventures became clear.  Mass media organisations are business enterprises out to minimise cost and maximise profit.”

Professor Ojebode decried the unprofessional act of commercialisation of news, which was disrespect for Nigeria broadcasting codes, and cited instances where news analyses were sponsored by individuals for their political interests.

“The most atrocious practice in the search for revenue and other favours was the commercialisation of news. News is sacred and serious, and should not be trifled with. In total disregard for relevant sections of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, during the 2003 elections, many stations aired whole news analyses that were sponsored by political leaders and/or their associates”.

Professor Ojebode emphasized that it would be unthinkable to expect participatory development in a situation where media had been caged by their owners, who are either politicians or business men.

“Mass media’s thirst for profit is one thing; their ownership structure is another when one thinks of their underperformance in participatory development. In our study of the ethical dilemma of journalists in Nigeria, we discovered a new three-in-one species of media owners: politicians who were businesspeople and media owners. At once, they eliminate the checks and balances that should be between politics, corporate interests and the media. Their multiple intersecting interests further reduce the elbowroom of the journalists they employ. As a result, there is a limit to what issues can be covered and how”.

“The practices emanating from this situation have assumed a lexicon of their own. The companies owned by the owner of a media organisation are called”co-owners”, and one cannot report anything negative about them. Any state headed by a politician who is an affiliate of, or a party member with a media owner is a “project state,”, and the journalist’s relationship with such a state is called “project”. The list of untouchables is infinite, as party affiliations and business interest change, so do the scope and composition of untouchables. This does enormous damage to the moral of conscientious journalists”.

The don who berated the lackadaisical attitude and selfish interests of past political administrations in the country to consider proposals on community radio, which took the coalition in charge about 15 years to achieve, maintained that granting of licences to 17 pilot community radio stations in 2015 by President Goodluck Jonathan had not only given voices to the voiceless communities but also influenced dividends of democracy at the grassroots.

“In each of these community radio stations, we hear stories of radio being used to hold government accountable, to subvert evils, and give voice to those never heard. Time and space will not allow me to detail how Nenzit Community Radio, Kaduna is promoting peace between and uniting herdsmen and farmers, and in that way saving lives and property; or how Agba Community Radio, Benue is tackling the problem of girl-child abuse door to door; or how Kakaaki Community Radio in Ondo has become a mini-repository of culture”.

“The brilliant performance despite manpower and technical constraints probably explains the decision of the Buhari administration to license even more community radio stations. In November 2018, the government granted broadcast licenses to 24 communities. The Nigeria Community Radio Coalition has again swung into action by serving and empowering these new entrants into the community radio family”.

The development communication expert who noted that social media had become the liberators of the muted voices of the people and at the same time the platforms had facilitated significant changes in matters of governance and accountability, however, said there was the need for cautions to enhance effective management. 

“Nigerians have demonstrated the power of social media as the ultimate liberators of voice. Significant changes have happened in matters of governance and accountability as citizens trooped online to make their demands known”.

“However, in assessing the contribution of social media, one has to exercise some caution. This is because every new medium has the tendency to attract public exaggeration and alarm at the start”.

Professor Ojebode also advocated the teaching of language arts in secondary schools, especially speaking skills as this would imbibe in the children the culture of participation, which would aid un-muting their voices in the future.

“The language arts–especially speaking skills– must be taught in our secondary schools in a more emancipatory and systemic way than is the case now. Today they are taught as sections of English Language where they get only casual treatment. Not only this, the state ministries of education should restore the practice of state-wide debate competitions among secondary schools, in both English and the Indigenous languages”.

In an interview, one of the participants at the inaugural lecture and Zonal Director, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN Ibadan, Alhaji Muhammed Bello said based on the submissions of Professor Ojebode media should be guided by professional ethics so as not to defeat the roles of disseminating development information to the people.

Rilwan Fasasi

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