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Media and socio-economic development in northern Nigeria (IV)

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By Umaru A. Pate

Consequently, the content of their programmes are hardly reflective of the multiple cultures in their areas of operation. They cannot afford to produce programmes and broadcast regular news in every language or culture. Even where they attempt to do so at enormous cost, the reach of their signals is mostly restricted to the state capitals and probably adjoining LGAs. This is a challenge that ought to be addressed by the respective governments for the broadcast stations to be able to effectively respond to the needs of the communities of the zone and by extension help the governments deliver the dividends of democracy to the electorates.
Weak Research Base: Media organisations particularly public broadcast radio and TV stations have very weak, if not zero capacities to engage in public opinion and audience surveys. Perhaps, this is just reflective of the attitude of their owners, the governments, who bother less with research to inform their policy formulations and implementations. We hardly read any audience survey or study commissioned by any media house in the zone. Ideally, regular data from the consumers of the media should inform programme conception, production and delivery. In this regard, one would expect any station that is actually broadcasting for the people to have adequate data on the following:
·    Access of people to media: The issues are: how many people, for example in a state have access to radio/TV sets, newspapers, films, and the internet? What are their favourite stations? What is the segmentation of the audiences in terms of age, sex, income, political persuasion, etc?
·    Exposure to Message: It may be important for the radio/TV house to know the kind of messages the audiences prefer to patronise. Who is listening or watching what programme? How would they want the programmes produced and presented? What are their likes and dislikes about specific programmes? To what use do people put what they derive from the stations or rather what kind of functions do the programmes serve to the people?
·    Credibility of Sources: If really the stations are broadcasting for the people, then, they need to know if the people really believe in their messages or not. What is their individual credibility rating in the minds of the community members? Credibility is the basis of believability; and believability leads to acceptability and adoption of messages. Do listeners or viewers believe in what they often receive or not?
Commercialisation: This is a very serious factor that has undermined the financial capacities of broadcast media houses in the North and indeed the whole country. Under the guise of commercialisation, many governments shy away from funding their media houses failing to realise that information is a social commodity whose benefits may not be instantly quantified in terms of money. Consequently, many of them are left to the vagaries of market forces in a poverty stricken environment like the North. This policy has undoubtedly affected the capacity and even the desire of the stations to accord any attention to the issues of the communities and the villages. One can hardly see or hear any serious, independent and well scripted programmes emanating from the stations except when sponsored or paid by some interest or concerns. Of course, without being told, one can predict that such programmes are often skewed in favour of the sponsors. Even ordinary news stories have to be paid for thereby undermining the spirit of investigative journalism and professional news judgement. This issue needs to be critically re-examined.
Political Pressures and Interferences: One of the silent but serious threats to the performance of the  media in sincerely and consistently reflecting  the true feelings and needs of the people in the zone and indeed the country is the high level of intolerance exhibited by politicians in government, particularly at state levels irrespective of which party is in control.  The non-tolerant behaviour of politicians to alternative views or options in the present dispensation is frightening and threatening to the media and the entire democratic process.  In such an environment, members of the general public maintain sealed lips and broadcast houses become exceptionally selective on whom to feature in their airwaves.  Gradually, a culture of silence envelops the states. Sycophantic elements rule the airwaves; honest citizens’ recoil into their shells and democratic ebullience takes flight. A culture of resignation, despondency and fear predominates.  As a fall out, society degenerates and broadcasting alienates itself from the communities, thus defeating the beauty of democracy and relevance of broadcasting in the minds of the local people.
Outdated and Restrictive Laws:  The laws or edicts establishing State media houses have severally restricted their internal operations, most often giving powers to unnecessary and non professional interferences by people in government instead of their boards. In many States, there are overzealous officers who have little knowledge of the role of the media but seek to censor, control and dictate appointments, content and operational framework in individual media houses. Such officials crudely exploit clauses in the various edicts to the detriment of the ethical and the social responsibility of the media as an institution.
Community Radio for Community Needs: The reality is that the present broadcast media system or arrangement in the country is elitist, overbearingly controlled and technically and financially incapable to sufficiently meet or even reflect the socioeconomic needs of locally diverse communities in the North. A simple survey in the communities of the zone would reveal that there are gaps between community needs, performance of their leaders and the extent to which they are adequately and competently represented on the local media. In other countries, they have addressed such challenges through the liberalization of the air waves by granting licenses for community radio stations that are owned and operated by communities for the communities. Here in Nigeria, we are yet to allow the operations of community radio stations that could complement the existing structure. In the whole of West Africa, Nigeria remains the only country whose marginalized and underserved communities are yet to enjoy the benefits of community radio. In less endowed countries like Niger, they have 98 community radio stations as at 2006; Mali has 88; Ghana 15; Senegal 14 and Burkina Faso 33, among others (Akihgbolu, 2007).
