Opinion: The impotence of government-owned media in Nigeria

by Amir Abdulazeez


I know of people who stopped patronizing the services of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) during the military regimes, only to later change their minds and find it the same if not worse under the civilians. The military will oppress everyone, but the politicians will select those to oppress.

One of the most annoying and disgusting things in Nigeria nowadays is to tune-in to a State Government or Federal Government-owned radio or TV station. This is because most of what is been broadcasted is systematically partisan and occasionally one-sided in favour of those that are in power either at the federal level or at the various states. At times, their coverage is directly bias, shamelessly misjudging and unfortunately sycophantic.

We must thank God that there are no local government-owned radio and TV stations; I guess things would have gotten worse. We must also be glad that the governments lack the endurance and zeal to sustain the print media, which is not a lazy man’s job. Otherwise, we would have been made to read only what the people in power wants us to read. We should in no small measure, be delightful with the fact that online and social media are easily accessible and extremely difficult to control or hijack.

The primary functions of a typical media outfit are to tell the truth and disseminate credible and reliable real-time information to the public without fear or favour. Any other function is secondary. However, government-owned media in Nigeria only gives us selective information, that is, they choose what to tell the people and what not to tell them as directly or indirectly dictated by their pay masters. Furthermore, when at their best, they only tell the truth half way or they tell it in a systematically partisan and one-sided way to favour the individuals in power and to give people the impression that they are on the right side. They will only tell you the full and detailed truth in matters that do not concern the people in government or in matters which the people in government have no interest whatsoever. Whereas they will jump at any slight opportunity to exaggerate the good works of government or to expose the faults of perceived government enemies. This primarily renders them impotent and incompetent.

Sometimes, I use to wonder how some Nigerian journalists manage to work in such media organizations. After thinking hard, I always arrive at the conclusion that such journalists only need a job and not a career. Unfortunately in Nigeria we hardly give much emphasis on career, we are only after jobs, as far as we are been paid for what we do, then we do not care. I have come to realize through my short interaction with journalist that the profession is all about passion, integrity and independent mindedness. Can one really call himself a journalist if whatever he writes or reports, no matter how well he sticks to the ethics of the profession, must be censored or even completely rejected by his superiors to save their seats from the president, governor, minister or commissioner’s axe and then he doesn’t care? Can one really call himself a journalist when he is been forced to always agree with what the government does or defends the government irrespective of whether it is right or wrong?

I know of people who stopped patronizing the services of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) during the military regimes, only to later change their minds and find it the same if not worse under the civilians. The military will oppress everyone, but the politicians will select those to oppress. I agree with those people who have boycotted the NTA for so long, as my experience with the station shows nothing better. A lot of political events happened in the build-up to 2014 towards the tail end of last year which I expected them to have a fair if not a balanced reportage of those events, but unfortunately they ended up airing mostly what the presidential spokesmen wanted them to.

Recently, when I wanted not only to know but to see and have a true picture of the political crisis in Rivers State, I had to find another platform that will enable me have access to privately-owned media and shift away from the one way traffic coverage by the government-owned media. The Rivers state-owned media will favour the State Government completely in its reports and the Nigerian-owned media will favour the Federal Government in its own reports. We are not saying, they shouldn’t be obedient to those in power, but they should be fair by realizing that they work for the people and if they cannot do that, they should resign and not accept such responsibilities in the future.

The situation with these government-owned media becomes worse during electioneering campaigns where they display their partisanship openly. In the last elections in 2011, I heard the Buhari and Shekarau Presidential Campaign Organizations complaining that the NTA refused to air their adverts under the guise that the contents of those adverts are abusive to the president. Who told them that NTA belongs to the president? It belongs to the government and the government belongs to the people. Any way, if what they alleged was true, why don’t they call the attention of the sponsors to make corrections and then air it? If we may ask, how many times have they given the ruling party unlimited access to rain abuses on the opposition?
Despite all of these, the Federal Government media is even fair and decent as compared to their state government-owned counterparts. This is because, the ones at the federal level do their bias professionally and systematically. But those in the states do so directly and in broad day light been fully protected by State Governments and ruling parties’ stalwarts. You wouldn’t dare criticize a state governor in a radio or TV station owned by the state government. They spend half of the time which they should have used in airing meaningful programs in singing praises and sycophantic words for state governors and their wives.

This is highly unfortunate especially at a time when government-owned media are some of the best across the world. Can’t we borrow a leaf from the likes of British Broadcasting Corporation, Voice of America and the rest? Can someone imagine the British Prime Minister trying to control or determine what the BBC should broadcast? May be the very first time he does that, it may be the end of his political career.

Despite these problems, we must appreciate the gradual revolution going on in the Nigerian Radio Industry. This is because from 1999 to date, we have had a lot of privately-owned radio stations. As at 2002, there was almost no privately-owned radio station in the whole of Northern Nigeria, but now we have an average of one per state. In Kano alone, there are about seven. However, these radio stations are been occasionally threatened with closure with every slight opportunity and they are been charged exorbitant licence and renewal fees by the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission.

Another aspect of the Nigerian media that is doing well is the newspaper industry. However, the main problem here is the poor reading culture of Nigerians in particular and Africans in general. You may be targeting a set of people with vital information, but at the end of the day, you will find out that they don’t even have access to newspapers or they don’t care to read them. A particular saying among the white men goes like this: “if you don’t want Africans to see something, just write it down.”
The online and social media are doing well in Nigeria, but the problem is that they are a platform for the good, the bad and the ugly. Hardly can you trust information online these days, as it is often infiltrated with rumour, unverified sources and sometimes falsehood.

Conclusively, it is time for those in power to leave government-owned media alone to do their jobs. They must also stop regarding privately-owned media as enemies just because they are independent of them. If they don’t want criticisms, let them do the right thing, let them be transparent and let them clean-up the skeletons in their cupboards. I am even suggesting that the National Assembly should enact laws to protect government media from those in power by preventing them from using it as their personal instruments of airing what they like.

The government-owned media must not be a friend and servant of anybody in power, but rather the friend and servant of the people and the champion of the truth and accountability. Failure to do so is institutional corruption and betrayal of the people.


 Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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