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In Nigeria, a significant number of intellectuals, journalists, and businesspeople believe that government should not interfere with ownership and control of the mass media. The important point implicit in this viewpoint is the assumption that the pattern of ownership of the mass media is crucial in determining the strength or weakness of the press. This study surveys the constraints on journalistic practice in government- owned media in the south- south geo-political zone of Nigeria. "Government-owned media," as used in this study, refers to newspapers in the six states that make up the geo-political zone which could be used to generalize to other government owned newspapers in Nigeria owning to the fact that they operate in the same economy. Discussion of background issues covers constitutional and legal provisions and government ownership of media. Strictly speaking, there are two main categories of the press in Nigeria: the government-owned press and the privately owned press. The establishment of daily newspapers by newly created states accounted for the relatively spectacular increase in government ownership since 1960. The decision to compete with private entrepreneurs is not a sound one, notwithstanding the argument for government ownership in Nigeria at this time. The lesson of history is that such ownership is incompatible with a democratic way of life in a society having a free enterprise economy. Also such ownership rarely if ever lasts unless the government intends to use methods which seriously detract from democratic principles to sustain its media outlets regardless of their performance and level of success or failure. It would be in the interest of the Nigerian press, governments, public and national development, for the governments to leave the field of daily and weekly newspaper publishing to private enterprise and concentrate their efforts in radio and television broadcasting.
The history of the media in Nigeria is a very unique one. Pioneered by the efforts of private individuals, it enjoyed patronage and acceptance by many Nigerians, especially the educated ones. Right from the advent of Iwe Irohin in 1859, the Nigerian media emerged as a viable source which has often times stood as the voice of the voiceless Nigerians.
The importance of the Nigerian media in the development of the Nigerian state became more prominent in the struggle by the Founding Fathers of Nigerian nationalism against the continuous British colonial rule and imperialism, right from the emergence of political parties in Nigeria and up till about 1944. As the agitation gained momentum, the colonial government initiated a process of tactical pull over through negotiation with the emergent yet fragmented political class; the media took a front seat and status in the struggle as the mouthpiece of the anti-colonial struggle. In playing this role, the media and individual journalists were exposed to all forms of vicissitudes and punishment by the colonial authorities.
The Nigerian press has indeed established itself as a strong force in the information sphere and this was maintained during the oppression days of the military juntas in the country, and was also instrumental in the enthronement of democratic governance in the country in 1999.
Unlike the history of the press, the origin of the broadcast media in Nigeria took a different twist. According to Adeseye and Ibagere (1999:100) the establishment of a relay station in Nigeria by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1932 was meant to serve different interest. Chief of which was to mobilize Africans and Nigerians to fight a common enemy-Germany and also to serve the interest of the British minorities in the country. This testimony is in sharp contrast to that of the press which though started by a non-Nigerian, but was generally meant for the information, education and entertainment needs of Nigerians. Since the inception of the broadcast media in Nigeria, it remained exclusively with the government until the government of General Ibrahim Babangida deregulated the industry, thereby giving private individuals the opportunity to own and operate broadcast stations.
The Nigerian press right from its inception has been noted to exhibit a high level of vibrancy which has often pitched it against the governments of the day. The press could be said to have displayed its true stuff when it stood to fight the dictatorial tendencies of many Nigerian past leaders and politicians. The press was able to achieve these simply because it is mostly owned by private individuals. Though there were newspaper houses owned by the government; the likes of Daily Times and New Nigeria, they were unable to match the vibrancy associated with the private press as a result of their public or government status.
Media ownership will continue to be a major determinant in the affairs of the media in Nigeria. Adeseye and Ibagere (1999:22) identify three types of media ownership; Public, Private and Quasi-government ownership. They noted that the public ownership is a system whereby the government establishes and operates media houses. The private system is a system where private citizens own media houses and the quasi-government is a partnership between the government and private investors. The last is however not being practiced in Nigeria. There is no doubt that media ownership in Nigeria is largely in the hands of the government. In Nigeria today, there is virtually no state government that does not own a television or radio station and even newspaper publishing houses. This therefore implies that majority of media personnel in Nigeria are under the services of the government.
