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Do Nigerian journalists have capacity to hold public officers to account? – Part 2

By Martins Oloja
05 December 2021   |   3:19 am
As I was saying, the political economy of a country refers to its political and economic systems, together. The term political economy refers to a branch of social sciences that focuses on relationships

The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) House, Adeyemo Alakija Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. ISMAILA ISA HOUSE

As I was saying, the political economy of a country refers to its political and economic systems, together.  The term political economy refers to a branch of social sciences that focuses on relationships between individuals, governments, and public policy. It is also used to describe the policies set by governments that affect their nations’ economies.

THE quality or state of being accountable, especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions. When you’re personally accountable, you take ownership of what happens as a result of your choices and actions. You don’t blame others or make excuses, and you do what you can to make amends when things go wrong. To become more accountable, make sure that you’re clear about your roles and responsibilities.

Investigative Journalism Power
LET’S examine this catch-phrase from a United Nations MacBride Commission report in the early eighties: Under Rights and Responsibilities of Journalists, the Commission reiterates the role of investigative journalists this way: ‘Those in authorities often tend to conceal that which is convenient or likely to arouse public opinion against them… Active pursuit and disclosure of facts which are of public interest is one of the criteria to judge a journalist’s professional capacities…The role of the investigative journalist is to question and probe the action of those in authority and to expose them whenever there is abuse of power, incompetence, corruption and other deviations….’

Let’s look at how some practitioners define that genre of journalism. ‘The Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)’ defines Investigative Journalism as journalism that targets systemic errors, aiming to right a wrong. This is how one of the founders of the Centre, Ms Sheila Coronel summarises the definition in a case study for World Bank Institute:

‘The PCI always addresses systemic problems. We never look at individual cases or incidents unless we can put them in a wider context of important issues such as the environment, corruption or social disintegration. We are always looking at the specific case as part of a bigger pattern in order to point out what is wrong in the system. This is what makes these investigations possible….for us investigative journalism is not just techniques, it is very important to understand investigative journalism-on a philosophical level-as journalism, which holds powerful individuals and institutions for their actions. We are very conscious of the role investigative journalism can play in a young democracy in terms of enriching public debate, catalysing reforms and holding the powerful to account….’

Let’s examine journalism in this context as defined by a practitioner in a book on the press by Dr. Dokun Bojuwade, former executive of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) who retired from the old MAMSER (now NOA) in the early 90s. The unidentified practitioner in Bojuwade’s book defines the role of the press this way:

The ideal press is the First Estate of the Realm, not the Fourth…that keeps a watchful eye on the judiciary if the institution is wrongly interpreting the law…that moderates the activities of the executive if found to be presiding over a tyrannical mandate…that keeps the parliament on its toes if the body is putting out repressive legislation…

We need to get it right here as they did in the Philippines that thorough, investigative reports are capable of:
• Arousing public opinions against authorities or governments.
• Questioning actions of those in authorities.
• Exposing them whenever there are traits of corruption, incompetence and deviations.
• Drawing attention to tyranny, oppression, wrong interpretation.
• Exposing hypocrisies, double standard and allied matters…
• Exposing something somebody in power or office wants to hide.

This actually is the World Bank’s Framework on Investigative Reporting
The world-class investigative story, the World Bank Institute has been showcasing and advertising to the world in the Philippines took the investigators eight months. Tagged ‘Journalistic Legwork that Tumbled a President’, the report documented by Lars Moller and Jack Jackson for the World Bank Institute is about how a handful of Filipino journalists pulled the red carpet from under their powerful President Joseph Estrada.

The World Bank has recommended the legwork in the Philippines as a brilliant case study for journalists around the World. It is, therefore, pertinent for young journalists to understand the fact that newspapers can only be influential by the quality of regular investigative reports it publishes. It cost the Filipino investigative journalists eight million US dollars.

So, do we have the financial capacity and capitalisation to do investigative journalism, a weapon of fostering accountability in our country?

Let’s examine the data below to illustrate how a robust private sector in a jurisdiction nurtures press freedom even in global context:
Nigeria’s 2020 budget: N10.51 trillion or $29.19 billion
Nigeria’s 2021 budget: N13.6 trillion or $35.66 billion
New York State budget: $212 billion
US 2021 budget: $6.8 trillion
UK 2021 budget: £1.053 trillion pounds or $1.4 trillion USD
Google Market Capitalisation: $1.95trillion after entering $2 trillion two weeks ago.
Apple Market Cap: $2.64 trillion
Microsoft: $2.55 trillion
Amazon: $1.81 trillion
Nigeria’s Dangote Group Market Capitalisation: $14 billion USD

BBC’s earnings from TV and radio licences: £159-a-year per household. It is most times up to Ten billion Pounds.
A black-and-white advert in the U.S. edition of TIME (magazine) ranges from $77,600 for one-third of a page to $172,400 for a full page. A colour ad costs $119, 300 for one-third of a page and $265,100 for a full page. You’ll pay anywhere from $265,100 to $357,900 to get on one of the covers of the magazine.

