By Umaru A. Pate
Equally, corruption and corrupt activities of officials and business groups have remained cogs in the wheel of the nation’s democratization progress. Ideally, the media through investigative journalism should be able to expose some of the scams. Unfortunately, a combination of factors has rendered them largely ineffective in this direction. Corruption is manifested in various forms and shapes like the stealing of public resources, destruction of public institutions, abuse of procedures and regulations, insensitive, non-principled and desperate conduct of politicians, and the personalization of state power. All of these are ingredients for public frustration that are capable of crippling our young democracy. Unfortunately, the media appear to be helpless in the present scenario or their voices appear to be incapable of changing the tide of the waves. Therefore, one must continue to encourage our media to be bolder in investigative journalism. Stations should not simply collect money and broadcast dubious claims that have been perfected as conduits for the siphoning of public resources; they must find out the validity, costs and relevance of the claims.
Equally, during elections, the extent to which our media scrutinize the quality of intending contestants, their manifestoes and their fulfilled promises is weak. Our media need to develop mechanisms that could gather the manifestoes of office seekers and evaluate the extent to which such manifestoes have been implemented. This is one way by which the public can be assisted to differentiate the performing from non performing leaders who should be rejected or booted out of office.
But for all this to happen, individual media houses themselves must be seen to be well informed on the meaning and essence of the on-going democratization reform. To this end, democratic values should be seen to be reflected in their public relations, programme content and professional conduct. Credible feedback mechanisms and standard public opinion monitoring systems should be institutionalized to properly inform and guide programming pattern and content. After all, they cannot offer what they do not understand or practice. Otherwise, many of the broadcast stations may be reformed out of business. A media house is a change agent whose management requires dynamic in-flow of innovation, creativity, drive and energy to keep pace with contemporary democratic challenges in the society.
Another critical factor that undermines the function of the media particularly the broadcast media is the blanket implementation of the commercialization policy which automatically disables the majority of the people from any form of involvement in the airwaves. The high charges demanded by the various stations for almost everything disqualifies most people and sectors from any kind of meaningful engagement with the media. As a result, the airwaves are exclusively appropriated by governments, their organizations, money bags, business groups and big social institutions. They remain the only actors that have easy access to the expensive airwaves thus further widening the existing unequal balance of power relations in the society. In fact, even editorial judgment is subordinated to economic determinants. Perhaps, this is why many people are questioning the fate of investigative journalism and the concept of public interest in the new order. This has also raised further questions on the credibility, integrity and the status of state owned broadcast media stations as public broadcast service organizations that are positioned to provide independent social services for democratic sustenance.
The usual defence of managers is that their stations are dangerously and grossly underfunded that they need to devise alternative sources of survival. I agree with them. In fact, the penury and poverty in some of the stations are glaringly reflected in the quality and quantity of their services and the intolerable conduct of some of their staff. Today, we have broadcast outfits that ably qualify as epilepsy patients whose standard hours of daily operation/seizure are unknown. They simply operate on the mercy of the PHCN. I wonder how such weak institutions can command any serious respect among the general population.
Closely related to the funding anaemia in these organizations is weak capacity building mechanisms on democratic values through continuous staff development initiatives. The effects of this deficiency are manifested in the intolerable conduct and unimpressive output of some of the staff at all levels. Unfortunately, the media is one place where hiding one’s intellectual and creative deficiencies may be difficult. The consequences are very glaring to the audiences.
It may also be partially correct to say that many of our media houses are far removed from the global trend. They are poorly equipped to be able to discharge their expected functions of effective coverage, reporting and disseminating value added information for the democratic journey. Many of them are still battling with antiquated equipment that is still largely analogue. Many have no internet connectivity and staff offices are decrepit. Visit some of the newsrooms; they are anything but newsrooms with bare furniture, noisy ceiling fans and possibly worn out dictionaries. The newsrooms hardly portray that they are avenues for serious intellectual endeavours equipped for professionals who are set to expand the frontiers of democracy in Nigeria of the 21st century. In some other cases, we have digitalized transmission equipment in the stations, but unfortunately managed and operated by analogue managers and personnel who are still grappling with antiquated gadgets and absence of basic tools; vehicles for movement are in short supply, the alternative power generators are on and off due to overuse, and visible anger and frustration could be read on the faces of the staff each time one comes across them. I wonder how prepared could such media personnel be in addressing the numerous challenges confronting our democratization process.
The effects of all of these on the contributions of the media in strengthening our democracy are indeed clear. Apart from excluding the generality of the people who are the subjects of the democratization process, they seem to confirm some of the perceptions on the media in the country.
Few of the effects are:
The general population can lose confidence and trust in the credibility of the media system to act as watchdogs and platforms for the promotion of democratic values.
Our people may continue to rely on international broadcast stations for crucial information that affect their lives and nation. Thus, the external media may be determining the local and national agenda instead of the reverse. This could lead to serious consequences for the nation.
New forms of information disseminations techniques like the Internet and GSM will render non-reforming media outfits obsolete and non reliable, thus irrelevant in the democratization process.
The potential strength and centrality of the broadcast media are severely undermined by the visible absence of diversity, accessibility, courage and relevance in promoting the democratic process.
THE WAY FORWARD
The media as an institution is too critical to be ignored in the current democratization process in the country. In fact, it is often argued that the quality and freedom in a nation’s media speak volumes about the quality of its democracy. For instance, the seriousness and tolerance level in the system can be measured by the behaviour of its media. To this end, I wish to suggest the following for the positive consideration of the media in the country.
Be guided by the principle of social responsibility, i.e inclusivity, fairness and balance in the handling of political coverages.
Build the knowledge of all staff to know the Constitution, the Electoral Law, NBC Code on Broadcasting, the Professional Code of Ethics, etc.
Promote the principles of public involvement in programme planning and production. Emphasize and promote public interests, issue based programming, and institutional strengthening instead of personalities and personal activities. Media houses need to develop Strategic Plans on promoting democratic values through behaviour change oriented programmes targeted at the different segments of the population.
Strengthen individual media organizations’ capacity in investigative journalism within a democratic context.
We need to encourage the emergence of strong civil society/pressure groups that will monitor the performance of the various media outlets.
The media should work towards changing the mindsets of our politicians and the general population on negative attitudes like money politics, political vandalism and rascality, etc.
We urge the FGN to urgently release the criteria for licensing of community broadcasting stations to further deregulate and liberalize the broadcast industry. This will facilitate the growth of cheaper and people oriented community radio stations all over the country.
Let media houses temper their commercialization regimes with mercy. It has remained a big disqualifier for the majority of people to partake in the airwaves.
We appeal to all governments and private media owners to promote enabling working environment through the guaranteeing of operational freedom and provision of adequate resources for optimal operations.