FIGHTING OFF THE THROES OF DEATH…
By Gbenga Adefaye
For this assignment of setting the tone for Sokoto ANEC 2019, let me begin with what should really be the endnote. It is a quote from The Senior Director for Research and Analysis at Freedom House in Washington DC, Sarah Repucci (founded in 1941 to conduct research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights) on the nexus between press freedom, good governance and democratic dividends.
Quote:‘While the threats to global media freedom are real and concerning in their own right, their impact on the state of democracy is what makes them truly dangerous. A free and independent media sector that can keep the population informed and hold leaders to account is as crucial for a strong and sustainable democracy. Without it , citizens cannot make informed decisions about how they are ruled, and abuse of power, which is all but inevitable in any society, cannot be exposed and corrected.’
- Sarah Repucci, Snr. Director for Research and Analysis, Freedom House.
Press Freedom Index 2019 ( by the Paris based Reporters without Borders which conducts political advocacy on issues relating to freedom of information and freedom of the press) ranked Nigeria 120 out of 180 countries in its annual ranking on press freedom for this year. And that was hardly headlines news here because it is the familiar story.
As a country, we might be making progress slowly – increase in the number of media outlets, particularly with the broadcast and Online media, but we are almost inured to the pains of administrative and executive onslaught on the media which tend to overwhelm us, in addition to difficult trading environment that tend to weaken the media. Perhaps, the time to rally has come to make capital of an abuse of one as abuse of all.
In Africa, we surpassed only Chad, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Cameroon. Against our famed vibrant press ranking of 120/180, Ghana ranked 27, South Africa (31), Burkina Faso (36), Senegal (49), Niger (66), Côte d’Ivoire (71), Tunisia (72), Togo (76), Lesotho (78), Sierra Leone (86), Gunea Bissau (89) Liberia (93), Mauritania (94), Benin (96), Kenya (100), Mozambique (103), Guinea (107), Angola (109), Ethiopia (110), Mali (112),Gabon (115), Tanzania (118) and Zambia (119) are perceived better performers when media independence , environment and self censorship, legislative framework, transparency and infrastructure are considered by Reporters without Borders. The four preceding years, Nigeria had been ranked 119/180;122/180; 116/180 and 111/180.
But it is the accompanying note on Nigeria Press Freedom index that is poignant.
Tagged : Climate of permanent violence, it noted that the ‘campaign for the elections won by President Muhammadu Buhari in February 2019 was marked by an unprecedented level of disinformation – especially on social networks – which was spread by officials within the two main parties. The defence of quality journalism and the protection of journalists need to be priorities during Buhari’s second term. Africa’s most populous nation has more than 100 independent newspapers and yet covering stories involving politics, terrorism or financial embezzlement by the powerful proves problematic. Journalists are often threatened, subjected to physical violence or denied access to information by government officials, police and sometimes the public itself. The all-powerful regional governors are often the most determined persecutors and act with complete impunity. In 2018, one governor had the premises of a radio station razed after a series of reports criticizing his handling of local affairs. The police also detained a journalist for several days in an attempt to identify his sources. Online freedom is restricted by a 2015 cyber-crime law that is widely used to arrest and prosecute journalists and bloggers in an arbitrary manner.”
Well, Premium Times which runs the Press Attack Tracker just reported that one Mr. Michael Itok, a micro finance bank official has just been arraigned in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state by the SSS for his “damaging and annoying” Facebook posts against Gov Udom Emmanuel. He is charged for an annoying post that contravenes section 6(1) (f) of the Akwa Ibom state Internal Security and Enforcement Law 2009.
Itok may not be a professional journalist, he is your everyday Nigerian exercising the citizen’s right to free speech guaranteed under section 39 of our Constitution. Remember also Agba Jalingo who is facing treason trial in a Calabar High Court for querying N500m spend Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River state. To quote Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher of Premium Times which also runs, Press Attack Tracker “…. things have taken a dark turn. This year alone, over sixty (60) journalists have experienced some form of attacks or the other from state-actors and several civil society institutions have been subjects of similar attacks ranging from shutdowns to withdrawal of operating licenses and outright decommissioning.” Dark turn indeed! It is a shrinking space.
