By Osa Amadi, Arts Editor
It was a rare case of intellectual consensus last week Thursday, May 3, 2018, when media scholars of the Lagos State University School of Communication agreed, through all the scholarly papers presented in group B during the one-day conference which marked the 2018 World Press Freedom Day, that Nigerian journalists work in one of the worst economic conditions in the world.
Dr. Toyosi Olugbenga Samson Owolabi through his brilliant paper titled: The Political Economy of the Nigerian News Environment as a Challenge to Press Freedom and Survival, showed that poor salaries and months of backlogs of debts Nigerian journalists are owed by their media companies, have deeply eroded press freedom in Nigeria. His paper also explored how ownership structures, whereby many media companies are owned by politicians, impinge upon the freedom of the press.
Proffering solutions to the problem, Dr. Owolabi advanced the need for insolvent media organisations to merge for stronger financial bases. He also advised journalists to be more creative in finding alternative sources of income such as writing of biographies for prominent people, book and thesis editing. He cited as an example, how he sustained himself with editing other students’ thesis for fees during his doctorate degree overseas.
In his empirical analysis through a paper titled: Commercialisation of news and feature pages of Nigerian newspapers and press freedom, Amadi Osadebe Chiedozie, a PhD candidate, argued that poor remunerations, delayed remunerations or no remuneration at all, of journalists working in Nigerian newspaper companies, exacerbated by the global crisis in the newspaper industry, has further intensified the commercialisation of news and feature pages of newspapers, leading to greater loss of freedom of the press and preventing it from fully playing its constitutional role as watchdog of the political, social and economic society.
Combining review of empirical researches, interviews and participant observations, Amadi is able to gather data supporting the thesis that many Nigerian newspapers hit by the crisis of dwindling copy sales and diminishing advert revenue have abdicated their responsibility of properly remunerating journalists by resorting to encouraging journalists, directly or indirectly, to use the news and feature pages allocated to them to make money.
Amadi, however, concluded by submitting that although Nigerian newspapers have lost a significant measure of their freedom due to the ‘brown envelope’ syndrome and other forms of gratification, it is true that a larger part of that freedom is still intact. This is evident in the daring headlines splashed daily in front pages of Nigerian newspapers. Those news and feature items courageously indict governments, agencies, private companies, and some individuals who give adverts, brown envelopes and other forms of gratifications to the media and their journalists.
Other scholars who presented papers in group B were Agboola Odesanya, Olufemi Olugboji and Saheed Adeyemo (Press Freedom Ranking and Implications on Journalism Practice in Nigeria); M. Olanrewaju Biobaku, S. Olasunkanmi Arowolo and Stephen Fatonji (Perception of Lagos Electorates of The Lion of Bourdillion Documentary on AIT).
In group A, Professor Lai Oso & Mr. S. Olasunkanmi Arowolo presented a paper titled: Does Journalism Really Matter? Others in this group were Favour Nwatah (Appraisal of NUJ insurance scheme); Kola Oni, a PhD candidate (Books, Politics, and Democracy in Nigeria: Points of Divergence and Convergence); Lai Oso and Raheemat Adeniran (Press and Politics in Nigeria: Contrasting Perspectives); Samuel Onyiba (Press Freedom and the Democratic process in Nigeria Since 1999: Challenges and Implications for the Electoral process); Ayobami Lawal (Ownership Influence and challenges of professionalism); Dr. Jimi Kayode (Dialectics of Freedom of the Press: Freedom of Expression, Extremist Speech and Social Responsibility); and Dr. Jide Jimoh (Welfare of Journalists as a Component of Press Freedom).
Huge intellectual harvest also occurred in group C through the papers presented by Adeboye Ola, PhD candidate (Fake news photographs on the internet: Freedom to the Extreme?); Dr. Musibau Tunde Akanni (Citizen Journalism in Nigeria and the Proliferation of Ethical Challenges); Stephen Fatonji, PhD candidate (A Critique of Media Role in Freedom of Expression and Hate Speech Discourse); Deji-Folutile Olabisi, PhD candidate (Fake News, Hate Speeches and Virtual Journalism); Folasewa Olatunde, PhD candidate (Breaking the Silence on Sexual Violence and the Nigeria Instagram Sphere); and Nurudeen Oyewole, PhD candidate (Taming the air: Examining Attempts by State Security Apparatus to Tame online news).