Unarguably, ownership is one of the major problems facing the media in Nigeria, be it State or Federal. In most cases, there is a stigma on journalists who work in these media houses as they are often seen as government’s propagandists. Journalists are made to give the activities of their government owner more prominence at the expense of other important issues. When they fail to do so, regardless of their role or importance to the media organization, the reporters risk being sacked or demoted unless they are lucky. The issue is not different in the broadcast media. According to Udeajah (2004:300), everything points to the fact that ownership has had some significant effect on the operations of broadcast organizations in Nigeria. The policy of the persons who pay the broadcaster’s salary determines the operation of the media station.
The public or government owned media houses in Nigeria have been known to suffer a myriad of problems which have left them redundant and reduced them to mere “government handouts”. This is as a result of the overbearing influence of the government owners on the media houses.
Uche (1989:139) states that:
The influence of the government is seen in the unflinching support government media organizations give to the government of the day.
Government officials do not hesitate to remove
anyone in charge who fails to offer unquestionable support.
Obviously, this could be the reason why government owned stations have lost credibility in the eyes of the public.
Noting further, Uche stated that in a bid to save their job, media personnel in
government media houses are ready to abide by the rules of their government owners or be
shown the way out.
Nwachukwu (2008:9) puts it this way:
An erring official risks being sacked with ‘immediate effect’ or face other punishments for such ‘heinous’ acts.
For instance, within one year of the elected civilian government assuming office in 1990, no less than ten chief executive officers of state owned broadcasting stations
were sacked. Those who kept their jobs got the message - toe the line.
This disenchantment in the government owned media has come to encourage sycophancy in the industry as the media houses are now known to provide less credible news/information as compared with the privately owned ones. Azegbeni (2006:11). The reasons for such low credibility are government interference in the editorial content, inadequate funding as well as poor and inadequate trained personnel. Another reason for their low patronage can be attributed to their perceived bias and pro-government stand on issues of national interest.
Obviously, the government owned media stations are also faced with the problem of political interference. Ordinarily, they have the widest reach but private companies still shy away from patronizing them with their adverts and this has left them at the mercy of their government proprietors who now release subvention to them whenever they feel that they are satisfied with their operations. This assertion is supported by Ezeah (2005:141) who, referring to a study conducted on government owned media stations by Chika Ndu (2000) states that the media houses are always receiving irregular subventions which has brought them to their epileptic state. He further states that the method of funding is faulty and inadequate and this has resulted in their poor performances.
Government’s bid to make the press favourably disposed to it also led to the unholy act of censorship. This is a way of gagging media houses and personnel by their government proprietors to ensure that anything that is not approved about their activities is not published or aired in their media. This often makes news stories from the government media more of a government official announcement than the actual report of an event.
The nonchalant attitude towards government establishment in Nigeria has also been shifted to the media. Despite the transformation being witnessed in the media globally, most government media organizations in Nigeria still operate with analogue equipment.
According to Doghudje (2008:15):
for national coverage on radio/television, you have to rely on the federal-government-owned radio and television networks. And that is most unfortunate because they are poorly equipped and poorly maintained. Besides, they are inflexible and posses a huge dose of civil service
mentality... it is for this reason that they depend on
government subventions or subsidies for their survival instead of generating enough revenue for their survival and growth.
There is no gainsaying the fact that most government owned media organizations are still operating with the equipment which they acquired at their inception and this has remained so after many years of operation as their government owners show nonchalant attitude towards them. This was exactly the case, which led to the collapse of the Daily Times newspapers
In the same vein, it is an open fact that journalists in government owned media
organizations are poorly paid or remunerated. They are treated as civil servants even though
they are made to work round the clock and made to come to work even when other government staffs are off duties. Many state governments in the past often owe their media workers months of unpaid salaries and this made the media personnel to embark on industrial actions to demand for their salaries.
The problems of government owned media houses in Nigeria are enormous and will be discussed extensively in the review of related literatures.
The media is regarded as the fourth estate of the realm, this can be said to be the role, bestowed on the press by nature. The responsibility to inform and educate the public on the happening in the day to day activities of the government is vested on the media. In outlining the code of ethics for Nigeria journalists (in both private and government owned media),
Oloruntola (2007: 60) reveals that the social responsibility of the journalist include the promotion of universal principles of human rights, democracy, justice, equality, peace and international understanding.