THE FIGURES CAN BE BETTER…(market trends)
To compound the woes of the media, profitability which is key to vibrancy, freedom and independence is poorly because of decline in advertising revenue. Data from MEDIA FACTS- an authoritative publication of mediaReach OMD which covers Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Benin, Ivory Coast, Togo and 17 other West and Central African countries, provides insight into how the media business fares, particularly with advertising support- the lifeblood of media business.
Over a five year period of 2014 to 2018, for instance, total ad spend actually moved from a total of N93 billion naira in 2014 to N97.9bn in 2015 and began a steady decline to N91bn in 2016, N88bn in 2017 and N81bn in 2019.
A further review showed for TV a 12% increase in 2015 over 2014; -19.2% decrease in 2016 over 2015; 6.4% rise in 2017 over 2016 and -12.3% decrease over 2017 figures in 2018. Radio showed similar market characteristics: 24.8% growth in 2015 over 2014; -16.6% decline in 2016 over 2015; -1.7% decline in 2016 over 2015 and -18.4% sharp drop in 2018 over 2017.
Press had-8.1% drop against in 2014 in 2015; -23.6% fall in 2016 against 2015, further drop by -2.9% in 2017 against 2016 and 18.4% increase in 2018 over 2017.
It is instructive here that whereas there was observed decline in investment over 2017 on all media except Press which recorded a significant growth of 18.4% as advertisers and politicians alike leveraged the Print media for pre-election campaigns, TV remains the vehicle with the most investment year on year, especially for its audio-visual appeal.
We can flesh it further. Despite TV being the lead medium because of its audiovisual properties, a 10-year review by Media Monitoring Services (MMS) revealed that the compounded annual growth rate shows a 2.9%decline as well as 12.2% decline year on year between 2018 and 2017. 2009 (N38.3bn); 2010 (N39.7bn); 2011(N46.1bn); 2012 (N49.4bn), 2013 (N47bn); 2014 (N34.6bn); 2015(N39bn); 2016 (N31.9bn); 2017 (N33.5bn); and 2018 (29.4bn).
Radio over a 10 year period: 2009 (N12.5bn); 2010 (N12.8bn); 2011 (N13.1bn); 2012(N15.8bn); 2013( N15.1bn); 2014(N12.1bn); 2015(N15.1bn); 2016(N12.5bn); 2017 (N12.4bn); and 2018(10.1bn).
Media investment in Radio medium recorded 2.3% decline compounded annually between 2009 and 2018.
Print is interesting as it presents a relationship of better fortune at election cycles: 2009(N15.8bn); 2010(N16.5bn); 2011(N15.4bn); 2012(N9bn); 2013(N18.5bn); 2014(N25.5bn); 2015(N23.7bn); 2016(N18.1bn); 2017(N17.6bn); and 2018 (20.8bn).
Yes, investments in the Print platform grew significantly by 3.1% compounded annually between 2009 and 2018 but the observed significant growth in print investments in years prior to elections in Nigeria is 4% year-on-year for 2010 over 2009; 39% for 2014 over 2013 and 18% growth of 2018 over 2017.
And if we match cost of doing business which has more than doubled against these investments, the corresponding financial distress precipitate inability to meet fiduciary obligations to both staff and the state.
A financially distraught media can be of little use to itself and a liability to the society at large. So much for media economics!
THE OPERATING ENVIRONMENT:
Our libertarian media mix, for its plurality, remains attractive for a vibrant and free press that promotes democracy in multi ethnic, multi religious society; one that fulfills the peculiar demand to hold the government accountable to the people, though operating in a shrinking space.
