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Media, democracy and future of Nigeria – Part 2

By Dapo Olorunyomi
03 August 2021   |   3:00 am
The bottom line is that if the media is bedraggled in the sense of growth and sustainability, it cannot perform the essential functions of democracy and it does not matter if we are talking of public media


Continued from yesterday

The bottom line is that if the media is bedraggled in the sense of growth and sustainability, it cannot perform the essential functions of democracy and it does not matter if we are talking of public media or private independent media. I speak a little bit of state media here because I think media. The critical question we need to confront therefore is how to fix the crippling crisis of the media in the country.

Local media especially those funded and supported traditionally by the government are today in a dog-house and they need urgent revival if we want to build our democracy. Definitely, the Federal Ministry of Information can be better engaged to lead a thoughtful mission in this regard.

Australian government to the rescue
The Australian government has taken a sensible step with the initiative on News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code and my wise counsel to Mr. Lai Mohammed is to borrow a leaf here.

This official initiative announced its case this way: “The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code will address concerns identified by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in its July 2019 report on digital platforms. This report found that a substantial loss of advertising revenue over the past 15 years has left many Australian news businesses struggling to survive.

Spending on print advertising fell from $7.9 billion in 2005 to just under $1.9 billion in 2018 according to the ACCC. At the same time, digital platforms are thriving. Expenditure on online advertising in Australia rose from around $1 billion in 2005 to $8.8 billion in 2018 according to the ACCC. “

Regulating the media
The restraining principles on the media are not new. They have ranged from outright bans to curtailing freedom through draconian legislations and statutes. Then states have set up agencies like the Nigerian Press Council to which the independent media organisations have robustly pushed back saying peer regulation is a better option. Government and its agents have suggested that the absence of enforcement mechanisms makes peer regulation sound like a do-nothing option.

However, as many countries today are seeing, media organisations can draft their own regulatory instrument and seek the backing of parliament to make them statutory. Such statutory regulation can help remove the scare on both sides. So that brings us to the essential argument why we need regulation today? One is that the framework of those who do journalism has expanded beyond the received notions of the pre-digital age. We have bloggers and citizens practicing journalism today. So do far better work than established institutions because they stay faithful to the ethical imperatives of journalism. They are defined by principles of truth and accuracy in their reporting and they subject all claims in their reporting to the most withering verification. They understand the public good goals of the media and assert the independence of their platforms. What else do we demand of them?

If the footprints of journalism have spread so wide, responding to the reality of the new times, to be sure, the ethical contexts demand an expanded meaning and implication. The central principle in ethics theory has always been a concern to make whole again, that which has been blemished. The next port of call, therefore, is a simple, easy walk to freedom! We ask the question why is the media behaving poorly? And ask again how we can fix the problem so that we can mitigate the possible harm.

The problem can be anticipated, and a strategy of containment put in place to address it before things get worse. The point to constantly have in mind is that good journalism makes the whole ramification of society and unquestionably democracy, do well. The French and the Scandinavians have a system of obligatory subsidy to the media annually and that does not make their media a groveling institution. Last year France handed over €1 billion in direct and indirect financial assistance from the State to national and local newspapers and publications.

State subsidy for media
According to the government figures, some 326 newspapers and publications were given direct financial support in 2015 totaling €77 million. Does anyone think this has muted the French Press? But it comes as a model that deserves attention and scrutiny.

The Australian model is yet another and it certainly appears well reasoned. Yet other models contend. Economics professor Julia Cagé writes in her book “Saving the Media: Capitalism, Crowdfunding, and Democracy,
argues that “There have never been as many information producers as there are today. Paradoxically, the media have never been in worse shape,” she then proposes a new business model for news organizations, inspired by a central idea: that news, like education, is a public good. Her model is inspired in part by major universities that combine commercial and nonprofit activities.

Professor Cagé’s proposal is yet different from the nonprofit newsroom model because it is rooted in advocacy for a change in tax rules and the stable provision of capital through long-term investments to give news organizations more flexibility while also decentralizing control.

Fixing a broken business model
The simple argument I have made here is that media is central to democracy and that for the fructification of the values of democracy that can enhance good governance, promote freedom and democracy, we need to focus more attention on what is broken in our journalism that makes it inoperable to deliver the best values for democratic development. My contention is that it is a business model that has gone atrophy. I also argue that it can be fixed and that the government in so far as it believes in democracy and development, has a major role to play as indeed the Australian government has shown by blazing a trail.

Seen from this perspective, therefore, the rash of laws poured into the National Assembly in 2019 to “regulate” the poor behaviour of parliament will be needless if there is an honest purpose that what is wrong in our journalism is what they intend to fix. We know better than this is not the case but if you engage public officials particularly those who are genuine about the matter, you see a genuine ignorance and probably a true desire to help with things.

To be sure, no one will see the exponential information crisis of our age and not feel a sense of bother with the mindlessly raging incidents of misinformation as indeed disinformation. The preference for policy unnourished by knowledge is one key blemish of the current government’s view that draconian legislation is the best cure for misinformation. Regulation is not necessarily a call to punitive legislation. A keen study using the resources of our best communication minds in the universities can lead to solid outcomes in ideas and policy directions that can help rebuild our media and make them serve the purpose of national progress, national security, and national development.

Your Excellency, I urge you to use the example of the energy and genius of youth to rebuild the local media in the state and make them a key driver for the development of this important gateway state that can show the country true examples in institutional building as well as in how to manage diversity to the purpose of a united polity and bold vision of progress and development.

The biggest honour is to Raheem. This has been your life. It has been one of service, one of community and one value. I urge you to renew yourself to the purpose of greater value in family, community and the ideals of freedom and liberty which took you to journalism and made you an exemplar of cherished values.

Olorunyomi, publisher, Premium Times, Abuja delivered this (excerpts) as anniversary lecture marking the 60th birthday of Alh. Raheem Adedoyin, the Oloriewe of Oro Kingdom, on Friday, 23rd July 2021.

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