DAME, Ford Foundation partner on ‘Watchdogs or Captured Media?’
Last week, Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, in conjunction with Ford Foundation, held a two-day conference on ‘Watchdogs or Captured Media?’ where the roles of the media in Nigeria’s Emergent Democracy from 1999 to 2016 were treated as a case study.
Some of the topics focused on the role and place of the media as epicentre of civil society in deepening democratic practices through reforms, causes related to the accountability of elected leaders in spite of intimidation by state officials and institutional constrains epitomised by the 10-year struggle for the freedom of Information Act.
Other points were how the media has appeared to have been captured by the state through seductive appointments and corruption patronages, as well as allegations that the media is divided into ethnic and political war camps corresponding to the fault-lines of Nigeria, as a nation and the changing profiles and the emergence of an increasingly vibrant online, social media.
Resource persons were drawn from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and the U.S. First to take the lead paper was a professor of journalism, University of Northern Iowa, U.S., Prof. Christian Ugbondah, who spoke on ‘State-Media Relations: Constraints on Freedom of Media.’
He stated that practitioner would attest to the fact that this is a major issue the press has battled with in a bid to find a middle ground with the government. Until recently and even when the bill was passed, most journalists seeking information from government quarters still go through the same huddles, sometimes without getting the information, as Act provides for.
Ugbondah described the situation as drawback clause, where the media is given freedom on one hand and, on the other hand, it is taken back. Practitioners that have insisted on going to any length to get required information at all cost are either arrested, harassed, threatened, physically assaulted and even killed. He pointed out that the situation has constituted a major threat to press freedom.
While sharing the Ghanaian experience, however, a former Director, School of Communication, University of Ghana, Legon, Prof. Kwame Karikari, said unlike in Nigeria, no radio or television station has been closed down in Ghana since 2001. According to Karikari, “It has been agreed that there should be no government interference in the media, and as such the Ghana media has used the power of freedom of information to expose a lot of corruption in government.”
Karikari attributed the failure of the former president not winning the election to the intervention of the media. On the contrary, he said, the threat to media comes from the private sector, which comprises media owners, who are businessmen and who tend to report what pleases their advertisers.
There was also the South African experience, as presented by a professor of Communication, Mafikeng campus, North Western University, South Africa, Abiodun Salawu, as well as the Kenyan experience by a professor of School of Communication, Aga Khan University Kenya, Prof. Peter Kimani.
The experiences in these places were not any different from what obtain in Nigeria. In all, Ghana, accordingly, is where there is the highest freedom of expression in African media.
Another important topic was on ‘Media Reportage and Religious Ethnic Conflicts,’ as presented by Dr. Nathaniel Danjibo of Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ibadan. Danjibo said most media investigations only take into consideration what they see without finding out the route cause. “Most times they end up depending on other sources, who already have their prejudices to get their stories.”
Danjibo pointed out that lack of investigative journalism substituted for sensational reporting was what aggravated most crises. He, however, took into consideration the hindrances journalists faced with respect to media owners, he urged them to stick to the ethics of the profession, adding,“Journalists are not insured, but are expected to go to crises zones to cover stories with no protection and at the risks of their lives, which is difficult! A lot of crimes worst than Boko Haram happen in the north, which nobody report.”
‘Corruption in the Media: The Brown Envelope Syndrome’ was presented by a Trustee of Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, Mr. Lanre Idowu, who said corruption of the media began from the head and, according to him, when the head goes bad the body will eventually go bad.
He said: “Most of these problems arise from poor management, poor enumeration, lack of training, and allowing a reporter to remain on a beat for so long and he becomes king or form cartels,” and suggested that journalist should be moved around frequently to avoid such corrupt practices.Other topics such as ‘Democracy and Broadcasting’ were also discussed extensively.
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