The challenge is that of sequencing or appropriate agenda setting by a distressed media.
There is a paradox though: the print has a rich cemetery of the old players, reflected in the shrinking membership of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN). Broadcast on the other hands is recording new entrants into the market notwithstanding doubtful profitability outside Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt, where I understand, there are no more spectrums.
For numbers, Television is rich with over 120 plus operational terrestrial TV stations inclusive of one federal network service (NTA with a total of 101 stations, three privately owned network services (AIT, STV and Galaxy); 37 state owned stations, 36 plus private stations, 34 MMDS/wireless cable service providers, over 137 Satellite TV stations, more than 42 private stations.
Radio has over 100 licensed radio stations- one federal network (FRCN with 41 individual stations, over 63 state owned stations on AM and FM bands; over 60 privately owned stations, nine community stations.
The NBC has, in the last five years added a total of 243 provisional licenses to broadcast entrepreneurs. In 2015 for example, 187 FM radio licenses were granted while there were 31 for campus radio, 13 for community radio; in 2016, two IPTV or web licenses were granted. 2017 recorded one IPTV (web) and in 2018: 146 FM radio licenses, 10 DTT (National); six (6) DTT regional; 38 DTT (Local); 16 campus radio licenses, 24 Community radio licenses, one (1) national network and two (2) IPTV web.
The print not only struggles as business entities, the print runs, are running out. The membership of the NPAN says volume to the attrition rate of the print media.
Our leading brands, like Nigerian Tribune, The Punch, The Guardian, Vanguard, Daily Trust, ThisDay, BusinesDay, The Nation, SUN, Telegraph, Peoples Daily, Blueprint, being publications of record remain powerful, influential to the extent of their shrinking reach.
Generally, operating as undercapitalised, small businesses, many of our brand leaders may really not be bigger than some micro finance houses. There is no economy of scale in this import-dependent business where the only variable being controlled is salary and wages.
Although, the survival strategy of collaboration through multi plant operations, is in view for some, the challenges of logistics for delivery of expensively produced products are still unnerving. Poor trade, low capacity precipitate a weak media environment.
THE INTERNET AND THE SOCIAL MEDIA Disruption.
While we are it, our media space has experienced a grand disruption by the Internet and the Social media with significant consequences for the traditional media. While brand leaders in the traditional media are gasping, attempting to acquire assets on the internet through digital convergence, emerging brands not necessarily in printed format but on the Internet are signposting a new era of robust engagement for freedom and independence; putting the state in check.
Brands like PremiumTimes, TheCable are tops. We cannot talk about their profitability yet, but they bring robust engagement to the media space.
There are also NewsGuru, Naija newspaper, Nigeria World, National Mirror, Authority, The Nigerian Observer, Daily Times,Osun Defender, National Daily, The Tide, Daily, Daily Post Nigeria, The Peoples Daily, Daily Newswatch, National Accord, Champion, ,The Abuja Voice, Nigeria 24 News, 36Naija, Puo News Aba, The Summary, Abuja, Daily Post; Channels Television; Sahara Reporters ; News Agency of Nigeria (NAN); Eagle Online; All Nigeria Soccer; The Will, Nigeria (thewillnigeria.com; Legit.ng; Ripples Nigeria;Morejara; Studydriller; Independent Nigeria; Desert Herald; News Journal; Fresh Fact; Eye Witness 101 News; Nigeria Masterweb; Urhobo Times; Newswatch Times; All Nigeria Soccer; Fresh Angle; Advocate (Enugu, South-East Nigeria); African Herald Express(Abuja); BusinessWorld(Lagos); Naijaleaks; Nigeria 24 News;Nigeria Communications Week(Lagos); Orient News(Lagos); Pointer; Entertainment Express; Premier(Ogba ;Royal Times of Nigeria; Nigerian NewsDirect; Nigerian Alert; View Nigeria; Union; Eagle Online; Herald Newspaper; National Networkk; National Daily; Nigeria Communications Week (Lagos); The Point; Pointer;Champion Newspapers; Fresh Angle; Desert Herald; Neighbourhood; Abuja Times; Royal Times of Nigeria; Abuja Inquirer; News Journal; Thinkers;Port Harcourt Microscope;Naija News; Nigerian Gists; TheNigerianVoice.com; YNaija; Naija Loaded News; Nigerian Monitor; AIT; NigeriaNews.net; Stears Business; Voice of Nigeria; TheCitizen; 247ureports.com; Galaxy TV; Business News; Pulse; Today; Concise News; Tori; Daily Nigerian; Ripples Nigeria; Nigerian Bulletin; Daily Advent Nigeria; Nigeria World; Nigerian Eye; Okay.ng; Amala; Hallmark News; Daylight; Information Nigeria; ionigeria.com; Freedom Radio Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN); hynaija.com; Nigerian Watch ;Google News – Nigeria; Complete Sports who take advantage of the reach and breadth of the Internet to deliver news breaks and analysis.
