It is with sincerity that I acknowledge the decision of the publishers of Impact Newspaper to invite me to discuss a subject of critical importance to the craft of news reporting in our country today. By challenging us to review the role of professional news organisations and their impact on society, the publishers of Impact are demonstrating huge discomfort, if not anger at the way and manner journalism, particularly in community and social media, has become what the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo once described as the refuge of the floatsam and the jetsam.
No one seems more bothered by this madding crowd of untrained interpreters of the social process invading the media like locusts than the publisher of Impact newspaper, Mr. Kunle Adelabu. Preparatory to putting pen on paper for this address, I explored his mind by conducting what was meant to be aa friendly chat. I put it to him that I really wanted to be briefed of the circumstances which gave birth to this long topic that had to be paused by a colon. It was an agitated voice that canvassed a clear and unapologetic resistance to the “ weeds luxuriating on the fringes” of journalism practice. Apparently, if he had a more lethal weapon to deploy against the interlopers, he would have saved us the trouble of having to gather here to brainstorm on the best methods to kill the illegitimate children of a noble genealogy.
Yet, long before we were born, our fathers had recommended, through adroit verbal expressions of deep proverbial content, how best to navigate a hydra-headed problem like this. With due respect to the patriarchies represented here, it was our fathers who said an insect on the scrotum has to be carefully picked. Only stupidity would persuade one to use a stick to spat whichever stinging creature has perched on that delicate organ of this dominant gender.
I have erected a few signposts to guide my exploration. And I shall appreciate your co-operation as I seek to provide answers to these questions:
WHAT DO NEWS ORGANISATIONS DO?
News organisations are set up to inform, entertain and educate. In setting out its publication on December 3 1859, Reverend Henry Townsend, the pioneer publisher of the pioneer newspaper in Nigeria, Iwe Irohin Awon Egba, stated as follows: “My objective is to get the people to read and beget the habit of seeking information”.
When the Nigerian Printing & Publishing Company published the Daily Times on June 6, 1925, its promoters looked forward to supplying information to the indigenous educated middle class and the expatriate colonial community which determined developments in Lagos in particular and Nigeria as a whole.
News organisations recognize that the development of a massive society in which individuals aggregate based on social, economic, political interests has created a need for information which can be applied as intelligence by individuals to function optimally and achieve their ambitions. If we were informed that it would rain all day tomorrow, every participant, based on his and her circumstances, would respond to the information in various ways. Some would see a business opportunity and head to the markets to buy raincoats and umbrella to sell. Owners of vehicles seriously affected by the economy may choose to stay home so that they do not have to tow home their vehicles. Producers of alcoholic and non-alcoholic products may increase their supply to markets. Sellers of pure water are not likely to bring much to the market.
Such are the ways in which the products of news organisation elicit various responses from the people emphasizing that the role of news organisations to inform, entertain and educate add value to our daily existence in many ways.
WHY DOES IT REQUIRE PROFESSIONALS TO DO IT? –
The news production process involves procedures designed to ensure the quality of news so that the recipients are not misinformed and societal interaction is not endangered. Those who choose to perform this role must therefore be specially trained to be aware of their social responsibility and the mechanics of making news available.
The need to understand the social role of the press has engaged the academic interests of many intellectuals and led to several categorical imperatives. In 1956 three professors- Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm- canvassed four models of the press: authoritarian, libertarian, communist and social responsibility.
The press operating in a society where the government and the dominant ruling elite call the shots is classified as authoritarian and those jurisdictions where the press is allowed to propagate the truth is considered libertarian. The authors present the Communist model as apportioning to the press the task of perpetuating the socialist principles of the Politburo and the Social Responsibility model as enabling the press to initiate and engage the political and social order to affect society.
Herbert Altschull, in his book, Agents of Power, has expanded our understanding of the press through his critique of the three professors. In advancing knowledge of the press from a global perspective, he proposed the Market Nations, Communications Nations and the Advanced Nations theories.
Dennis McQuail in Mass Communication Theory: An Introduction, proposed two ways of understanding the media – the development process and democratic participant press theories.
Ability to contextualize the role of the press in society and choose the framework that adds the most value is one of the critical decisions a news organisation must make to determine its strategic positioning in the information dissemination process.
The Concord Press of Nigeria defined its role in the positions it took during the Second Republic. The journalists who left the Concord to start the Independent Communications Limited, publishers of TheNews also defined the role they chose to play during the military dictatorhip of General Babamasi Babangida.
Equally critical to the education of a person who is seeking to disseminate information to the society is the acquisition of skills involved in the mechanics of news production. The development of a code of conduct which serves to standardize the obligations such a person must discharge to ensure fairness, balance, undue exposure of children in establishing the facts to be disseminated to the public.
The rigid processes of checking facts and ensuring that only reliable, defensible and verifiable information goes in print or on air is called editing. However, such is the weight apportioned this onerous obligation that editors are assisted by a team of sub-editors and line editors all committed to ensuring that no defective information escapes their vigilant eyes.
These are compelling reasons why the task of processing raw information to the mass product called news can best be performed by persons who have been trained in both the normative and the technical aspects of the job.
It is also important to note that Nigeria has created sufficient opportunities for acquiring these skills. At the last count, not less than 64 universities and 38 polythecnics, a total of 96 institutions offer training in mass communications. With good grades in English, Mathematics and three commercial or art subjects at the West African Exaaminations Council examinations and the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board examinations, there is no reason why you cannot join the ranks of truth seekers and disseminators.
From these institutions have emerged great journalists who have set up companies which published magazines, newspapers and other periodicals which have recorded millions of copies. There is therefore more than enough persons trained in the country to protect us from the dangers we currently face.