All over the world, press freedom has always been a controversial issue, Africa is not an exception; In Namibia, Norah Appolus was removed from her post of news director of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation because of her report the government considered too independent. In the same vein, the administration of Group Captain Baba Adamu Iyam of Edo State unceremoniously removed from office, the Editor of the Observer Newspaper, Adekumbi Ero for the Editor’s criticism of the government’s retrenchment policy. Adeseye and Ibagere (1999: 116). On September 20th 1991, Tony Ikeakanam was removed as the editor of the Observer demoted to grade level 12 and posted to Ibadan as a reporter for allegedly using an unglamorous photograph of the then first lady, Mariam Babangida on the front page of the newspaper African Concord(28 October, p: 45, 1991).
In Rivers State, the military government of Col. Musa Shehu, sacked the general manager of the state - owned radio corporation, Radio Rivers, Mr. Morgan Omodu because the radio station carried a news report that the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) senatorial primaries has been cancelled and one of the aspirants, one Dr Ombo Isokariari, disqualified. The interest of the state government in the affair has not been ascertained up till date. Although Radio Rivers is funded and controlled by the Rivers State government, the primaries are supposed to be private affairs of the political parties.
There is no doubt that as a result of the above mentioned unfortunate incidences, journalists in government owned media always slant the news to favour who ever is in power and they are also conspicuously silent about official corruption.
Oloruntola (2007: 61) further states that factual, accurate, balance and fair reporting is the ultimate objective of good journalism and journalists should refrain from publishing inaccurate and misleading information.
What could be responsible for lack of professional journalism in government owned media which has militated against its social responsibility? Could it be as the saying goes: he who pays the piper dictates the tune? The fundamental problem motivating the study is the constraints on journalistic practice in government owned media
This study sought to determine constraints on journalistic practice in government owned media in Nigeria with reference to government - owned print media in South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria but succinctly,
i. to find out, those constraints on journalistic practice in government owned media;
ii. to determine how government influence affects media contents.
iii. to determine the factors that provide the constraints on journalistic practice in government owned media.
iv. to determine whether government ownership of the media wields any influence on the practice of journalism.
v. to determine whether media practitioners in government owned media derive gratification from their job.
This study is significant in the following ways:-
i. It will help the researcher understand how media practitioners in government owned media operate.
ii. It would serve as a mirror for the media practitioners in government owned media to see clearly where they need to make adjustments so as to carry out their social responsibility functions better without compromise.
iii. It would contribute to existing literatures on this topic as it would give researchers opportunity to read and make reference to when discussing issues concerning media ownership and its challenges in Nigeria.
iv. It would point out positive direction for a vibrant and professionally efficient press, which will translate to a very high image for the media with unequivocal positive economic implications.
v. It would propel further research on how constraints on journalistic practice in government owned media could be reduced to the barest minimum or better still eliminated.
vi. It would also provoke further research on comparative study on the effectiveness of private owned media as contemporary to government owned media.
The following research questions were drawn to serve as guide in this study.
i. What are those constraints on journalistic practice in government- owned media?
ii. Does government-ownership of the media houses have any effect on their operation?
iii. What are those ways in which the government seeks to control their media content?
iv. Has government ownership of the media houses affected the credibility of those media organisations?
v. In what ways can these constraints be better managed?
Theories can never be isolated from any empirical research. It is however a parameter for measuring the latitude and hypothesis testing in any phenomenon under study. Folarin (2005:6) note that theory and research are closely related through scientific method, he added that theory and research may be seen as two sides of the same coin; in an elucidatory way, Tejumaiye (2003:51) said; “every scientist assumes an approach or a particular orientation when dealing with a subject or issue, this approach determines the concepts, questions, perspective and also shapes the hypotheses which are tested and eventually the theory which is generated”. In total agreement Brooks (1970) cited by Ohaja (2003:64) asserts that in every discipline, there is a body of theories that provides the explanation for observing phenomena in that field. As assumptions are made and tested in the field through research, those that are validated become generalizations upon which theories are based. To verify the validity of such theoretical assumptions, the basis of such result or outcome can be replicated; it has been proven that given specified number of variables or circumstances a certain outcome can be expected
This study is therefore, hinged on the following theoretical postulations.
