Why information carriers deviate from their philosophies
This conclusion is the outcome of a study by doctoral students of the Mass Communication Department of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) under the supervision of communication scholar, Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye and a senior lecturer and acting Head of Department, Dr. Oloruntola Sunday.
Other factors that influence the faithfulness of media organizations to their philosophies according to the study, include, ownership, commercial and political interests, corporate and personal security of the staff, regulatory agency, public relations consultants; and legal matters.
About 21 media establishments, mainly print and electronic, were purposively selected by the researchers for the study that was designed primarily to identify the philosophies of selected media organisations; determine how the media organisations adhere to their stated philosophies; and ascertain the factors that affect their adherence to their philosophies.
Although, the operations of media organizations are guided by such philosophies, usually enshrined in their mission statements, the observation that, sometimes, some of these organizations have had cause to bend the rules in favour of certain interests motivated the study which sought to determine the extent to which the selected media houses keep to, or deviate from the operational frameworks.
For the print, the selected organizations, mainly privately owned except one are The Guardian, Punch, Thisday, Nation, Vanguard, Authority; and Herald owned by the Kwara State government.
The electronic category had seven radio stations and seven television houses .The radio stations are :Harvest FM, Makurdi; Glory FM, Yenagoa; Traffic FM, Lagos; Radio Kwara, Ilorin; Rhythm FM, Lagos; Naija FM, Lagos; and Adaba FM, Akure, while the TV stations are Nigerian Television Authority (NTA); Channels Television, Lagos; Kwara Television, Ilorin; Television Continental (TVC), Lagos; Lagos Television (LTV); Silverbird Television, Lagos; and WAP TV, Lagos.
The researchers are Afoke Hope Orivri, Daniel Kunde, David Olaluwoye, Emmanuel Ojila, Husseini Hassan Shaibu, Kabir Alabi Garba, and Musa Sule. Others are Olalekan Sote, Peter Kehinde Akodu, Solomon Ntukekpo, and Vincent Nwanma.
The study purposively sampled the views of 21 senior media practitioners comprising correspondents, news and line editors, assistant and deputy editors-in-chief, managing editors and editors-in-chief who have had at least five years of professional experience using both survey design and structured interview methods.
The research ran between April and August 2016.While the media houses possessed philosophies as expected, the terms ‘accuracy,’ ‘fairness,’ ‘truthfulness’, ‘balance’, ‘objectivity’, ‘factuality’ and ‘safeguarding public interest’ were common in the philosophies.
While national interests easily passed for public interests in usage in all the philosophies, the usage seemed particularly stronger and emphatic in federal government-owned media. The covert commercial interest symbolism embedded the philosophies of privately owned media.Seventy percent of media organizations, especially the print attached greater value to news while 16 percent of them laid emphasis on entertainment and sports.
However, the study revealed that organizational deviation from the stated philosophies diminished whatever values and beauties shown in the analysis of the findings.
Respondents enumerated constraints responsible for this deviation: vested interests and factors beyond the media practitioners’ control.
Thirty-seven percent of the respondents maintained that their organizations’ adherence to corporate philosophies is low while 28 percent of respondents stated that their organizations moderately adhere to their philosophies. Only 10 percent thought the degree of adherence to the corporate philosophies is very high.
The study sought a value-based answer in the area of organizational pressure of media practitioners to drop news item(s) when the news item does not in any way violate the corporate philosophy of the media organization.
Ninety percent of respondents admitted they have been under pressure to drop such items, which they viewed as a violation of the philosophies of their organizations. However, 10 percent of respondents said they never experienced any pressure to drop news items.Ninety-five percent of respondents who were under pressure to drop some news items actually obliged though unwillingly while one respondent said he did not oblige.
From the data, however, it would appear ‘killing’ news in media organizations seldom occur. The study tested other attitudes like modulation of news item(s) to suit certain interests instead of outright ‘killing’. Ninety percent of respondents have come under pressure to modify stories to pacify some vested interests or fit into some contexts.
Ten percent of respondents, however, never came under pressure to modify their news content. Ninety-five percent of the respondents who were pressurized to modify their news contents actually obliged, though unwillingly while one respondent declined to do so. Twisting or scaling down news items appears not to be a frequent practice in the media organizations.The research sought to establish factors that impinge on adherence to corporate philosophies.
All the respondents agreed that national interest, one of the factors, impinge on their adherence to corporate philosophies of media houses as there is always the struggle to balance national and organizational interests. Eighty-six percent of respondents saw ownership-interest as another dominant factor that influences adherence to corporate philosophies by media organisations. Sixty-seven percent of respondents maintained that advertisers bear a lot of influence on their operational philosophy while 43 percent of respondents said political interests impinge on their adherence to their philosophies.
Twenty-four percent of respondents said threat to their corporate existence and security of staff are responsible for not upholding their philosophies while 14 percent of respondents said public relations practitioners did influence sometimes. Twenty-four percent of respondents said regulatory agencies are responsible for not adhering to their philosophies while one respondent said fear of legal matters makes his organization to deviate from its philosophy.
From the context of this study, it is instructive to note that media organizations have philosophies, but the manner of professional practice does not sync with this confirmation.However, the knowledge of the factors that impinge on adherence to those philosophies such as national interest, ownership interest, economic downturn, security threat to life, political influence, advertiser’s interest, public relations, and regulatory agencies will assist media managers to begin to fashion out strategies to mitigate the side effects of these factors.
Indeed, one issue raised by the study which has continued to defy consensus among communication scholars and public policy formulators is the definition of what constitutes ‘national interest’. The study asserts thus: “Unfortunately, there is no precise conceptualization of what is national interest until date. To this extent, the constitutive and nuances of national interest are still ambiguous. The determination of what constitutes national interest still resides within the purview of the national security agencies and sometimes the instrument is used as ambush tactics by overzealous security operatives. The implication here is that journalists often find it difficult to determine when they are crossing the borders and stepping on the landmines called national interest.”
Based on the findings, the study therefore tasks media organizations to ensure that they adhere to their corporate philosophy because it is their identity and the social bond between them and the public.Also, it emphasizes the need for media owners (government and private) allowing their organizations to operate freely to promote best professional practice, in addition to ensuring prompt payment of staff salary “so that the staff can avoid unethical practices and protect the corporate integrity of the organizations.”
The study has special admonition for the security operatives: “They must respect the rights of media practitioners. In fact, they must realize that issues regarding fundamental human rights, freedom of information, expression, and rule of law are the bedrock of operation in a democratic system of government.”
If Nigeria’s desire to attain democratic maturity with all its nuances is genuine, both government and media operatives should pay attention to the findings of this study. It anchors this attainment on a free, responsible, self-regulated press, which is always in dialogue with itself and the reading/viewing/listening public.
The study’s argument is that “when the media regulates itself through constant dialogue with the public, such media will earn public trust and confidence, which are the ingredients needed to discharge its constitutionally recognized obligation of holding government accountable to the people, thereby stimulating good governance.”
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