Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Future of media business in Nigeria: Holding ourselves accountable

Let me begin in a most unorthodox way – with my conclusion. At the end of this discourse, the key point I hope I would have left you with, is that media owners and business leaders must rethink two fundamental concepts of their businesses: 1) why they are in the media business; it may sound simple but it is very critical; and 2) their current business models: what is it? Do they have one? Who drives it? Media owners will need to critically ask if their current model is serving purpose and delivering results, the way they anticipated when they started out.

Media exist for two central purposes: to help the community it serves find its way in a complex world, and hopefully to make a modest profit for all owners and employees. When the media fail in any one of these two, they have failed in both. How we got here "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act."  – George Orwell. In August 1985, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, in a palace coup, became Nigeria's eighth head of state. Babangida declared himself a president, and he ruled Nigeria for exactly eight years. From the very beginning, Babangida, a brilliant military strategist and a political tactician, took particular interest in the media.

In his eight-year rule, he appointed five or so different ministers of information. With every subsequent military coup, since the very first coup in Nigeria 45 years ago, a warmer fraternal relationship developed between military rulers and leading journalists. Babangida's military 'presidency' perfected the guidebook for media-government fraternity, for all times. It was during this period that the press began to learn how not to question the motives of those in authority. The "friendly" and likeable president warmed his way into the hearts of previously cynical reporters, editors and owners of media houses; it was the beginning of a great decline.

Without doubt, the media the military inherited was politically partisan, but it was not corrupt, in the way we know corruption today; it was not easily cowed and certainly not a quivering media. It had a long history of boldness and courage that predate even the colonial era – frequently making their abode in the jailor's cell on issues of ideological beliefs and principles. On the other hand, various military rulers regularly applied the stick to tame 'bad' press boys. Regime after despotic regime employed and perfected ancient Roman tactics of manipulation, intimidation, diversion, patronage, fear, etc. on the media in order to secure itself in power. A dark legacy Babangida's tenure would turn out to be a remarkable, re-defining period in the long and eventful history of the Nigerian media.

His years affected the very nature and character of the media; and have continued to define how the media is viewed, and how the media views itself, in form as well as in content. Many factors are responsible for the making of today's media, but the role and influence of the military dwarfs most of the other factors. Ironically, it was the same press, which IBB thought he had in his pocket that wielded its mighty pen and hounded him into 'stepping aside' in 1993. The absurdity lies in the fact that Babangida, "friend" of the media, was not forced out of power by the barrel of the gun, but by ink on paper. The very people he strove hard to befriend, intimidate and manipulate cast him down from his high office. It was the same media that harangued hisco-coupist and military successor, Sanni Abacha, until he became a reclusive head of state in the months leading to his sudden death. Nearly everyone agrees that, that powerful media of old is now extinct. What is left is a shadow – toothless, and hardly ever barking. While the media may have contributed in coercing some of Nigeria's most vicious dictators out of office, seeds of self-destruction had been planted.

After 15 years (1984-1999) of continuous fraternisation with the military, the media itself began to fall apart. The searching question became how did the once powerful Nigerian media that saw the end of most brutal dictators lose its own power so quickly, such that in barely a decade after Abacha, the commanding voice that once belonged to the media had been whittled down to a mere whisper. If it was loud it was because it was singing a patron's praise, or witch-hunting a patron's adversary. The state and the media Lately, it would appear that most media have become disconnected from the reason why they exist… to be a change agent. We seem to be satisfied to just exist. Just in case you are in doubt, we are in business to change our world for better. The state of the nation and the state of the media are intrinsically linked.  The media remains one of two or maybe three institutions that can arrest a nation's calamitous drift.

As we stand today, the Nigerian media is in a weakened position. Reality check: The economy vs. the poor man index One good example: if the media had told us the true state of our banks, some three years back before the collapse, we would not have been spending N1.2 trillion to rescue the failed banks. The journalism of today is driven by avarice and filthy lucre. By its acquiescence and refusal to hold self and rulers accountable, the media has contributed immensely to making the Nigerian state dysfunctional, and the media itself rapidly irrelevant. Finding a way out is the duty of every leader that desires to see the nation and the media industry prosper and survive beyond this generation. The media today As the voice of the voiceless, media have failed to tell the story of our generation, fully and hold our leaders accountable. But some of the problems of the media are not limited to the Nigerian media only.