Many are doing the explainers, offering insights and taking the traffic away from the printed word.
The authentic global village or virtual village square has birthed on the Internet and the social media and this has become the ultimate media: affordable, accessible and democratic. And if you consider that the Global State of Digital in 2019 discovered 98.39million internet users in Nigeria, four million more than 2018, with 54% access the internet on a daily basis while 24million (12%) have active social media account, then you can appreciate the value of the Internet/ Social media disruption.
It is the reason for the sudden rise of the state against media freedom.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Like Repucci said, of power abuse especially against the media is inevitable in all societies. Nigeria manifest own strand in the rash of attacks and the current legislative onslaught like the Hate Speech and Social Media Bills. What is required of us all is eternal vigilance and rally for ourselves and the society we seek to protect while we try to be as professional as we can be.
THE GOOGLE RECIPE:
On September 25, 2019, Google the monster search engine announced on Twitter that it was releasing its September core update. The updates or what is called Algorithm change impact how Google ranks web sites and how Google determines what is the most relevant web page for specific query.
This core update came with an advisory to publishers and I think some aspects of this are good for setting the rules of engagement on the virtual village square of the internet and the social media. They are very useful for the traditional media operators. Perhaps, they may help burnish our professionalism:
They are a set of questions:
- Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?
- Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
- If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
- Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
- Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature? Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
- Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page?
- If you researched the site producing the content, would you come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic?
- Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?
- Is the content free from easily-verified factual errors? Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?
Google’s motive is profitability of our business. But the recipe is good for diligence and good journalism- the insurance we require for prosperity and defense against the ruthless state and its operators. They might be useful for building trust, truth and conscience; adaptable as the rules of engagement in our virtual village square on the web. And with it maybe, stem the nuisance of fake news as well as hate speech? I don’t know, but it may probably minimize the control streak of NBC and make the incohoate NPC unnecessary and irrelevant. It might even blunt the sword of an excitable legislature trying to take Nigeria back into the cave.
For me, ours is a landscape of growth in number, despite harsh economic indicators. There may be variances in the spread of fortunes of the media, the increasing number of electronic media and new media signifies confidence in media development. We just must perfect our act of competition that is fair, equitable and serves public good.
Two, the global village is real and virtual. However, the virtual Village Square meeting can define and refine own rules of engagement, using the Google key above. Then we can defend Free Speech with responsibility. We must build capacity and bring our credibility to bear on the use of new media to probably crowd out the unprofessional, unskilled, dangerous social media engagement.
We are in a democracy, where there is no other choice than Constitutional Order. It is only a strong, free and independent media that can check inefficiency, corruption and lack of accountability of state actors.
The media must collaborate and cooperate to survive. That’s the lead from the marketplace. The experience from history tells me that the current travails notwithstanding, we will survive to tell the stories and write the history. That’s what is the DNA of our media.