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Why the media must be regulated in Nigeria?

By Alfred Ajayi

There is no completely telling the history of Nigeria without a mention of media professionals. Their historic contributions pre and post independence are for everyone to appreciate. In fact, the eventual attainment of independence on October 1st, 1960 largely made possible by the patriotic efforts of the press, which was tactfully deployed to advance the course of self government.

While the struggle for freedom lasted, the frontline nationalists such as Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, gained millage exploring the power and influence of the press in their bid to chase the British imperialists out of the shores of this country.

Post independence, the legendary contributions of the press cannot be under-estimated as frontline media professionals used the power of the pen to tackle the military juntas and their draconian tendencies. It was popularly believed that the likes of Dele Giwa and others paid the supreme sacrifice for their stance against the dictatorial tendencies of the military regimes.

Also, since the longest democratic dispensation in the country began in 1999, the media has been in the forefront of efforts to make Nigeria a better place for all the citizens. Posterity cannot disregard the novel contributions of the “gentlemen of the press” who by the discharge of their constitutional duties have brought some measure of transparency and accountability into the business of governance at all levels.

Therefore, it is inexcusable that this all-important sector has suffered utter neglect by successive administrations in the country. A former American President, Thomas Jefferson conclusively celebrated the importance of the media in the society when he once said that if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, he will not hesitate to prefer the latter”. Indeed, the media is the salt of the society and without the professionals, who serve as eyes and conscience of the society, things would have far gone awry.

This notwithstanding, the general welfare of media professionals both in public or private practice, is nothing to write home about. The same people, who highlight and hype agitations by other professional bodies for good working condition, had been operating under pitiable condition. A good appreciation of the dangers the journalists are exposed to covering crisis and public health challenge such as the coronavirus pandemic, for the umpteenth time, re-echoes the need for the government to approve the much anticipated Media Salary Scale. MSS.

Since the confirmation of the index case of covid-19 in Nigeria in February 2020, the media professionals, especially those on the field had been sleepless keeping faith with the mandate to educate, inform, enlighten and update the people about the pandemic, how to flatten its curve and halt its spread. They face unquantifiable hazards on daily basis to keep the nation abreast of developments. Sadly, some of them, within and outside Nigeria had tested positive for the dreaded virus.

Feelers from other climes indicate that media professionals covering covid-19 are well-catered for with the provision of Personal Protective Equipment among other important requirements for successive coverage of a pandemic of this magnitude and severity.

The story is regrettably different in Nigeria, where some of the professionals, despite putting their lives on the line to report every aspect of the fight against coronavirus, cannot boast of well-structured incentive packages, including insurance cover. Rather, they have been left largely to survive by the grace of God. This, no doubt, had taken a toll on professionalism and delivery.
Government and private employers have been announcing welfare packages for essential workers, whose duty call does not allow them to stay at home at this critical time, despite the restriction of movement or comprehensive lockdown order across the federation. Sadly, such lofty packages had not been extended to journalists, who had tirelessly conveyed the activities of other categories of workers, including medical and health workers as well as members of the task forces and the officials of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, to the doorsteps of Nigerians.

Apart from the journalists, the various media outfits across the country had been used as channels to disseminate important information, advisories and instructions about the pandemic to the citizens. Indeed, it will not be out of place to consider this category of Nigerians for a special welfare package at this critical time of our national life.

Besides, several journalists are employed and handed the identity cards of their organizations, with which they are expected to earn a living. It remains unimaginable that some affluent Nigerians engage fellow citizens as journalists without a well-spelt out monthly pay, hazard allowances among other benefits. Worse still, some of them, in a slave-like manner, are given targets in terms of number of stories to turn in every week and are steadily under the agony of deadline. Despite all these, some media owners owe salaries for several months or years, a situation which had turned the journalists in their employ to professional beggers, with no regard for ethical standards.

Even those who are regularly remunerated are paid pittance as journalists are among the least paid categories of workers in a country, they have assisted to survive difficult times.

At this juncture, the debate on capitalization of the media industry comes alive. The media owners or intending ones must have deposited a huge sum to be determined by the regulatory bodies for settling staff salaries in case of any default.

Also, the guidelines and conditions for setting up media establishments must be reviewed to accommodate the modern realities, with stringent enforcement, including confiscation of operating licenses of defaulting media outfits. All efforts to curb unethical practices among journalists will amount to chasing the shadows unless their salaries are paid and other welfare packages taken seriously.

Besides, in the modern media ecosystem, untrained staff are a liability to the organization. Training and retraining is a compelling need for media outfits, that want to maintain relevance in this twenty first century.

Ajayi wrote in from Awka, Anambra state. The story was previously titled

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