Undoubtedly, a community radio regime can complement the existing structure by addressing specific community needs in the context of the states and the country.  Community Radio stations are feasible, viable and advantageous in fast tracking the wheel of participatory democracy and general socioeconomic development in diverse communities like our own.
Increased Political Will: The information sub-sector appears to be among the least considered social sector by governments in the zone. This is a costly mistake that the various governmentss need to amend by demonstrating greater political will through adequate funding, provision of technical capacities, staff development and guaranteeing of conducive operational environments  for the various outfits to operate as real media outfits with wide coverage, standard hours of operations and rich and diverse programme content that are reflective of the needs, successes, expectations and challenges of  marginalised communities scattered in the North.
Increased Capacities in the Media: Below are some minimum requirements that the various media houses may have to fulfil in order to effectively reflect the needs of their communities in a globalizing world where boundaries are increasingly banishing across cultures and nations. These are:
1    High literacy level: A media professional should be able to understand global trends and how they affect the local realities. Whether the media professional is in journalism, programme production, etc, he /she must be fully and adequately informed on existing and emerging societal issues for them to realise the enormity of the various issues and locate the responsibility of their domain in the system. In fact, unfolding events are increasingly proving that there is little tolerance for illiterate media professionals whose limited understanding of issues only contribute to confusing the people than educating, informing, mobilising or even entertaining them. This is why we must also re-examine the curricula of media programmes in educational institutions in the country. Our teachers should be re-equipping and updating their teaching methods and techniques to ensure that students of the media are not bogged with outdated, irrelevant and contextually non useful ideas.
2    Closely related to the above is the need to have media persons who are well travelled in and out of their states, Nigeria and even beyond. “There is no substitute to seeing extreme poverty or deforestation or the destructive forces of nature… There is no substitute for meeting and engaging with people across cultures, religions and regions to realize that we are all in this together” (Sachs, 2008). Today, a lot of the things we receive from the media portray abundance of illiteracy about our country, its politics, geography, history, etc. Perhaps, that is only a reflection of the level of degeneration in knowledge of current affairs about the nation by the citizens as beautifully and sadly reflected on the popular MTN sponsored programme Who Wants to be a Millionaire on the NTA Network Service. Each time I watch the programme (and I try not to miss it), I feel sad on the level of illiteracy of our young people about our country. The question is: are our media professionals better informed about the nation to be able to show the light?
3    The media and its professionals in the North should be additionally strategic in their thinking and operations for them to be increasingly relevant in the process of sustainable development. Ties with the civil society sector, the international system, educational institutions, relevant government agencies, women bodies, etc should be strengthened. This will equip them with relevant information to pass on to the public on regular basis instead of acting like some cliff jumper episodic journalists or producers. Equally, doing so will open accounts of goodwill that will serve them well in times of need.
4     Understand and appreciate the major targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
5    Understand and appreciate the relevance of communication technologies. The reality is that, this is not the era of analogue journalists or analogue media managers.  This is the time for participatory and people centred journalism carried out in digitized environments by digitised media professionals and supported by modern managements who think digitally. As it is, the environment in several media houses needs to be improved through the sustenance of functional libraries, internet connections and provision of IT facilities like laptops to the personnel. It is always disheartening and quite retrogressive when I go to several newsrooms in the country especially in our broadcast stations to find them grappling with outdated rickety typewriters and other analogue gadgets. One simply wonders if the staff and managements of such organizations are in the twenty first century or they are still in the 1960s. One is also left wondering if these are the professionals that will facilitate Nigeria’s liberation from the shackles of poverty, oppression and injustice.
6    A better appreciation of the sources of media power by the professionals themselves will enhance their professional confidence, drive and credibility. The point is that media professionals, through continuous capacity building, will better appreciate their sources of power usually referred to as psychological, structural, social and constitutional for them to significantly maintain the required level of confidence and will power to perform. With such understanding, they can easily overcome petty fears, dictatorial tendencies and stand firm in the line of duty.
7    Continuous advocacy to amend the laws of many of the State owned media outfits to ensure their autonomy and reflect contemporary social realities.
Without doubt, the media and its professionals can play crucial roles in helping to address the socioeconomic challenges of that are bedevilling the Northern region. But let us not make the mistake of thinking that the media holds the key to the satisfaction of the needs and fulfilment of the expectations of the people. The media are simply facilitators of the process and teachers of social action. The key holders are the political and bureaucratic elites. They control the budgets, they formulate and implement the policies and they decide who gets what. Therefore, if the media is perceived to perform below expectations, the people should know who or where to direct their questions.
Finally, Mr Chairman, Sir, let me, once again express my profound gratitude to the Leadership of the NUJ at the State and National levels for inviting me to speak at this Summit. I am truly appreciative of the honour. And, above all, I wish to most sincerely thank you all for being a very receptive audience.

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