‘Government needs to provide journalists with more information’

Chairman Unilag Radio, Centre of Excellence, Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye

The two years of the All Progressive Congress (APC)-led administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has, no doubt cast aspersion on the ‘change’ mantra of 2015, which many Nigerians subscribed to.

The perceived ‘positive change’ people voted for seemed to have become the opposite, as the quest to have a three square meal and other basic needs has become a luxury.

Worse still, the economic recession that the country is facing has left businesses hanging in the balance. But beyond the business terrain, the media has not faired differently.

Two prominent communication teachers while, assessing media regulators, practitioners and owners in the past two years of Buhari’s administration believe the media has not performed credibly well in the period mentioned.

Chairman Unilag Radio, Centre of Excellence, Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye, said the media may have done well in certain areas; a lot is still needed to be done. “I will say that the government, on its own part, has exhibited some elements of tolerance. This is subject to some occasional misgivings on true meaning of democracy on the part of politicians and free press for sustaining democracy in the part of lawmakers and policy makers,” he said.

According to Akinfeleye, “besides the recent Punch correspondent that was discredited by the Chief Security Officer to the President, which his Media Adviser Femi Adesina and Senior Special Assistant on Media, Garba Shehu, intervened, and promptly settled, this administration; if they didn’t recall him, we would say they are intolerant,” he said.

Akinfeleye however believes that the press lacks the depth in terms of coverage and applying the instrumentality of freedom of expression, which it has shown respect for the media. “In terms of investigative journalism, I would say we don’t have a good or an excellent point; in fact, I will give them a carry over in investigative journalism. For instance, government has been telling us it has recovered money from Osborne road and other locations, and thus far, we are unable to know the total, and as we are aware, the government is not likely to give the total, so it is left for the journalist to dig more facts to tell us indeed, how much money has been recovered thus far, from what source and how is it being used?”

The prof., advised that the money recovered should be released to the public batch by batch, with detailed information on the total recovered and amount anticipated.

He also lamented the lack of depth in the reportage of of kidnapping in the country. He added, “lawmakers are busy making laws or distributing money. The press needs to educate the government to use scientific approach of preventing kidnapping and not curing kidnapping.

“The Chibok girls kidnap is still there; with over 82 girls released recently, the press should have been able to have a chat with each of these girls independent of government; it is more journalism than just listing their names. They should get voices of the parents, school teachers of the school, relatives, friends and so on, they should be able to get more information and if the girls are available, they should find out their experiences, what Sambisa forest looks like and so on.”

Akinfeleye noted that the media has failed to contain hate speeches, which came during the campaign through the elections, as people were still going about with hate speeches. “The media is the institution to regulate this, as it is crucial to the survival of democracy. For instance, the Fulani herdsmen, is it today that Fulani is rearing cows? Is everybody going with cow a Fulani? Why does a Fulani need a gun? It was said that they always take the picture of their counterparts in Chad and post it as being in Nigeria. There is still room for improvement for the media as we move into the last two years of this administration,” he said.

He further advised the government to exhibit more tolerance and not hold back information from the press. “There is also this unending preference of foreign journalists by government officials, these officials, policy makers would prefer to speak to a CNN journalist than to speak with NTA or any other Nigerian journalist. These foreign outfits have their own agenda. The Nigerian press needs to highlight this issue, as it is a disservice to the profession.”

According to him, the press is also failing in its duty to holding government officials accountable as well as making them fulfill campaign promises. “This administration came in with a manifesto, at this point; journalists should be able to take Mr. President on, on his campaign promises; look at the score card and see how many he has achieved, how many in progress and how many yet to kick off.

“The National Assembly has not been doing well at all; how can they reduce the number of correspondents in the federal house? It is a democracy; it appears they don’t know the relationship between media and governance, and the difference between media and democracy. They do not understand that another name for democracy is the press. They should understand that the press must serve as the engine room that lubricates the polar of the democracy. They should give respect to the members of the fourth estate of the realm because the press is a trustee of the public trust.

Akinfeleye advised the media to adhere strictly to professional ethics so that it does not metamorphose from the fourth estate of the realm to the fourth estate of the wreck, as they can wreck their professional acquirements, institution, their own image, corporate image of the country and also the image of their stakeholders.

“So it is a phenomenon that the national assembly people should understand and also the press should continue to serve as the propeller of good governance,” he noted.

