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NBC v Channels TV: Interviewers must be professional

By Bisi Olawunmi
10 April 2023   |   2:09 am
The National Broadcasting Commission ( NBC) has slammed a N5 million fine on Channels Television for an interview with Dr. Datti Baba-Ahmed which the regulatory authority considered inciting.

Channels Television is a Nigerian-based TV station.

The National Broadcasting Commission ( NBC) has slammed a N5 million fine on Channels Television for an interview with Dr. Datti Baba-Ahmed which the regulatory authority considered inciting. In its letter dated March 27, 2023 the commission gave Channels TV two weeks to pay up the fine. The NBC action has attracted many comments, mostly critical of the commission. I consider most of the reactions political. I intend my intervention to be purely from academic standpoint.

The Interview is a critical function in journalism as a major source of news in the media. It pervades virtually every aspect of journalistic endeavour from news reporting to feature writing and other writing engagements in between. In recent times, the public affairs interview on television has attained the status of flagship interview in the media, given its powerful combination of sight and sound – seeing and hearing the guest. Some interviews may be mainly to provide information and explanation on a public policy, some to celebrate an achiever while some are advocacy interviews to promote particular ideas , for instance, the resuscitation of the extended family system.

However, the most volatile of public affairs interviews are the political interviews, especially in contentious election situations. Television stations relish controversial political interviews because they generate massive audience traffic and boosts the ratings of TV stations. It is also a money spinner. But it can be double-edged – badly conducted, it can crash the reputation of a TV station if it alienates a significant section of the audience, who for whatever reasons consider such public affairs interview rabidly partisan, offensive, insulting or deprecating. Then, we need to consider the motives of both TV stations and the intent of those who make themselves available for or solicit TV interview. The TV anchor’s goal may be to railroad the guest into making statements, perhaps inflammatory, which attract screaming headlines while the guest may want to sell a particular point of view to mobilize the audience to a particular agenda. So, often, a public affairs interview is a joust between source and journalist, each trying to seize the initiative.

This takes us to the March 22, 2023 interview on Channels TV programme : Politics Today, anchored by Seun Okinbaloye with Dr. Datti Baba-Ahmed, the vice presidential candidate of the Labour Party ( LP ) as Guest. It was obvious that Datti came with an uncompromising Agenda, to stir a political cauldron. Datti’s mien on the programme had the hint of a ferocious warrior on the prowl for a political kill. He exhibited a force of personality before which Seun, the anchor, seemingly capitulated. The Anchor in a public affairs interview is expected to take control of the interview session and not allow himself to be brow beaten. Datti reversed the role in that interview and took control!!! He is not to blame, he came into the interview with a purpose, which he was determined to achieve. He wanted to send a message and would not be deterred, hence his insistence on the programme that inaugurating a president on May 29, 2023 would be unconstitutional. It was Seun who abdicated his responsibility. Granted he tried to assert his authority as Anchor to control the interview session by cautioning Datti on the volatility of his statements, but he eventually caved in, got overwhelmed and allowed repeats of the same controversial statements, after the cautioning. It was as if the interview was a broadcast version of a newspaper advertorial where the content must not be edited, but published as is, having been paid for by the advertiser, with that understanding. Given the anger exhibited by Datti at being cautioned by Seun, was there a similar payment accord understanding between anchor and source to give the guest free reign? It is a poser.

As noted by Prof. Daniel Boorstin, personality interview is a purposive interaction to generate contrived news (capitals mine for emphasis) where the journalist aims to generate news while the guest seeks ‘’to earn publicity advantage’’. He contends further that the more controversial the personality, the greater the heightened news interest in personality interviews, an understanding exploited by media mobilisers to use the media in furtherance of their agenda.

An emergent trend, not only in Nigeria but even more widely in the U.S. , is that many Anchors insert themselves into the narrative at personality interview sessions and see themselves as celebrities , doubling as participant-observers !! Another disturbing trait among these Anchors is their penchant for sermonizing – making long-winding sentences and sometimes attempting to put words in the mouths of their guests – instead of asking straight questions, a disposition common among Nigerian TV anchors. There is this injunction by Larry King, a celebrated American TV Anchor on CNN’s Larry King Live Show that, if it takes more than three sentences to ask a question, it is a bad question. Nigerian TV anchors need to heed this injunction.

As an Assistant Director of News at Voice of Nigeria (VON) and Head of News Operations between 2000 and 2005, I presided over daily editorial reviews ( post mortem ) of the preceding day’s broadcast. Is there such post mortem at Channels TV? If yes, what was the review opinion on that Seun-Datti interview? Channels TV, as a credible brand, must guard its reputation jealously. Among broadcast media barons in the country, John Momoh, Channels TV owner, is the only professional, with a mass communication degree from University of Lagos and who was an NTA reporter in his growing up years in broadcast journalism. All the others – Bola Tinubu of Television Continental, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi of AIT and Nduka Obaigbena of ARISE TV are media investors. So, John and Channels Television have greater responsibility to show the light.

There are various infractions committed by broadcast stations – radio and television – everyday. This demands that the NBC must be more proactive and extensive in its surveillance of the nation’s broadcast space. On this sanction of Channels TV over the Datti Baba-Ahmed interview, based on the requirement for professionalism in broadcast content, especially of controversial interviews in contentious situations, the NBC cannot be said to have acted contrary to the tenets of press freedom or with malice.
Dr Olawunmi, senior lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Adeleke University, Ede.