21st May, 2010
All over the world, journalists do not have it easy – much like every other person in each society. We live in difficult times.
In recent past, there has been an advent in the use of the internet and the emergence of new media and citizen reporters – the most recent â€˜threatâ€™ to falsehood and propaganda.
Gone are the days when citizens had to rely on traditional media for information dissemination and daily news updates. The tide is turning with the introduction of affordable mobile technology. It is the other way round now. Major international media such as CNN, FOX News, and Guardian Newspapers, to name a few, have had to rely on citizen media for information about recent happenings.
In Nigeria, the greatest threat to traditional media seems to come from online bloggers, who are more often than not based outside the country. It is interesting to note that a greater percentage of news about Nigeria is being broken by online citizen media and citizens themselves through text and blackberry messaging, social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Bebo and other interactive means.
It should, therefore, not come as a surprise that the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan recently stated he was planning to join the social networking site Facebook to enable him pass his message across to the most vibrant segment of the Nigerian society – the youths.
Journalists in Nigeria are also going through the worst of times. They practice under poor conditions – corruption, poverty, fear, desperation and are at the mercy of the proprietors, super editors, and public officials. Sadly, the most principled journalists with good intentions are forced to choose between survival in a fast depreciating field and holding onto basic principles of good journalistic practice.
I will give examples.
My sources claim that at one of the leading media houses in Nigeria, which boasts of bringing in internationally acclaimed entertainers and world leaders for jamborees, conferences, and talk shops, senior management are paid monthly salaries and allowances ranging from between N750,000 to N1.5 million, whilst the news hounds and reporters receive only about N60 thousand.
In all fairness to this media, your salary could be increased to N150,000, all depending on your performance or importance to the newspaper.
The down side to this is that you may not be paid for several months as has been the case for a lot of the journalists at present, being owed almost 8 months salary. It is not reasonable to expect the average journalist, who has been without his income for months on end, to be corrupt free.
This media house is not alone. Another one is owing its staff up to 7 months salaries, while some cannot even remember the last time they paidÂ Â journalists and staff, however the proprietorâ€™s new choice of estates – the â€œbanana republicâ€ in Abuja is a spectacle to be ogled at.
Minaj, a top broadcasting outfit owed its workers for over one and a half years until it packed up. Journalists owed could not claim any money. Shortly after, the proprietor went on to build estates in Abuja . In the case of DBN, journalists go to work to mark time and make ends meet.
Situation in a leading private TV station is a classic study bordering on absurdity. The last time anyone was paid a salary is reported to be over 10 months and those in the media house have resorted to cutting corners to make ends meet. Thus, flagship programmes expect guests to â€œdrop somethingâ€. If you are to appear on any show, that you must grease the palm of the producer, presenter, cameraman and all is a clichÃ©. Would you blame the staff? I called a leading presenter and his reply to my query came in a sharp tone. â€œHow do you expect us to pay school fees, feed the family or survive if we donâ€™t find a means of survival within the system?â€ Well when next you listen to â€œthe newsâ€ on your national television, you might as well take it with a pinch of salt, that news may just be â€œfabricated paid newsâ€ and your network wonâ€™t put a rider stating, â€œthe news is advertorialâ€.
What is ludicrous is the lifestyle of the proprietors of these media platforms. The flamboyant lifestyles of the proprietors do not reflect the austere conditions of the staff they employ.
The lifestyle of the publisher ofÂ a foremost newspaper in LagosÂ is a good example. He is not known to be a moderate spender, with a private jet andÂ latest choice of cars. He spends millions of dollars on international stars, lavishing money on everything except the staff.
The owner of the TV stationÂ is another study in the complexity called the traditional media in Nigeria , and the unbelievable findings are not limited to the proprietors. Some editors have become merchants, with reporters expected to â€œreport returnsâ€ from beats through â€˜brown envelopesâ€™.
The recent exposÃ© in Punch leading to the resignation of two senior journalists seems to indicate that most editors and heads of Political Beats are either on the pay roll of top public office holders or have the flow of ink in their pens stifled by corruption.
The Nigerian media has come a long way. Over the years it still remains the most vibrant segment of the society – being resilient in the face of all the challenges that come with a developing country. Under various military dictatorships in our chequered history, the more repressive the government has been, the more dynamic the media becomes – ranging from clampdowns, closure of media houses, politically motivated arrests to the outright extra judicial murder of journalists. The media appear to have come out on top, rejuvenated and standing firm â€“ well, in a sense.
The killing of Dele Giwa through a letter bomb highlighted the danger journalists face in the course of their duty, and since Deleâ€™s death, it has been an endless list of murders, torture and in some cases journalists forced into exile. Such was the case of Isioma Daniels who was forced to leave Nigeria after a death sentence was passed on her by religious fanatics over her article during a Miss World event in Nigeria .
The true Nigerian journalist is surely an endangered specie and it is becoming apparent that hunger is becoming a weapon of mass destruction in stifling the traditional media.
The most curious bit of all is the silence of the Nigerian Union of Journalists.