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Media stakeholders back Okunna on disaster coverage

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Stakeholders in the media industry have supported first female professor of Mass Communication, Chinyere Okunna’s advice to broadcast stations on the need for effective communication when reporting crisis such as, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prof. Okunna, who spoke at the sixth yearly lecture/ 28th anniversary of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), in Abuja, recently, insisted that the daily reeling of number of infected persons, deaths and discharged patients is not enough.

She equally said that the saturation of airwaves with jingles and procedures for preventing the spread of the virus was not enough.

According to Okunna, in doing just these, the coverage of the pandemic becomes laid back. Speaking on the topic: ‘Broadcasting Reforms and Coverage of Crises, Disasters and Emergencies’, she argued that every crisis, calls for relevant information, adding that such information could only be provided through effective crisis communication.

Continuing, she said, “complacency among Nigerians is being fueled by governors in states where there are no tests going on, resulting in zero numbers of infection or deaths from the virus, thus, creating the false impression that their states are free of the virus. Some of these governors have failed to encourage or ensure testing because they deliberately wish to take credit that their states are Coronavirus-free because their governments’ containment measures are working. Can the media, particularly privately-owned broadcasting stations, not adopt a ‘naming and shaming’ approach to expose such governors and call them to order, by reporting the absence of testing in their states?”

She noted that effective communication is right at the centre of any effort to manage a crisis/disaster/emergency effectively. Every crisis, she explained, “calls for relevant information, and this information can only be provided through effective crisis communication.”

But in a chat with The Guardian, retired General Manager, Metro FM, Lagos, Seyi Martins, said reportage of COVID-19 could be better facilitated if broadcast stations were funded adequately.

According to him, “once radio is properly funded, the message will get to where it ought to be. Broadcast stations, particularly government stations, are not funded, as they ought to be. Broadcast stations that need equipment and we want to meet up with standards. We are supposed to be meeting up with digital standards in the next few months but the equipment are so obsolete that most government stations are not particularly looked after and it is such a shame, because we are supposed to be the frontlines and to carry out the functions of educating the people and uniting the nation — but that is not happening.”

Similarly, Lagos State Council Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Dr. Qasim Akinreti, reasoned that more than ever before, broadcast stations have been extremely responsible in the area of coverage like they give daily updates on COVID 19 updates.

He added that broadcast media houses could do investigative reporting on some of the issues around COVID-19 protocols, like donations that were given. According to him, “broadcast media can do series of documentaries on the COVID-19 pandemic like what the BBC Eye did. The next question is what are the broadcast houses getting in return because the economic effect has been excruciating on the stations, although I am aware that government has given out some bail out support. If you see the 2019 report of DAAR Communications, it was a loss, the same with NTA that is to show that things are not rosy. DAAR Communications and some private stations cannot pay salary as at when due. It is only state owned broadcast media that are able to pay. Government must also assist in the area of commercials.”

In his opening remark, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, noted that Federal Government is currently implementing the reform of the broadcasting industry. It is therefore our expectation that these changes will revolutionise broadcasting in Nigeria.

Represented by Mr. Augustus Babajide Ajibola, he said at implementation, the reform would encourage open access to premium content.

Continuing, he said the law prohibits backlog of advertising debts, promote sustainability for the station owners and producers of content. More than anything else, the law on registration of web broadcasting grants the country the opportunity to regulate negative foreign broadcasts that can harm us as a nation. Such harms could be security, protection for minors and of human dignity, economic fraud and privacy.

Similarly, Chairman, Board of NBC, Alhaji Ikra Aliyu Bilbis, stated that the media “is playing a key role in entrenching true democracy and broadcasting is strategic in the value chain. In addition, the idea of sustainable development and governance will be a mirage without an effective media. Mass mobilisation is also dependent on effective media usage. So, it is important and advantageous that, as politicians, we support the National Broadcasting Commission in furthering and sustaining a professional and citizen focused broadcast media.”

Bilbis said the commission’s achievement, in its 28 years history, is laudable, he, however, acknowledged that there are still challenges to be surmounted in the industry.


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