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Why journalists must be promoted

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Finalists and judges during the 2014 edition of the CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year competition

• Sustainability argument weak for resting CNN/MultiChoice Journalist of the Year Awards
After 20 years of rewarding excellence in journalism across Africa, one of the most prestigious events that celebrate outstanding journalists on the continent came to an abrupt end in 2016. The CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year competition held its 21st awards in Johannesburg, South Africa, in October 2016.

That edition turned out to be the last as the organisers later announced they were pulling the plug on a competition, which had had a profound effect on the African media landscape since its establishment in August 1995.

“CNN and MultiChoice are proud to have run the CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year Awards for 20 years, and in that time met and supported many inspiring and young journalists who have since grown and developed their careers,” the organisers wrote on the awards’ official site.

“CNN and MultiChoice thank all those involved in the awards over the years, including our winners, judges, and partners, and we are now supporting and nurturing journalism and creativity across Africa through a range of initiatives.”

Several awards for outstanding journalists dot the African landscape including the Pan-African Reinsurance Journalism Awards, Atta Media Awards, Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling, African Digital Media Awards, Norbert Zongo Investigative Journalism Prize, and African Fact-Checking Awards among others. But none attracts as much fanfare and panache as the CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year Awards.

Media analysts say the death of the prestigious award would be a huge blow to the upward trajectory of the journalism profession across Africa.

Special Assistant on Digital/New Media to President Muhammadu Buhari and two-time winner of the awards, Mr. Tolu Ogulesi, regretted that such a fantastic platform for journalists across Africa had to be stopped. He said, “The networking opportunity it provides journalists is unquantifiable. It was one of the opportunities I can personally say helped me as a journalist; winning it twice was the biggest highlight of my career.”

Ogulesi hopes that someday, somewhere along the line the show would be revived. He, however, stressed that the company’s reason for stopping the show was justified because, “A lot of companies that sponsor shows also look at the financial benefit they can get. I am sure there are companies out there that will be willing to contribute to the development of journalism in Africa by sponsoring programmes such as this.”

Founder, Africa Check, Mr. David Ajikobi, said it was unfortunate that the award was no longer running, noting, “Any programme that aims at promoting journalism practice is always a welcome development; it is an encouragement to do more. I think there should be more of such platforms to spur journalists for greater stories.”

The CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year competition was established to encourage, promote and recognise excellence in African journalism. Since the inaugural awards held in Ghana in 1995,which saw six winners from Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda, hundreds of other journalists have been shortlisted and awarded in what was arguably the most prestigious prize in journalism in Africa.

A Premium Times journalist, Ben Ezeamalu, who was a finalist in the 2014 edition, recounted his experience thus, “The amount of preparation and rehearsal ahead of the main event ranks the competition among the top journalism awards around the world. And the quality of the journalism and the nominated journalists make it simply world class.”

The CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist Awards has been an incentive for African countries to improve their press freedom laws as they compete to host the show, and also gain valuable exposure to their country’s tourism, considering the large turnout of visitors at the ceremony, as it provided economic boost for the host country.

2017 would have marked the 22nd edition, where African journalists in print, online, radio and television across Africa would have contested for the coveted prizes. The pegs included cash prizes while the overall winner got the chance to visit CNN Headquarters in Atlanta, U.S., and also participate in the CNN Journalism Fellowship.

No doubt, organising an award ceremony such as this requires huge funding. What the organizers gain is largely in the form of corporate social responsibility, which also is a huge incentive, as they plow back a little to the community in which they do business.

Many have argued that by stopping the awards, the intellectual side of the art has been abandoned for what some obviously consider the banal. In fact, some have argued that if Big Brother Africa/Naija, which next edition will air soon is sustainable, why not the journalists award? Who reports the Big Brother show anyway?

For instance, for CNN/MultiChoice to argue sustainability as reason for stopping the award seems lame and weak. MultiChoice is a monopolist cable station almost across Africa and rakes in billions of dollars in advert earnings. So also is CNN, which enjoys prime advert patronage on the continent. Not less than five blue chip companies in Nigeria alone regularly advert and promote their products and services on CNN’s platform, and it doesn’t come cheap.

When The Guardian reached out to Executive Head of Corporate Affairs, MultiChoice Nigeria, Caroline Oghuma, on the abrupt stoppage of the show, she said, “While we remain committed to championing quality journalism in the future, continuing a traditional awards programme of this scale was no longer sustainable. We have been immensely proud to celebrate African journalism through this awards format over the last 20 years and honoured to meet and support the many inspiring and young journalists who have since grown and developed their careers over the years.”

A Mass Communications teacher of the University of Jos, Dr. Taye Obateru, stressed that in business, there were always priorities, hence the organisers of the journalists awards didn’t see the need to continue.

According to him, “If an organisation was sponsoring an award for journalists and now says it does not have funds to continue, but can continue a different show, I suspect that the latter appeals more to the youths, as it makes more sense commercially. They may think journalists’ awards are not important, and I don’t think it is fair for people to dictate for them which programmes to support or not. They are business people and we cannot fault them. It’s not a democracy.”

Also, Prof. Marcel Okhakhu of University of Benin said, “It’s unfortunate that we would rather put emphasis on things that tickle our fancy. Entertainment is good; it has its own value piece for society, but it is also essential to deliberately promote productivity and consciousness in the journalist so that he will continue to up his game, not only in the reportage of things going on in the society but also in the general growth and development of society.”

Okhakhu recounted how CNN’s multiple award-winning journalist, Christine Amanpour, came to the fore for the sheer dexterity in her reportage, which has laced all the things she has done in her journalism career.

He said, “If she didn’t get that kind of support, she probably would not have achieved the kind of fame she has today. I certainly think there should be a lot more promotion for journalists. We must also not forget that the journalist is an endangered specie. At some point, he or she pays some certain price.”


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