Media agenda for Tinubu’s administration
With the inauguration of a new government, media professionals have drawn attention to critical areas that should not only engage the administration, but one that it should give utmost priority.
Over the years, successive administration have failed to recognise the constitutional role of the media as Fourth Estate of the Realm. Journalists are often victims of police brutality, harassment, torture, and sometimes, assassination in the course of doing their work.
Recently, International Press Centre (IPC), while presenting its 2022 report, noted that not less than 66 media practitioners were victims of abuse across the six regions of the country.
According to the report, four journalists were attacked in the North West, 16 in the North Central, six in the North East, 26 in the South West, four in the South East, and 10 in the South South.
Additionally, it was stated that the primary perpetrators of attacks on journalists nationwide were federal parastatals, members of the public and security agencies.
However, the Executive Secretary, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Yemisi Bamgbose, believes they should promote free and fair press. To him, the media, as stipulated in the Constitution, should be the watchdog of the society, and therefore, should hold public officers accountable.
“If that is done, government will perform very well. But if it tries to chain the media and focus on other things, it will eventually fail at the end of the day.”
Speaking further, he insisted, government should ensure that hindrances in the way of the media is removed.
“For example, all obnoxious laws and regulations that make media to be too careful in conducting its business should be removed. I want to believe the Nigerian media is highly responsible and it is because of what I’ve seen in many decades. Nigerian media is one of the best in terms of responsibility, ability to handle public and national interests issues,” he stated.
Bamgbose also stressed the need for the NBC Act to be reviewed. He advised NBC to call all the stakeholders and look at the Act holistically. He expressed optimism, “when they come together, they will be able to put in their professional advice and come out with an Act that will be acceptable to everybody. There is nobody that is saying if anybody violates the Act, he should not be sanctioned. All over the world there are processes of sanction. But what we are saying is that it must not be arbitrarily. NBC must not be the accuser, the judge and also collect fines.”
On safety of journalists, he raised the need for government to bring to book those that harass and victmise journalists.
”Government usually look the other side, especially if it is an agency of it that is responsible for the brutalisation. That is why the harassment has continued.”
He noted that if government brings to book those that are responsible by taking them to court. It will serve as deterrent to others. He, however, cautioned that “any media that is being humiliated, bastardised will not be able to perform optimally and for any media to perform optimally, there should be guarantee of safety of their lives and the property they are using.”
In a similar vein, President Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Mustapha Isah, said the government should ensure the Act setting up the NBC be amended to reflect the democratic dispensation.
He recalled the Act was set up during the military dispensation.
“The Guild is not saying there should not be regulation, but not over regulation. Powers given to NBC to impose fines without even defending themselves is what they have done.
“We are saying there should be an independent body that will look at such infractions before a fine can be imposed.
“In one day, NBC imposed fine on 45 broadcast stations- N500,000 each. Any little infraction, NBC imposes fine and that is why Media Rights Agenda (MRA) went to court. NBC is acting as accuser and a judge. In the UK, there is Ofcom, equivalent to NBC. If there is any infraction, a committee is set up to investigate and the media house is called to defend itself. That should be replicated in Nigeria.”
Isah further argued, “we are the fourth estate of the realm but they don’t see us as that. They see us as adversary. There is suspicion. There is no trust. Those in government felt the media is trying to set the country on fire. The press think those in government are trying to hide information. When we request for information, they hardly give us freely despite the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. We should be partners in progress.”
Advising the Tinubu administration to look into the high cost of newsprint, he observed every newspaper now imports newsprint at very high costs.
“The dollar is high, even to clear it from the port is an issue. Why can’t government say importation of newsprint should be duty free?”
Insisting the media have to be respected as the fourth estate of the realm, CEO Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), Motunrayo Alaka, identified journalists as duty bearers for the voiceless in the society and must be protected by security agencies.
To this end, she advocated engagement of media executives and security agencies on the need to ensure journalists are protected and respected. She further stressed the need to reach a consensus on using tax payers money to support freedom of expression.
Noting issues around poverty and plight of the vulnerable must be addressed, Alaka added the incoming administration must be intentional about this. Noting other sectors enjoy certain benefits from the government, he said nothing comes to the media.
“Like power sector intervention or aviation fund, why not media intervention fund?” He queried. He also said the Media Complaints Commission needs the cooperation of the government.
“We believe in self-regulation. If there is any issue, complaints could be made to the commission. The members of the commission are senior colleagues,” he said.
Noting issues around poverty and plight of the vulnerable must be addressed, Alaka added the incoming administration must be intentional about this.
“Democracy has to work for them- Persons With Disabilities (PWDs), women, young people, children and the poor have to be protected. In the first one hundred days, they need to prove it.
“I think the vulnerable are exposed to danger more than ever before. COVID-19 has further increased this exposure and many people are struggling to eat,” she stated.
Another issue, she observed, is gender representation. She insisted representation of women in government is too low. Describing the nature of democracy as representative, she submitted there are women who can rule the country.
“We have missed it electorally but we can correct it through ministerial appointment,” she advised. Lamenting poor infrastructure in schools, she stressed the need to invest in education.
“Security of children is not guaranteed. The state of schools is bad. How can our children compete internationally when they are not taken care of domestically?” She queried. She also harped on the need to redeem the image of the country.
To her, there could be diaspora campaign on how to change the narrative. She suggested the need for everyone to speak well of the country, noting the new administration must make conscious efforts to re-build the nation’s reputation.
On his part, CEO Diamond Publications Limited, Lanre Idowu, said the incoming administration must respect rule of law and halt punitive sanctions by the NBC by putting in place a non-partisan broad based board.
He also said government must eradicate fawning journalism in public owned media that nobody respects and replace it with a developmental journalism that will arouse public interest and better patronage.