• Authoritarian theory and
• Benevolent-Authoritarian or Conservative Development Journalism
This study is best situated within the context of the authoritarian theory. This theory among other dominant theoretical perspectives or models is pertinent to this work.
According to Ogbiti (2002:7), this theory is applicable where the press is largely owned and controlled by mostly dictators as in some African, Latin American and Asian countries. The theory posits that the ruling class is given the right to use and control the press to promote the interest of the government in power.
As Kunczick (1988:46) sited in Folarin (2005:27) points out:
It is derived from the state philosophy of absolutism, which gave the government of the ruling class the right to use and control the press and thus, determine what the public should know or believe. Whether the ownership was public or private, authoritarian media existed to promote the interest of the government or its functionaries.
Defleur et al (1987) in Obaze et al (2004:17) assert that authoritarian governments operate
their media for the purpose of controlling the flow of information, shaping public opinion
and providing approved collective interpretations.
The instruments of control of the media are: direct state control of production, enforceable codes of conduct, heavy taxation and other kinds of economic sanctions, controlled import of foreign media, government right of appointment of editorial staff and suspension of publications. There is the lack of true independence to journalists who are subordinated to state authority. It justifies advance censorship and punishments for deviants.
According to Folarin (2005: 46) this type of development journalism is espoused by scholars, media practitioners, leaders and others who believe that selective handling of information is justified in developing countries, which are often ridden with crises. The important thing, they hold, is to ensure that public welfare is kept in mind at all times. Exponents of benevolent authoritarian journalism tend to view democracy as an unproductive luxury in developing countries. Holding on to the most authoritarian tenets of Development Media Theory, they are prepared to assign to the national news agencies the function of censorship in addition to their normal function of news distribution. The pervading freedom-inhibiting tradition of exaggerated respect for national leaders is best exemplified in benevolent-authoritarian or conservative media, which like erstwhile socialist media, are subject to democratic centralism and self-censorship. Running throughout such media and the attendant scholarship is a common belief that economic development cannot take place in developing countries without the short-term sacrifice of political liberty and press freedom. But there are other views to the contrary.
The relevance of these theories to the study lies in the fact that the nature of control exacted on the operations of the media determines the level of performance based on the canons of journalism.Thus, government domineering influence can constrain the operations of the media, in this sense journalistic practice.
A research of this magnitude would have been better to encompass as many government media stations as possible, but doing that would not only be too cumbersome, but would make the research to be complicated. This therefore calls for a sample of the population to be chosen. Supporting this, Asika (1991:46) notes that sampling enables us to obtain quicker results instead of a complete survey of the entire population...enables us to be more systematic and affords us better opportunity to be focussed than with complete coverage of the entire population.
This study would therefore be limited to all the government-owned newspapers in the South-South geo-political zone of Nigeria. The south-south states and the names of government-owned newspapers are;
1. The Pioneer Akwa Ibom State
2. Bayelsa Waves Bayelsa State
3. Nigeria Chronicle... Cross River State
4. The Pointer Delta State
5. the Observer Edo State
6. The Tide newspaper.. Rivers State
The study was designed to sample the constraints on journalistic practice in government - owned media stations in Nigeria. As a major constraint, there is the tendency of the media practitioners to be uncooperative in terms of giving out information due to the fact that many who dared to expose the government in the past were given one form of punishment or the other.
In the same vein, the bureaucracy associated with government establishments may also pose as a constraint to the study.
Time is certainly going to be another limitation in this study especially when viewed against the backdrop of the dynamism of man, which makes it difficult to carry out research of this nature.
Considering the prevailing economic situation in the country, funds are always a major problem in carrying out researches and this research would certainly not be an exception.
The terms below are defined in the context that they are operationalized in the study:-
• Constraints - those factors militating against the practice of journalism.
• Ethics - rules or standard regulating activities of the press.
• Government - group of people who are responsible for controlling a country or state.
• Government Media - these refers to government-owned newspapers located in the south-south geo-political zone of Nigeria.
• Media - these refer to radio, television, newspapers and magazines that are used in the dissemination of information to a large and heterogonous audience.
• Media Practitioners - this refers to a professional journalist who has undergone training and is working with a media organization.
• Ownership - means to have control and management of something when it is legally yours.
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