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At Soyinka lecture, practitioners canvass rethinking of media engagement

By Sunday Aikulola
09 August 2022   |   1:23 am
Participants at the 14th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture have stressed the need to rethink media engagement to amplify voices of the vulnerable at sub-national levels of state and local councils.

Olaide Oladayo

Participants at the 14th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture have stressed the need to rethink media engagement to amplify voices of the vulnerable at sub-national levels of state and local councils.

With the theme, “Can Democracy work without a strong sub-national media?” the participants, unanimously agreed that the imperative of sub-national media to the sustenance of democratic culture could not be over emphasised.

Moderated by former British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) presenter, Uduak Amino, they, however, identified funding as a major challenge in building strong sub-national media.

In her keynote speech, Vice Dean for Education and Academic Affairs, John Hopkins University School of Advanced and International Students (SAIS) United States, Chiedo Nwankwor, argued that journalism schools must pay attention to sub-national media.

To her, there is need for community radio to disseminate information, such as early warning information in case of conflicts and provide entertainment.

Nwankwor identified democracy as a human development project, while the media is fundamentally a democracy project. She said roles of media include, holding public office holders to account, agenda and standard setting.

She further suggested the need to engage with regulatory institutions, insisting that the “National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has to depoliticise issuance of licences and provide licence for community radio at affordable prices. We need newspapers to hold states and local governments accountable.”

While advocating media models that drive sustainable development, the academic, however, cautioned: “If we cannot build sustainable media model, then we cannot have a thriving democracy, and in the absence of that, democracy will continue to be elusive.”

Deputy Director MacArthur Foundation, Olaide Oladayo, who represented Director MacArthur Foundation, Kole Shettima, observed that in the last two decades, the watchdog role of the media has been invested at the national level.

He said the implication of this is that a significant part of what represent the Nigerian space is left underreported or not reported at all. He noted that about 52 per cent of the nation’s yearly spending goes to the state and local government levels.

According to him, “our failure in the last two decades to pay adequate attention to where the 52 per cent of our annual spending goes to is partly responsible for the underdevelopment being experienced at state and local government levels.”

Speaking on challenges, he argued that there is a deliberate attempt to gag the media. He noted that the media is depending on state patronage for survival.
He noted, “practically every politician wants to have media license. So there is a deliberate process of capturing the media space.

“Another challenge is overbearing regulations which makes it easy for the media to rather self-censor than violate rules. The regulatory body needs to rediscover itself. Its role is not only to regulate, but also put in place policies that enable the media play civic education role. Nigerians must invest and protect the media because of the critical role it adds to democratisation and development.”

The panel discussion featured Managing Director, National Point, Ibiba Don Pedro; Co-Publisher, WikkiTimes, Haruna Mohammed; Founder/Editor-in-Chief Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), Fisayo Soyombo; Executive Director, Gender Strategy Advancement International, Adaora Onyechere and Director-General, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Mansur Liman.

Pedro, like other speakers, said strong sub-national media is key to giving voices to the masses like women, persons with disabilities and other marginalised groups.

Sharing her experience, she said when “I worked with The Guardian, I would travel from Lagos to the Ogoni or Bayelsa communities, do my story and dash back to Lagos. It was then I won the CNN award. I met great men like former South African President, Nelson Mandela and former US President, Barrack Obama.

“The totality of the sub-national media is what makes the media. So, we need media keeping up with issues and staying on course.”

Speaking further, she said the people of Nigeria Delta matter, because they are battling powerful oil companies, who destroyed their environment.

Concerning funding, she said, “I told Dr. Shettima that at the National Point, we need to be realistic. We cannot rely on grants alone. We need to fund set-ups, support businesses, including going into agriculture.”

Haruna insisted that the media must speak truth to power and hold leaders to account, particularly at the sub-national level.

He lamented, “my worry is that the media at the sub-national level is weak, lacking the knowledge and capacity to identify red flags, corruption, and be able to report authoritatively and convincingly. There is also need to sustain partnerships and collaboration.”

Soyombo stressed the need for the masses at the sub-national level to be enlightened about the roles of the councils. He also said there should be no loopholes in investigative work, stressing that investigative journalists should not turn themselves as tools in the hands of politicians. He advised journalists to carry out investigative work within their budget.

Quoting Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Onyechere said the greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism. She called for collaboration between those at the sub-national level and those at the centre.

She said community journalism is the only way forward in expanding the voices of marginalised groups. She advised media to articulate issues, expand conversations and dissect policies to the masses.

Mansur stressed the need for donor organisations to finance public media.
According to him, “donor organisations think the public media is working for the government but I think people should understand that given the right leadership, I think the public media will work the way it should.”

He further cautioned journalists against resorting to self-censorship and called for improved conditions of service, noting that adequate finances must be provided for the media to interrogate issues.

The event also provided platform for the launch of the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability (CMEDIA) project of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ)

Executive Director, WSCIJ, Motunrayo Alaka disclosed that the CMEDIA Project is a multi-level intervention for media independence and government accountability.

With support from the MacArthur Foundation, she added CMEDIA is working through 26 partner organisations to improve transparency, accountability and good governance and amplify marginalised voices especially at state and local government levels and the private sector.
She identified minority voices as women, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

Conclusively, she also revealed that the project would encourage investigative stories and capacity of media houses would be built technically and organisationally.

The lecture series was first held in 2008 to put topical issues on the front burner through conversations about the perceived performance of the media on the health of the country and its democracy. The tradition of holding the event on July 13 started in 2009 in a bid to honour Prof. Wole Soyinka, who was 88 this year.