To make the entry easier and in recognition of the array of specialized knowledge that journalism requires to keep the people informed, the Constitution of the Nigeria Union of Journalists goes further down to recommend that you can be registered if you have spent about five years in a media company under the supervision of a trained journalist.
HOW AND WHY DID QUACKS EMERGE?
In these circumstances, it is embarrassing that quackery found an opportunity to sneak into the temple of a noble profession. To trace this unsavoury development, we need to revisit our national season of anomy, the political and economic crises, which brought the doves and the hens into one shed.
Indeed, of all the newspaper organisations in the history of the Nigerian Press, the Iwe irohin has the exemplary and unique luck of operating in a society whose mores were well established. The Egba United Government, endorsed by the British as a semi-independent nation state had been formed in 1898 on the lines of the British political system with the monarch as primus inter pares and William Alfred Allen was made the secretary to the government.
It was in this pristine and tranquil political order where commerce, government and religion existed parri passu that Iwe Irohin rose to perform the enterprising task of mass communication. The religious pedigree of its promoters assure that it would not be used for falsehood or sow discord between the confederates and their hosts.
This peaceful order was terminated with the arrival of Frederick Lugard who in his determination to execute his romantic concept of indirect rule finally ensured the subjugation of this government to his direct control.
From that point, Nigeria’s history becomes sequences of abnormalities in governance tempered with pretences to civil rule. There is no guessing the fact that the composition of the Nigerian Council and the introduction of the 1922 Constitution in response to the agitation of the educated middle class were mere facades to mask the colonial exploitation of the country and its social manifestations.
The Nigerian press was forced by this circumstances to adopt the social responsibility role of the media as an agenda setting and agitating institution focused on restoring the popular sovereignty that colonial rule alienated. In this patriotic crusade, the code of conduct as known and practiced today had little or no relevance for the simple reason that it complied with the dictum, that all is fair in war.
There were in fact moments of revolutionary fervor when the crusading youths known as the Zikists, declared their commitment to the revolutionary expulsion of the colonial order by all means possible, were instantly denied by their hero as moving too fast than the meticulous transition of power that the Lyttleton and Macpherson constitutions promised.
The carefully orchestrated self-government programme, negotiated at the London conferences by the frontline leaders, on which foundation the independent and republican constitutions were enacted collapsed like a pack of cards on January 15, 1966 when military adventurists, another set of colonisers, sabotaged the opportunity for civil rule and plunged Nigeria into another season of anomy.
In the final analysis, Nigeria as a country has spent more years under these disruptive abnormalities than civil rule. To make worsen the situation the hegemonic grip of this chaotic order and the class it nurtures of the state and society is so entrenched that its values of disorder, corruption and sleaze have marginalized the nobler virtues of order, integrity and prudence on which a civilized polity can be built.
Thus, if the macrocosm of civillised virtues have been thoroughly eroded, the microcosm of professional values that journalism demands cannot expect a different fate.
The second context for the success of quackery is deregulation. While the crisis of chaotic disorder had compromised the regulatory institutions and the laws, the introduction of neo-liberal ideology purporting to free the regulatory environment in which governance occurred encouraged the lowering of even the challenged standards which the society was struggling to maintain. The Structural Adjustment programmes opened up Nigeria to Western commodities and businesses and shifted the paradigm of nationalist control of commanding heights of the economy which was the wisdom of the 60s to the 80s to a new imperialsm that reduced the value of labour and the currency. Regulatory institutions lost out to market forces which brought the instincts of everybody to survive or die.
But the third and most influential factor in the entrenchment of quackery is technological innovation. The revolution in the information communication technology coincided with the emergence of the world wide web, the internet and provided historic empowerment to everyone who could possess a device and buy data. The collapse of the normative order was complicated by technologies which enabled nihilists and anarchists, indeed, anyone who disregarded common ethos for the maintenance of the polity to run riot over the cyberspace and recruit masses of followers.
Of all the four models of mass communication typologies mentioned earlier, only the authoritarian and the libertarian models have achieved modest success in controlling the excesses and abuses of new technologies. For example, Reporters without borders, in a recent report named the following countries as the current enemies of the internet; China, Bahrain,, India, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan.
In 2014, the same NGO declared that the US engages in “surveillance and decryption services” which it interpreted as threat to investigative journalism
WHO AND WHAT SUFFERS WHEN QUACKS RULE?
The most damaging consequence of unprofessional journalism is fake news. Fake news is a mass communication product served raw to the public without going through the crucible of gate keeping, fact checking and editing. It occurs in an environment devoid of the code of conduct or the ethical standards that professional journalists guard jealously.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have now come to the final point of our journey. HOW CAN PROFESSIONALISM TRIUMPH IN COMMUNITY AND SOCIAL MEDIA?
About two weeks ago, the journalism clinic, founded by one of the patriots of the excellent journalism, Mr. Taiwo Obe convened a media leaders summit to ponder over the way forward for journalism in Nigeria.
The resolutions of the summit are the skills set for the men to set them apart from.the boys. These include:
THE OGERE DECLARATION:
1. Although digital technology has disrupted the news media business, the principles and purpose of journalism remain largely the same.
2. Good journalism is the surest path to sustainable business survival and profitability. Therefore, news media operations must strive to produce and deliver content that their audiences and consumers must be willing to pay for.
3. Advertising must not remain the sole source of revenue for the media. Media houses must build their brands such that they can leverage them to generate revenue form sources such as events, festivals, book publishing, merchandising, licensing, affiliate marketing and club membership.
4. There cannot be digital journalism without the reconfiguration of newsrooms to enhance workflow.
5. News operations’ websites – and not third-party platforms – must be the primary destinations for their audiences and communities because the money is where the article is viewed, watched and touched. Platforms must not be allowed to make money off the operators’ talents and initiatives.
Thank you for listening.