Development reporting and hysteria journalism in Nigeria - by Kingsley Moghalu

By Editor on 23/04/2018

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Keynote address by Professor Kingsley Moghalu, former Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and President, Institute for Governance and Economic Transformation, at The Niche 4th anniversary lecture at Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, on April 20, 2018.

As someone who appreciates the role of the media in shaping society, it is my pleasure to address you at this event.

Today’s chairman, Professor Oluremi Sonaiya, has also been an important voice in our public discourse.

It is also my pleasure to be here because I am among former colleagues. I don’t know how many of you know this, but in my former life I worked in the media with Newswatch. That is why I am very much at home with journalists.

I was at Newswatch in its glory days, when it was one of the most widely read news magazines in Nigeria, and one of the most trenchant and consistent voices against a military establishment that had long overstayed its welcome.

Under the leadership of that trio to end all trios – Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed – Newswatch was an example and an inspiration to many, a guiding light in those difficult times of the struggle against military rule.

I recall the many battles fought against the military in court, through bans and harassment by security agents, with the obvious aim of silencing us.

My work in the media didn’t end with Newswatch. I also was a special correspondent for international publications like the Christian Science Monitor and Africa News Service, as it was known at that time, as well as a contributing columnist for The Guardian.

Media And Technology

Thirty years after I left it, the media landscape in Nigeria has changed significantly.

Print consumption is in what looks like permanent decline, with online consumption holding sway. While the mode of consumption of news has changed, the role of the media to inform has not changed.

We exist in a time that is defined more and more by what some have called an information deluge.

In addition to traditional media like TV, radio, billboards and so on, we now have the constant barrage of notifications from our mobile phones, alerting us to all sorts of things, the majority of which could be described as trivial. And yet these trivialities have the capacity to take up all our time and leave us unable to focus on the things around us that truly matter.

Media these days is indistinguishable from technology, where once the medium was separate from the message, they have become one and the same, fulfilling Marshall McLuhan’s prophecy.

Our choices at every level are influenced by our exposure to the Siamese twins of media and technology. In this day and age, it is easier than ever before to become a news outlet, and the revelations about the use of the Facebook platform by organisations to harvest user data, and use it to spread falsehood and influence the outcomes of elections and referendums, should give us all pause to reflect about the impact of news outlets on our psyche.

There are a number of schools of thought about the way media should interact with society, and development reporting stems from the development theory of media, which holds that media should be an agent of educating the masses in line with the development needs of a nation. It says that development communication is that which is employed for the purpose of social transformation.

Development Reporting

What do we mean by development journalism?

It is a bit of a controversial term because its critics call it “government-say-so” journalism. But it broadly means that journalism in developing countries should contribute to social transformation by educating and informing citizens on activities that contribute to economic and social development, highlighting the importance of those issues and activities.

In this understanding, there is a conscious bias by the media towards what is seen as a larger goal of the society, and less emphasis on other issues that may be newsworthy but are seen as “trivial” or just not advancing the desired consciousness that development journalism seeks to create.

We had a lot of development journalism when the role of the government was in the society and the economy was very strong in many countries including Nigeria, in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

In some countries with socialist governments, there simply was nothing else. As from the 1980s with economic liberalisation, development journalism began to die a natural death as the media sought to survive in increasingly capitalist economies by being relevant to its consumers by giving more attention to new trends.

Today, development journalism is practiced only by specific, specialised media, much of it, ironically in the western world in the context of these countries’ roles in “international development”.

We have as examples Devex, an organization that publishes news and views on development issues around the world.

Investigative Journalism And Social Transformation

One of the major ways by which the media can play role of a catalyst in social transformation is through investigative journalism. By uncovering evidence of malfeasance and shedding light on social ills, journalists can influence public discourse in a major way.

There is so much that is wrong with our country today, and a vibrant tradition of investigative reporting can help change this.

The tradition of investigative reporting in Nigeria has been dying slowly as news has become more commercialised. This is why the work of outlets like Premium Times and the Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative Journalism, for example, is crucial to keep those traditions alive.

Speaking truth to power and going beyond press releases is never easy, but that is what must be done in order to truly make an impact.

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Good investigative journalism is about resources and the ability for editors and publishers to resist external pressure when reporters ask uncomfortable questions. There is a general absence of both, and that is a key reason why there are so many important stories which remain untold.

The ownership structure of the Nigerian press has always been centered on politicians, or those who aim to go into politics, even back to pre-independence days, Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and other leading political agitators all owned media outlets. After independence, some of these media continued and were put in the service of one ethnic agenda or the other, leading to the civil war and later, the end of the Second Republic and return of military rule.

All those events had at their core the use of media to advance an agenda that served narrow interests.

Nigeria’s press cannot play an effective developmental role because the elite who own these media have no worldview. Their only concern is access to political power, and unfortunately, these outlets are deployed in pursuit and maintenance of this access. 

That is why when your newspaper runs on advertising money from some connected people in society, that revenue is at risk if they or their friends are the subjects of an investigative report. Often, the choice is between the advertising revenue and the report. That is one of the reasons 234Next is no longer with us today. Business models that do not rely on the patronage networks of a corrupt political and business class are best for publications that want to do good work in this area.

Entertainment Or Real News?

There is another aspect to this. And that is the prevalence of news as entertainment that is sweeping the globe.

It would seem as if people are more interested in Big Brother Nigeria, the English Premier League or following the lives of their favuorite celebrities. So, there is this tension: can the serious, in-depth reporting necessary for good developmental journalism break through our increasingly cluttered digital lives? Even reputable media outlets abroad seem to move more and more toward tabloid-ism, in response to the tastes of their audience.

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It is important to note here that the digital space is significantly different from the written word, and news outlets hoping to make an impact will have to deliver their information in ways that are effective. We have seen media outlets move toward the use of short videos and infographics in recent times, to get their message across.




Posted on April, 23 2018

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