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Arowojobe: How The Guardian missed it

By Kunle Arowojobe
24 February 2015   |   11:00 pm
THE Guardian in its heydays as the flagship of journalism, had a constellation of professional stars, including academics who brought balance, fairness, objectivity, erudition and scholarship to the pages and made the paper very distinguished.      If you hadn’t read The Guardian, your daily newspaper menu was painfully incomplete. How would you miss reading…

THE Guardian in its heydays as the flagship of journalism, had a constellation of professional stars, including academics who brought balance, fairness, objectivity, erudition and scholarship to the pages and made the paper very distinguished. 

    If you hadn’t read The Guardian, your daily newspaper menu was painfully incomplete. How would you miss reading Olatunji Dare, Yemi Ogunbiyi. Femi Osofisan, G.G. Darah, Andy Akporugo, Odia Ofeimum, Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, Edwin Madunagu, Ben Tomoloju, Emeka Izeze, among others; and add even the professional pages of Property and Technology. The Guardian was a palatable dish!

    Of late the taste of that dish is becoming suspect and sublimely polluted if not completely diminished. The journalism profession is being put on trial and The Guardian of all papers should claim some responsibility for this professional degradation. 

    As a passionate follower of the telecommunications industry three stories brought me to this very painful conclusion. Two of the stories are in The Guardian – front page story of December 23, 2014: How Telecom Firms Cheat, frustrate subscribers; and an editorial in the edition of Monday, January 12, 2015: Nigerians and the rip-off by telecom operators. The other story is the Vanguard editorial of January 20, 2015: Ignoring GSM Challenges. For the purpose of this write-up I will stick to the two editorials of the two major newspapers writing about one issue; and perhaps a content analysis will expose the new wave of journalism that The Guardian is promoting. 

    Let’s quickly add here, however, that The Guardian is only following a pattern, which attracts a heavy chunk of the population to flagellate any performing sector most times for very selfish purposes and less for the good of the sector and the generality of the people. The telecommunications sector has become most unfortunate in this regard; berated by everybody and seen more as a revenue cash cow for various governments and their agencies and less for its relevance in the promotion of development.      

    Having made that observation, let’s return to The Guardian editorial. The report captures the big money being made in the telecoms sector in sub-Sahara Africa – N6.7 trillion in 2012. Relying on the MTN Financial Report, The Guardian wrote: “MTN generated N775.3 billion in Nigeria, as against N638.6 billion in South Africa, which is the home country of MTN. This represents a 21 per cent revenue gain in its Nigerian market. In Ghana MTN generated N133.5 billion, in Cote d’Ivoire N88.5 billion, in Cameroun 83.7 billion and Uganda N72.4 billion.” Since The Guardian is looking at some African markets and Nigeria in particular through MTN, let me also limit myself to the MTN story. The newspaper wrote an editorial, using figures to stimulate people’s emotions. It is either the author was too lazy to do any serious research, or was too limited in knowledge of the industry or plainly just embarked on the route of mischief because every piece of information today is just at the click of a button.

   The telecoms market is a game of numbers and this is the reason all over the world operators try to hit the critical mass and be able to trade in volume. I am on the MTN map of operations across Africa and the Middle East. In Nigeria, by end of March 2014, MTN had 57, 224,000 out of a population of 157.9 million and that is more than the population of South Africa which stood at 50.9 million where MTN had 24,875,000. In Ghana, MTN had 13,055,000 from a population of 25.1 million; 7, 521, 000 from a population of 22.5 million in Cote d’Ivoire; 9,236,000 from a population of 20.6 million in Cameroon; and 9, 549, 000 from a population of 34.9 million in Uganda.

    Instead of looking at its subscription figures and the overwhelming success MTN has recorded in driving market penetration, The Guardian looks the other way and believes that money is only being made in Nigeria because the regulator looks the other way for the operators to engage in sharp practices; even subscriptions, without The Guardian doing any benchmarking, are very high. This writer is challenging the newspaper to take on-net charges at peak period by Glo – 20k, MTN – 20k, Nigeria Airtel – 40k, and Nigeria Etisalat – 40k and compare them with rates in some other parts of the world. Even then, The Guardian was blindsided about extraneous cost impacting on operations in the industry that hinder friendlier tariffs but instead went superficial and surface-digging without adding value to what should have been a serious discourse. 

    The Guardian went ballistic, accusing the regulator of having unquestionable liaison with private companies. In the same editorial, The Guardian also declared that “its incredible defence of service providers suggests to discerning Nigerians that there is an unethical relationship that deflates the moral authority of the regulatory body…If corruption in official quarters hampers the prospect of proper litigious action against this socio-economic abuse, Nigerians should take advantage of the rule of law to lodge complaints.”

    Without equivocation, it is obvious to say here that The Guardian is not only spewing out litigious materials but is also abusing its position to bully and pour ignorant venom on a flagship regulator recognised globally for performance, knowing full well that most organisations are not enthusiastic about taking media organisations to court. 

   Obviously there are problems in the industry. Nobody can wish that away. The Guardian should condescend from its imperial position to provide very informed opinions and suggest the way forward to protect and promote an important industry. It should be a collective responsibility to protect an industry that affects the lives of nearly everybody in the country.

    Writing on the same industry, the Vanguard was more broad-minded to acknowledge the myriad of problems plaguing the sector while rallying every stakeholder including the lawmakers to play their role in order to create a better industry. 

   “Moreover, basic infrastructure like electricity has worsened with increased demand. Expenses on provision of electricity (generators, diesel) have been rising. Further expenses on security have not stopped vandalisation of base stations, a major cause of poor services in many areas. We are paying the price for peace-meal treatment of issues and years of delusion that the country could develop without investments in infrastructure,” Vanguard wrote.

    If one may add to the foregoing, I will want to say that the activities of the various governments, especially states and local councils are more inimical to the growth of telecommunications in the country and they hamstring every effort to make the sector friendly to telecom service consumers. 

    It is not a serious paper that plays to the gallery with emotions and innuendoes. A serious paper goes for the truth. It is only the truth that can stare a problem in the face and solve it for the good of society and its people.  

•Arowojobe, a public analyst and telecoms enthusiast, lives in Lagos.