How media personality awards impede watchdog role
Two nights later, Mr. Okowa returned to the podium, this time at DAAR Communications (owners of AIT and Raypower FM) awards, to collect ‘Outstanding Governor of the Year’ (Job Creation) award. Last December, the same governor won ‘Silverbird Man of the Year’ award at an event organised by Silverbird Group.
At another award ceremony organised by Vanguard newspapers, Mr. Okowa yet again emerged as ‘Governor of the Year 2018’ while at The Sun Newspaper’s award, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State emerged ‘Governor of the Year.’ At yet another award early in the month, Kano State governor, Ganduje was ‘Man of the Year’ at a similar award organised by New Telegraph newspaper. This was while the alleged video recording purportedly showing the governor stashing away dollars in his pockets were still making the rounds online.
Such award ceremonies organised by houses to honour politically-exposed persons have attracted concerns from media critics. And these critics have repeatedly asked, ‘why are the watchdogs handing out awards to the same group of persons they are supposed to watch and hold accountable to the going on in their respective offices, both politicians and business moguls? Are these awards designed to curry financial favours against the biting harsh economic times?’
For instance, in Vanguard newspaper award between 2012 and 2018, the personalities of the year have included Rotimi Amaechi and Aigboje Aig-Imokhuede, Emmanuel Uduaghan, Sule Lamido, Godswill Akpabio, Babatunde Fashola, Muhammadu Buhari, Goodluck Jonathan, and Godwin Emefiele. Some of the past winners of Silverbird Man of the Year include Nasir El-rufai, Adams Oshiomhole, Godswill Akpabio, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Babatunde Fashola, Peter Obi, Emmanuel Uduaghan, and Willie Obiano among others.
A few media houses, however, have tended to do things differently and in consonance with international best practices, with their ‘Man of Year’ usually being someone who stands for certain social ideals worthy of emulation. Leah Sharibu, for instance, was Man of the Year for The Guardian newspaper. Daily Trust also gave ‘African of the Year’ award to a 34-year-old Ghanian, Mutaru Mumuni Muqthar for his exemplary works on counter-terrorism, which led to de-radicalization of would-be extremists in Africa.
While critics say the award-giving ceremonies are akin to the media abandoning its constitutional role of holding those in government accountable to the people in favour of seeking patronage from them, others see the media as a business that is currently struggling to survive, saying such awards to politicians and business leaders could be a source of funding for the media, particularly since the economy is not yet structured for the kind of sufficiency that can ignore or do without government just as almost all businesses are dependent also on government.
Teacher at School of Communications, Lagos State University, Ojo, Prof. Lai Oso, said it is not the business of the media to give awards; rather, it should serve as the watchdog, adding, “When you award those you are supposed to watch, then it becomes an ethical and moral issue. Those who are involved in it are not looking at the core values of journalism, as public service, but are more into the commercial aspect of it.”
Oso also said it was important to distinguish between these awards and the western idea of ‘Man of the Year’ award, which is given based on merit, and could be on the positive or the negative.
“In this country, when people take up a practice, it must be destroyed before they back out,” he said. “For instance, look at the rate at which people are setting up private universities, primary schools and so on.”
He further stated that the award for politicians was an image-making venture, hence those politicians go out of their way to get awarded, while it is a revenue generation venture for the media as well.
Oso lamented that the awards are often not based on any known research or audit procedures, adding, “We don’t know the criteria. Today, you will hear that one governor will be the best governor in one newspaper. Then two or three days later, another newspaper will name another governor. There are different categories. For instance, the award of ‘Best Governor in Agriculture’ makes one wonder where the food is; likewise the other categories.”
He stressed that in terms of revenue generation, the awards are not justifiable as “there are some other ways the media could generate income. We know that the media, particularly the print, are going through some harsh economic period; they need to be ethical.”
For Prof. Tony Afejuku of University of Benin, there is a need to know why the media is giving out awards to politicians and the criteria used in deciding the awards.
“It could be that these awards attract advertisements to the media or the media just want to be politically friendly with those who run the show,” he said in a telephone interview. “A morally upright media house would still discharge its duty fairly. In the west, the media can give award and still bring down those who are found wanting. Look at various personalities that have recently been exposed for sexual harassment (in the west). The Nigerian media lacks the will to do this; these politicians have direct contact with the media owners and journalists are not allowed to do their job objectively, as various forces threaten them.”
A professor of journalism, Communication and Media Studies at Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo State, Muyiwa Popoola, said the point to ponder upon is “to what extent do the media awards speak of merit? To what extent have the politicians contributed to the development of the systems they preside over? When a reward is merited, it motivates the awardee or those who aspire to be awarded to do more.”
He stated that the way media houses are involved in giving out awards was an instance of political parallelism, noting, “and when interrogated further, one would find out that the media itself is now part of political solutions, and it won’t be a surprise to see the media being agents in the equation of giving credibility that is not due.”
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