Keynote Address by the Chairman of Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Rivers State, Mrs Susan Serekara-Wikhana, at a Seminar organized by the Rotary Club of Port Harcourt, District 9141 to Mark 2020-2021 Media Day, on Monday, 19th of April, 2021 at Rotary Centre, Trans Amadi, Port Harcourt
TOPIC: THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IN MEDIA INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT
I feel honored to be invited as a guest speaker at this important event put together by the Rotary Club of Port Harcourt, District 9141.
Honestly, I wouldn’t know what informed the choice of this topic by Rotary, but I must say that the topic is not only apt and suitable for discussion, it falls within the precinct of what Rivers NAWOJ stands for. On a lighter note, should I then say that the Rotary Club of Port Harcourt has attempted to take the shine out of media practitioners themselves by bringing this topic to focus?
I say this because we have, in recent times, observed that the media does not get the desired attention it needs from Nigerian governments at all levels. Sadly too, we, media practitioners, have not considered it either imperative or apposite to bring this neglect into the limelight for discourse. I, therefore, thank the Rotary Club of Port Harcourt for considering this topic worthy of discussion.
Topic of Discussion:
First, for the purpose of this discourse, attempts will be made to examine the functions of the media in shaping the structure of modern society. Scholars ranging from Marshall McLuhan, Jurgen Habermas to John Thompson, have demonstrated beyond doubts how the mass media impact both the individual and the society; shaping perception, knowledge and attitude, influence social relations and setting agenda for the government and the public.
Here in Nigeria, the media has always been a socially engaged institution, not only informing, educating, and entertaining the public, but also playing vital roles in shaping the course of history.
The gallant role of the Nigerian Press in the struggle against colonial and military rules and in the campaign for democracy and good governance is well known to everybody.
Most modern constitutions not only guarantee freedom of expression, but also create a special role for the Media. It is pertinent at this point to locate the constitutional role of the Media as contained in Chapter 2, Section 22, of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended in 2011 that, ”The Press, Radio, Television and other agencies of the Mass Media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives and hold government responsible to the people”.
The authors of the 1999 Constitution inserted this special responsibility because of their conviction about the agency of the media not only holding the government to account, but also as a platform for enlarging people’s voices, empowering the citizenry, and guaranteeing the essence of democratic rules.
One time US President, Abraham Lincoln articulated this concept most succinctly when he said, ”Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe”.
In the early 1700s, a French political philosopher, Montesquieu, while complaining against the secret accusation delivered by the Palace Courtiers to the French King, prescribed publicity as the cure for abuse of power.
English and American thinkers later in that century agreed with Montesquieu, recognizing the importance of the Press in making officials aware of the public’s discontents and allowing governments to rectify their errors. Since then, the Press has been proclaimed as the ”’Fourth Estate of the real, a co-equal branch of government that provides the checks and balances without which government cannot be effective.
The role of the media is so important such that a country or society cannot do without the media for a whole day. The executive or judiciary or the legislature may not be in operation for a day and the society still goes on as long as the media continues to function. But in a situation where there is no information for a whole day throughout the world, there will certainly be anarchy and confusion. This is because the world thrives on information. In other words, no society survives without the media.
US statesman and former President, Thomas Jefferson, underscored this when he celebrated the Press with his famous declaration: ”Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without the Press or a Press without government, I should not hesitate to prefer the later”.
This underscores the indispensable nature of the media.
The question we should ask at this juncture is this: In spite of this indispensable role of the media, how does the society and the government treat the media? Your answer is as good as mine.
I was at a media parley last Thursday in Port Harcourt, where some media managers were invited by the Institute for Media and Society (IMS) to exchange ideas on “Trends and Challenges of the Media in Fair, Accurate and Ethical Coverage of the Electoral Process in Nigeria”. One of the issues that came up at the interactive section was how the government sees the media. We all came to the conclusion that the governments at all levels do not see the media as a partner in progress. Rather, the government sees the media as purely an instrument of propaganda that can be used and abandoned at any time.