Full Page in U.K’s Daily Telegraph is as high as £68,000 and #88, 000 in U.K’s Financial Times ‘10 x 5’. In contrast, Black and white in Nigeria full page is around N500k and colour is below N700k and the advertisers collect as much as 35 per cent commission or more. This is instructive.

McManus’s model of market-driven journalism developed in the 90s expanded Shoemaker and Reese’s model by providing an analysis of the various influences on mass media production and on microeconomic theory (Curtin, 1999).

The model states that competition and exchange in four distinct markets—for consumers, advertisers, sources, and investors drive news production. The model explained further that such exchanges take place within a cultural, technological, and legal or regulatory environment external to the media, although the external environment and the stages of news production stand in a reciprocal relationship, with influence flowing in both directions.

In essence, the media cannot be isolated from influences within the context in which it operates, which further reflects the symbiotic relationship that exists among players involved in the news production activities.

Depending on the environment, there exists a hierarchy of influence among the identified influences. While socio-economic and political factors determine the colouration of the contexts, the need to sustain a business enterprise profitably, however, makes advertisers and investors rank top influencers rather than consumers and sources in many climes, especially in developing economies like Nigeria.

The ability of news sources to wield high influence, Ojebuyi and Adekoya (2020) have argued, is reinforced by the notion that many of them also wield economic power by not just providing subsidised contents but also providing revenue to the media in form of advertisements and paid contents. With capitalism gaining ground in most parts of the world, the disruptive nature of the business environment in Nigeria and many other countries has led to dynamism in the area of business ownership and operations of such entities.

It is now commonplace to find news sources such as public relations practitioners and stakeholders equally acting as advertisers thus influencing contents to be published in the media.

The commercial pressure on the media is captured by Carlson (2015:856) below:
‘Even if journalists escape concern with revenues, news hierarchies must include managers tasked with both allocative power over newsroom resources and enhancing revenue. Decisions over the provision of resources affecting news content – bureaus, sections/desks, new positions, terminations, technological innovations and so on – are all driven by revenue.

Even with structural divides in place, we can surmise that journalists internalise the need to attract audiences – and perhaps to avoid irritating advertisers – in their decision-making.

One of the PR practitioners interviewed in Ojebuyi and Adekoya (2020) noted that:
‘…One of the biggest problems that Nigeria faces is that the media have outsourced a lot of their responsibilities to those who are not holding that media space in trust for the public and I cannot stand here to judge them because it is difficult running their businesses in Nigeria. A lot of them are poorly funded and so poorly run. So, they are not able to do the kind of investigations or make the type of editorial investment that they would have wanted to make. But I will not say that they have solely outsourced their responsibilities to PR agencies, I will say that they have outsourced it to government, media offices across all government, multinationals and corporate organisations; because at the end of the day, he who pays the piper dictates the tune…’

Newman Predictions For 2021
ACCOUNTABILITY journalism continues to get tougher as politicians look to take advantage of concerns about misinformation to tighten restrictions on freedom of speech. These trends will also be apparent in some liberal democracies (as illustrated by the controversy around France’s new national security law).

The price of talent goes up as subscription-focused platforms like Substack demonstrate the value of exceptional journalists working in a niche. But will growing pay disparities between stars and the rest create new tensions in newsrooms? 5G rollouts gather pace across the world, along with a proliferation of new devices including wearables and smart glasses. All this suggests publishers will need to prepare for a future that involves taking content and brands across more and more devices and distribution channels.

One of the key trends we highlighted in last year’s predictions report was the push towards digital subscription and other forms of reader payment. COVID-19 has given a big boost to that trend, with subscription specialist Zuora reporting that media publishing was the second fastest growing segment – after video streaming services such as Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. Average subscriptions across news, according to Zuora, were around 110 per cent higher than the year before, when comparing the months March to May 2020.

The New York Times alone has added more than a million net digital subscribers in 2020 – citing unprecedented demand for quality, original, independent journalism – and the Swedish publisher Dagens Nyheter offered open access to its website and apps for the first few months of the COVID-19 outbreak in return for an email address – subsequently converting record numbers to boost its subscriber base by a third. In the United Kingdom, the Guardian has been another beneficiary of the so-called ‘COVID bump’. It now has over a million regular subscribers and ongoing contributions – with subs for its paid-for apps growing 60 per cent.

Can subscription models eventually work for all or just for a select number of high-quality titles?

What this shows is my conclusion that we are too poor in the media industry to hold the powerful to account in Nigeria. The political economy of press freedom is too weak to support good and accountability journalism.

*Concluding part of Martins Oloja’s Keynote at the ICIR’s Colloquium On Media and Public Accountability on November 24, in Abuja