How to curb abuse of state-owned information organs (2)
The remarks by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed during his interface with the heads of Federal Government-owned media establishments has continued to generate interpretation among communication scholars and professionals.
At the meet in Abuja recently, the Minister had said, “It is true that while we were in opposition, we were treated as outcasts by these public broadcasters. They denied us the use of their platforms, they rejected our adverts and even made themselves available for the most abhorrent hate campaign ever in the history of electioneering campaign in our country.
But in an era of change, which is our mantra, that cannot and will not continue. Opposition members are Nigerians, just like members of the ruling party. Even the ruling party will benefit when the opposition is allowed to air their views freely, because you learn more from people who disagree with you. Therefore, let the ruling party and the opposition air their ideas and let the people, who wield the ultimate power, decide at the end of the day.
While General Secretary, Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN), Prof. Nosa Owens-Ibie canvassed engaging the Minister’s statement contextually, the President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Alhaji Abdulwaheed Odusile said the remarks mirrored “recent past concerning the attitude of government/public broadcasters to the opposition.”
According to Prof. Owens-Ibie who is also Dean, College of Social and Management Sciences (COSOMAS), Caleb University, Imota, Lagos, “the definition of public broadcasting flows from ownership/control.
“The Peoples Democratic Party controlled the centre and some states, just as the All Progressives Congress and the All Progressives Grand Alliance had states or a state they controlled. The evidence is that the slant of news coverage and programming basically tilted towards the party in power at either the state or federal.
The consequence was cases of rejection of adverts or inadequate coverage of opposition activities across the divide. Private media also pandered to commercial considerations and the political preferences of their ownership with, also, a varying accommodation of hate materials in the process. A few private media were exemplary in largely rising above partisan encumbrances.
On what could be responsible for the conduct of public broadcasters as painted by the Minister, NUJ President mentioned funding of these broadcasters by the government, as the operatives within the organisations might want to please the funder always.
But even where there are no express instructions for these broadcasters to blackout the opposition by government, some persons in these organisations would still want to do such in order to be seen as protecting the interest of government.
“This could also be traced to the pedigree of those appointed to head such broadcasting stations or strategic positions. More often than not, they are partisan people even if they are journalists. In extreme cases, non-journalist and party card-carrying persons are even appointed. The Ofonagoro example in the second republic comes to mind. This is also allowed to continue in the absence of an industry based, independent regulatory body to call these broadcasters to order when they commit ethical misconduct,” Odusile said.
“Poverty, job insecurity, weak institutions and the pressures from cultural, ethnic and religious environments are complicit,” reasoned ACSPN scribe, adding that, “since individuals drive the manifestations in public broadcasting, whatever we saw or are seeing is an indication of fixable dislocations in society and its systems and processes.”
The communication scholar identified “a mix of theories” capturing this scenario. This, he explained, would include “Conflict Theory and its interrogation of the power structure; Framing Theory which examines the structuring of the news and the promotion of agendas; Development Media Theory which places demands on the media within the development agenda of countries like Nigeria, to Social Responsibility Theory…”
Alhaji Odusile wouldn’t want to see the scenario from totalitarian perspective “as a semblance of objectivity and fairness is sometimes displayed by these broadcasters, especially after some form of public outcry,” he argued.
He however decried the disposition of people under that circumstance as they, according to him, “are divided on the issue and regrettably, along partisan lines. So this lack of unanimity on the part of the people to condemn this act by these broadcasters encouraged them to continue with some air of impunity in the past and are likely to continue to do so at the slightest opportunity to please the government.”
Prof. Owens-Ibie believed that “the only thing they (people) needed/need is to have been or be leaders with an understanding of the logics of effective and responsible leadership in a democratizing society. Ethical commitment to the principles of good governance is vital.”
On whether the ruling party will be able to walk the talk with emphasis on the Minister’s assurance that “that cannot and will not continue,” Caleb University don said, “it is fairly early to be categorical. There is no doubt however that the government is conscious of the huge expectations and the willingness of civil society, the media, cultural roups, social media community and the international community to hold it/them accountable to their election promises.”
Odusile concurred too: “It is too early in the day to say whether the Buhari administration will walk the talk in this regards, although the signs are there.”
Is media environment in Nigeria ripe enough to foster the opposition being “allowed to air views freely”, Prof Owens-Ibie said, “Whatever qualifies government to air its position also qualifies the opposition to air theirs within ethical limits. Time is required to better assess how the professed commitment of the government is translating and would translate. The domestication of the Freedom of Information Act in all states and its monitored implementation are useful next steps.”
To Odusile, “That time would never come. All we need of our media, particularly the public broadcasters is to follow the ethics of the journalism profession strictly and for the government to fund them adequately and independent of the public purse. Once this is done, the tendency to pander to the government would be reduced if not removed and the public broadcaster would be free to truly serve the interest of the public.”
While the NUJ head canvassed change of the law establishing these media organisations to reflect their status as public broadcasters in addition to complete privatization in order “to make them truly public owned/funded and free,” ACSPN scribe stated that “Change should permeate the system, including bureaucratic processes, but not change for the sake of change or as a mere slogan.