Indeed, we have many instances in this country, both at the federal and state levels, where the government budgets and approves humongous amounts of money for the legislature and judiciary, Yet the same government considers it unnecessary to assist the media, which propagates its activities, with basic infrastructures such as vehicles, OB van, transformers, or even common generators, that could facilitate their services to both the government and the public.
This neglect of the Fourth Estate of the Realm by the government has led to the closure of many state media organisations in the country, which were once viable during the First and Second Republics. The few existing ones are struggling to survive and finding it difficult to compete with the private owned media, due to lack of modern equipment.
As earlier stated, the Fourth Estate of the Realm is supposed to be a co-equal branch of government which means, government has roles to play in infrastructural development of the media in symbiotic context. This implies that components of the infrastructural development are to be used for the purpose of enlightening and informing the general public of the Programmes and policies of the government and thus create awareness.
Recommendations and Conclusion:
It is on the strength of the foregoing that the role of the government in infrastructural development of the media, most especially state owned media organisations, becomes pertinent. Such roles include the following:
(1). Total rehabilitation, refurbishment and upgrading of government owned media houses in the country with state-of-the-art environment that will be conducive for media practitioners.
(2). Provision of the state-of-the-art equipment for both print and electronic media such as (a) Outdoor Broadcasting Vehicles, (b) modern library facilities within the office complex and (c) cybercafé and restaurants.
(3). Provision of sustainable power supply through provision of transformers and industrial generators.
(4). Provision of official staff quarters for journalists.
(5). Provision of operational vehicles for media houses.
(6). Provision of welfare packages for journalists such as car loan, wardrobe allowance and comprehensive insurance scheme to take care of hazards.
(7). Building of a media village that will house all the media organisations in a particular state, especially government owned media, to facilitate easy access and cross fertilizations of ideas.
(8). Also important is capacity building for media practitioners in form of training and retraining.
The above recommendations, though more relevant to government owned media houses, can be extended to private owned media organisations by way of assisting them in their areas of needs such as donation of vehicles, OB vans and other equipment vital to their operations.
This brings us to the question of whether assistance from the government will not compromise the independence of the media. I beg to disagree. Any media organisation worth its name will always stand on its principles irrespective of subventions or assistance gotten from the government. This brings us to another important aspect where private media owners should always engage the services of not just qualified journalists, but journalists with competence, high integrity and pedigree to avoid unnecessary compromise.
In concluding this paper, I want to say that it is defeatist for the government to expect so much from the media in terms of adequate coverage of its events; reports and analysis, public enlightenment and watchdog role when it has not played its part in putting in place necessary infrastructure that would facilitate and enhance the job of a media practitioner.
The only way government’s Programmes and policies can be better presented to the public by the media: newspaper, Radio, Television, and social media platforms is by assisting the media in the area of infrastructure and welfare.
At this juncture, let me acknowledge the contributions of some past administrations in Rivers State to the infrastructure development of media in the state. Most outstanding was the government of Alfred Diette-Spiff in the 1970s. It is to its credit that we have the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation, publisher of The Tide; Radio Rivers and Rivers State Television, in Rivers State, today. In the same vein, credit goes to the immediate past administration in the state led by Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi for the construction of the ultra modern secretariat for the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Rivers State.
While we appreciate the landmark achievements recorded by the present administration in the state in the area of infrastructural transformation which has made Rivers State the epicenter of infrastructural development in Nigeria, we appeal that the same gesture be extended to the media, especially the four government owned media houses in the state.
I’m not unaware that efforts are being made by the Chief Nyesom Wike government to give the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation and other media houses owned by the state a facelift, we plead for speedy implementation of that lofty idea.
Once again, I thank the
Rotary Club of Port Harcourt, District 9141 for this seminar and for inviting me to deliver a paper on this important topic.
Thank you all for listening attentively and God bless you all.