There are global forces, as well as local forces reshaping the media and reducing or increasing their effectiveness. Local forces Almost imperceptibly, in the years leading to 2011, the media gradually lost its voice – even though it astonishingly retained its boisterous and noisy façade. The loss of voice led to the loss of confidence, and now, maybe relevance. But the saddest part of the story, is that the media, like the proverbial frog in the low boiling kettle, seem completely unaware of the increasing self-destructive fires underneath the warmly kettle. The managing director of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, LNG, Chima Ibeneche, foresaw this trend in the media ahead of time.

He saw a gradual decline to pedestrian reporting; he saw media's inability to set agenda for serious national discourse; he saw a lack of capacity to function as society's watchdog. Ibeneche lamented that there had been too many cases when true professionalism has been doubtful, "when lucre, and not news value, has been the determining factor" of what gets published. The Nigerian media once had an enormous capacity to stay on a story – ability to tenaciously follow up, to dig deeper and unveil the real person behind the glazed veneer. Could the inability or unwillingness of the media to stay on a story be deliberate? A consummate media man, Onome Osifo-Whiskey thinks that the media may have lost its bearing considerably.

It has become a "watch dog choosing who its master should be." He calls for a return to basic tenets of the profession. In the meantime, some media owners are unable to meet basic contractual obligations to reporters and editors, like paying monthly wages, which pile up month after month. And sadder still, they go roundly unchallenged. Owners of media houses reportedly urged reporters to use their ingenuity to 'fend' for themselves. One cannot but wonder if what we are confronted with is the case of a failed media in a failing state.

If as former President Olusegun Obasanjo declared, and chorused by President Goodluck Jonathan, we are on the brinks of a "Nigerian springs," then the media can not self absolve itself from the looming catastrophe. New business models One key problem that challenges the Nigerian media is the lack of sound business models or principles to drive and deliver result over a long period. A good business model has become a strong platform on which businesses can build and thrive.

The Huffington Post model has proved an effective model for successful journalism in the internet age. The leader of media in the ICT age must look beyond traditional methods and deconstruct old strategies. He must develop a fresh 'strategic sense' to know what works and what does not; and he must have capacity and competence to "decode the new strategic environment," according the Kung.

The Wall Street Journal, and the Economist as well as the Times of India remain profitable and relevant because these papers have evolved models that meet the needs of their communities. While the WSJ and the Economist have massive on line presence, the Times Of India has build on its reputation as the paper of reference in India. David Black and his chain of community newspapers is proving that print journalism can still be profitable, when the model is right. Newspapers must now cross breed with broadcast stations and produce short films for the worldwide web.

Wire services like AP, AFP and Reuters now do video news coverage. The old order is dead. A Florida newspaper editor defined his idea of the new reporter: "What I am looking for is someone who can cover (an event) for my newspaper, and then do a completely different story for the Web site that takes advantage of the strengths of that medium. Then I want that same person to be able to do a stand-up for the television station" The way to self-redemption If we go by recent trends, the media is most unlikely to change overnight; it may become even worse – except the owners resolve to, and change.

The media in the foreseeable future will do what it is paid to do, not what it used to do that made it great and powerful. Late Fred Omu, much respected professor of media history, once said that for Nigerian journalism to succeed, it must work harder and be more "closely associated with the popular struggle against poverty inequality and injustice."  The media, he said, "must show a greater sensitivity to the issues that concern the destiny of the nation." In fact, the media in character and nature may get worse with time, except owners face-up to the brutal facts about itself, and first engage in the process of self-redemption. Then and only then, can the media justifiably hold our rulers and those who govern our land to become truly accountable for their actions and the choices they make on our behalf.

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-- International Institute for ICT Journalism

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