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Freezing of media awards, implications for investigative, interpretative reporting

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Member Board of Trustees, Nigeria Media Merit Award (NMMA), Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye (right) and member of the Panel of Assessors, Yeye Omobolanle Olatunde (middle) presenting the Editorial Writing of the Year award to the Editor, Guardian On Sunday, Kabir Alabi Garba, for The Guardian Newspaper at the 2020 NMMA grand ceremony in Lagos. PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

The best journalist may not necessarily be an award winner. However, winning awards has a lot of advantages for good journalists and the organisations they work for.

The validation that comes with emerging winner in a local or international competition is not only inspiring to the winner, but sometimes, it’s also a basis for determining the worth of a journalist when crucial decisions are taken about them beyond where they work or are known.

From 1990, when the Nigeria Media Merit Award (NMMA) was established with the primary aim of encouraging and rewarding excellence in media practice in Nigeria, the awards have encouraged healthy competition among journalists and media organisations.

With the doyen of Nigerian journalism, Alhaji Babatunde Jose, as the founding chairman and pilot for the first 10 years, NMMA has evolved to become an influential platform for a yearly re-union of media veterans and practitioners.

Some other awards like Diamond Awards for Media Excellence (DAME) Awards, The Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist of the year Award, Promasidor Quill Awards, PwC Media Excellence Awards, Nigerian Breweries Plc’s Golden Pen Awards, Nestlé Nigeria Media Awards, Nigerian Academy of Science Media Award, Peak Milk Nutrition Awards followed.

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The Guardian checks, however, revealed that some of these awards no longer exist. Among them are Promasidor Quill Awards, Nigerian Breweries Plc. Golden Pen Awards, Peak Milk Nutrition Awards and CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year Award.

In a joint statement issued by CNN and MultiChoice in 2018, they noted: “Following a thorough review of the African Journalist Awards, CNN and MultiChoice have come to the difficult decision to not continue the awards. While we remain committed to championing quality journalism in the future, continuing a traditional awards programme of this scale was no longer sustainable.

We have been immensely proud to celebrate African journalism through this awards format over the last twenty years and honoured to meet and support the many inspiring young journalists who have since grown and developed their careers over the years. We thank the many judges, companies and institutions who have supported the awards during this time.”

An official of Promasidor, who refused to be quoted, said the primary reason for the suspension of the awards by his company is finance. He noted that the economic climate last year was harsh as a result of COVID-19 pandemic and there is no way the awards would hold this year.

Ibiba Don Pedro, the CNN African Journalist of the Year award in 2003, said the freezing of awards scheme “is a morale dampener for journalists and media organisations that they represent. We need the events back — the celebrations, the accolades, the recognitions and the encouragements to do even better reporting and more impactful work.”

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The lady, who had won the Reuters-IUCN media Award 2000 (English-speaking Africa) for excellence in environmental reporting in Amman, Jordan, believes that competing for awards provides opportunity for journalists’ works to be assessed beyond where they work along with other colleagues locally and internationally.

Ibiba, the Managing Director/Publisher National Point Weekly, said, “Being recognised is public acknowledgement of quiet, tough, often dangerous undertakings by a journalist.”

She continued, “My work in the Niger Delta were mainly depressing undertakings especially getting to communities where people have been slaughtered by vile elements funded by politicians, many who claim to be Knights of Saints this and that; or visiting a community where a pregnant young woman just died in labour. Depressing still, when you have been burned or baptised, then lifted by the recognition that your work brings, it marks you out as being too big to fit into the small side pockets of small politicians, for instance, who ordinarily wants to shut your voice, speaking up writing against corruption, impunity vile sickening, such as has occurred in the Niger Delta. Personally, I got recognition and met humanity’s bests including the Madiba.”

Also speaking, former publicity/ social secretary of Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Ken Ugbechie, said, “the freezing out of media awards could be economic. Some of these awards are industry based, usually sponsored by corporates, so the economic downturn in recent years may have been the chief reason for the suspension or discontinuation. But I wish they were restored because such awards push journalists to be competitive in their reportorial duties. It encourages investigative journalism as well as in-depth interpretative reporting.”

He said, “We all know that when a corporate organisation begins to cut operational cost for reasons verging on keeping afloat, its media budget that suffers the most.”

Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Lanre Arogundade, noted that the suspension reflects the worsening Nigerian economic situation.

According to him, “the media is also suffering from the situation; hence stopping the awards is like a double jeopardy. The major implication is that it limits the scope of rewards for good journalism. It is good that the award systems remain even though they too are facing challenges. In this regard, it is worth saluting the resilience.”

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Chairperson, The National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) Lagos State Chapter, Adeola Ekine, noted: “As the fourth estate of the realm, journalists are also tasked to set the agenda for the government as well check excesses. There are plans and structures to encourage journalists, especially Nigerian journalists, to provide quality coverage of issues. Their responsibility surpasses completing task and meeting deadlines.”

She added that though conferment of awards encourages journalists and news organisations to strive to do their best, “I will encourage these corporates not to relent on sponsorship and promotion of media awards because in doing so, they are promoting media excellence.”

Ekine said: “Prizes, be them cash or training, are also attraction. Awards and prizes provide benchmark and inspiration for outstanding work. They also give important and lasting recognition to work that took courage or put journalists in harm’s way.

The CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year was held last in 2016 as well as Promasidor Quil Awards and few others.

Ekine’s advice to journalists is that their main focus should be excelling in their practice irrespective of whether there are awards or not.

While saying that the suspension of awards could be attributed to organisational policies, funding and recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, she believes that there is not much effect it will have on journalists because their role and social responsibilities centre on informing, educating and enlightenment.

Speaking further, she said with or without awards, journalists get rewarded. They have a sense of fulfillment when reports and stories get the desired reportage as well as adequately published or aired. Societal ills are projected and condemned on a daily basis through follow up.

“When a journalist is recognised, it serves as a moral booster as well as encourages colleagues to aspire for subsequent awards. There is dignity in labour. However, journalists must engage and adopt meaningful and in-depth investigation to unravel both local and international issues.”

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Former Editor, The Nation Newspapers and Executive Director, Media Career Development Network, Lekan Otufodunrin, noted that media awards are good incentives for acknowledging and rewarding excellent journalists.

The media career development specialist, why explaining reasons awards should be given due consideration by journalists, said, “it’s unfortunate that some of the major ones like the very glamorous CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist of the year is no longer held by the sponsors. It is necessary to sustain media awards, not because it should be the ultimate achievement for journalists but to serve as an impetus for good journalism practice. The benefits of winning the awards are numerous for journalists, including enhancing their careers and expanding their networks.”

On his part, Programme Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Ayode Longe, observed that some media awards may no longer be taking place but others are. He, however, said there are other numerous local and international awards, fellowships, grants and competitions still being organised for journalists and media professionals in various fields of media practice, depending on individual journalists to deliberately look out for them and apply.

“I know for instance that DAME Awards still holds and West Africa Media conference and Excellence Awards (WAMECA) are still holding. A journalist who is interested in these opportunities only needs to subscribe to the MRA and ICFJ newsletter to have access to these opportunities,” he stated.

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