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Practitioners x-ray media 60 years after independence, seek professionalism

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The media, arguably, contributed greatly to the attainment of independence in 1960. Many believe that Nigeria’s ‘war’ of independence was fought on the pages of newspapers, unlike many other African countries.

Daily Times, which was established in 1926, contributed to the actualisation of independence through the manner it deployed all weapons in its arsenal to attack the colonial government. West African Pilot, owned by the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, established in 1937, was equally dedicated to fighting for independence. Similarly, Nigerian Tribune was established in 1949 by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo to raise national consciousness was not fet out. However, 60 years down the line, practitioners and stakeholders have taken a swipe at the nation’s media space, expressing concern over the shrunk landscape caused by social media intruders. They stressed the need for professionalism to be fully entrenched in the industry.

In a chat with The Guardian, Professor of Mass Communication School of Communication, Lagos State University (LASU), Lai Oso, said, “there have been moments of triumphs and failures. During the military, the media stood its ground and fought for democracy with other civil society organisations. But sometimes, you feel a little bit disappointed with the report you get these days. For instance, you read newspapers and it is as if Armageddon is close by. There are too many negative stories. We tend to hand over to people who see nothing good about the country. I don’t think that is right. There are areas the country should be proud of, which the media is not highlighting enough. Development in the railway is something quite salutary, especially if the government can link all the state capitals through it.

“If you look at our challenges, there are historical reasons for some of them, which the media is not educating enough. We just concentrate on the moment. Like the fuel increase, I think we should be realistic enough to say that we can’t continue that way. Something has to give way if we want the country to be sustained. I think the media should concentrate more on why we have some of these challenges, not just saying we have problems.”

Former governor of Ogun State and Managing Director, Daily Times, Olusegun Osoba, said: “We are becoming endangered species because media have been heavily infiltrated by gangsters, who describe themselves as journalists. I know that modern-day journalism is now heavily online in practice and I fully support our orientation towards modern-day online practice. Unfortunately, some charlatans, who are neither trained as journalists nor members of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, who have not subscribed to our code of conduct, are the ones now using the Internet to embarrass the profession. Many of these untrained people are pure blackmailers and extortionists.”

Similarly, veteran broadcaster, Bisi Olatilo, said: “The media space has been kind to us, but I will tell my colleagues not to amplify the bad side of Nigeria. Every country has a bad side. Let us trumpet the good side about Nigeria. We are talking about tourism; a lot of countries are making money from tourism. So, if in our own way, we drive away prospective tourists, whose fault will that be? We should learn to celebrate ourselves.”

For former Minister of Information and Culture, Tony Momoh, “at independence, there was professionalism. But now, the media has been liberalised. The world has become a global village because of the communication explosion. Nobody could have foreseen this at independence that there would be a day when children, men, women, old, young would claim to be communicators. Everybody is now a journalist. What we were taught then was: ‘if you are in doubt, leave out’. In other words, you’ll investigate everything you want to publish to be sure it is true. But due to the proliferation of the media, everybody is now a journalist and the motto is no longer: ‘If you are in doubt leave out’. But now: ‘If you receive, share.” People don’t even read what they are sharing. Now you have hate speech all over and attempt to regularise social media. Now that everybody is a communicator and transmitter, then you know that it is impossible to control social media. The only way to tame social media is to strengthen mainstream media.”

He said: “Traditional media should be strengthened to promote the professional standard. If the traditional media is not strengthened, the social media will overtake it and people will depend on them more than the traditional media. If the mainstream media is strengthened, social media will depend more on the mainstream media. They should not publish falsehood. Ownership is also key. You can own operate and establish a medium to provide ideas and opinions to those who want it. Anybody that establishes a medium must ensure to fund it. So, this question of having media without paying journalists exposes them to manipulation. Anyone who wants to establish any medium must have a good printing press and hire professionals that are well catered for competitively.”

Osoba does not support any control of social media neither does he support hate speech. “My suggestion or solution is that true practitioners should go online and invade the Internet heavily and create credible content, promote 0stories that are credible and handled professionally. Internet is producing news platform and readers respect those who carry genuine stories, if at the age of 81, I’m adapting to online practice, we should learn to do the same.”

Continuing, he said: “It is true there is fake news. I have been a victim of fake news. If there is anybody that should be at the forefront of control of social media, I should be the one, but that does not mean we should create an Act to punish the innocent for the misdemeanour of non-professionals. All over the world, there is fake news and we must fight it.”

Buttressing Momoh’s opinion, Oso, however, said, “if you want professionalism in the mainstream, you must take care of the journalists. That is welfare and empowerment in terms of their professional skills. Readers will be willing to consume what they get in the mainstream and shun social media. If the mainstream media becomes more credible, the effectiveness of social media will greatly be reduced.”

Oso said: “If you read what people post on these platforms, it is really terrible. But we need to be careful about hate speech because this is a concept difficult to define. That is where the Minister of information, Lai Muhammed, is missing it. In a country of multiple ethnicity and religion, it is very difficult to define hate speech. So, in protecting our rights, Nigerians are right by resisting Alhaji Mohammed’s approach to hate speech. It’s a controversial issue all over the world. Government too is using hate speech in a very subtle way. Branding some people as agitators is a sort of hate speech — and that is the essence of hate speech to put some people in ridicule and these people are fighting for what they consider to be genuine.”

Similarly, Bisi Olatilo stated, “professionals must stick to what our profession says. We should not be sensational. If you are not sure of any fact, just leave it out, that was the way we were taught.”

On the future of media in the country, Osoba said in his days, ordinary landline telephone was a luxury. “Today, you can access major international media, BBC, Voice of America online. Things are far easier. So I see a brighter future but that future will largely depend online. Anybody to be employed in the mainstream now should be highly educated in information technology. I have recommended that media houses should reduce the physical attendance of staff. In the era of information technology, the reporter can work from anywhere; they don’t have to report to the office. Anybody who is not highly educated in information technology should not be fit to practice. There will be media forever and there will be high technological development.”

Olatilo, however, advised media practitioners to take advantage of social media. “We should try and take our own portion.”


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