On his part, former dean, school of communications, Lagos State University, Prof. Lai Oso, believes the media has been able to keep government on its toes, “but in some instances, you will find sensationalism reporting. One would have expected some kind of moderation due to the complexity of our situation; it is a mixed fact really. For instance, the issue of ‘whistle blowing’ some of the reports to me seems to be on the sensational side.”

On the freedom of the press and how effective the Freedom of Information Act has been these two years, Akinfeleye maintained that the press has been somewhat free.

He talked about an article written in 2011 to this effect, and as contained in the document, he said it allows the press to ask or demand for any public information and the government or the government officials is empowered by this provision to release the document to the journalist, the journalist or any other taxpayer do not need to state any reason why they need the document and they need to release to you and you must use it for public good and if you fail to use it for public good then you go to court. If the official fails to give it to you then he will go to jail.

“However, this document also talks about full disclosure and limited disclosure, for instance, you cannot walk to the government and ask for information that are security information. For example, if they are going to capture boko haram tomorrow and they have mapped out their strategies, it is highly confidential and the journalist or taxpayer has no right to it.”

He stated that the provision was passed to law in May 28, 2011, and shortly after, a stakeholder went to the National Assembly to ask the members how much was their take-home pay as Nigerians will like to know, but was turned down, saying, “These are the people who passed this law in May what did they do, they went to court and the court ruled in the favor of the press and they appealed. So now the government now said okay pass this one to the attorney general to set the guideline till now they said their working on it.”

According to him, it is left for the journalists to tell them what is in the guideline in implementation of Freedom of Information Act. “Nigerian press is the most outspoken, dynamic press in Africa, as other countries look up to her. The issue of ownership would not allow the press operates in an ideal manner. Nigeria has undergone recession in the past two years, and the press is not left out. And based on this, the performance will be weakened by the poor economic situation going on, to the extent that some of the media people may compromise their professional ethics.

“Professional associations like the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Nigeria Guild of editors will be in a position to control this, emphasizing that recession in the media should not make journalists concede the truth, because truth is the cornerstone of journalism. The bodies should also ensure that professional ethics are adhered to at all times,” he stated.

Oso maintained, “If we look at it generally, I think Nigerians are speaking out, apart from the traditional leaders we get the conversation going on mainly on social media, we discover so many people are speaking up more on messages and sensational side.

“I don’t think the government has done anything dramatic to curtail freedom of expression so far. The chief security of staff in Aso Rock to overplay and was checkmated by the government and I think it’s a very good response.”

In terms of security of media practitioners, Oso said it was neither here nor there as some journalists have lost their lives, however, “we cannot say specifically that the government was responsible, but it appears that we have to relate the insecurity, outsource of journalist and journalism to the general level of violence and insecurity in the country. It appears that violence has been democratized in Nigeria and that’s the major problem, it’s a big risk for Nigeria and of course for journalist. It’s part of the general level of insecurity in the country. And it appears that in the last few years, it has really spread all over the place.”

Akinfeleye on the other hand, said the media community should count itself lucky as it has not had cases of bombing and killing of journalists, adding, “but we have had cases of arrests and detention of journalists. The NUJ should do more to protect the lives and properties of journalists. The media owners should also ensure that journalists are protected. The journalists should also be mindful of dangerous areas. The journalist is trained to uncover and cannot be friends with government or officials that are trying to cover information. Look at what is happening in the US between Trump and the press, he may even get impeached. The government needs the press to tell the people what they are doing, so also, the press needs the government to work and provide the news,” he advised.

On the slow pace of government in meeting June 20 deadline of digitization, Akinfeleye said government has not been supportive especially the immediate past. “But it appears this present government is supportive in terms of financial support. If we are able to meet this present deadline, it is a miracle. I understand, apart from finance, they have problem of signal carriers, they are supposed to be three of them, but we are told that only two are functional. So, the areas to be covered by the third one are left undone. People say they went to Jos but yet, they cannot feel the impact of digitization there. The truth is, if they are able to keep to this deadline, it will provide employment for people. So, the lawmakers need to release money and the environment. I don’t know why we should be working with three carriers considering our population.”

The former Dean pointed that the Federal Minister of Information had been quiet about the issue of digitisation. He stated, “they’ve not really made it an issue in public discussion, so in a way that shows that we cannot meet that low deadline. And I think it’s generally to the level of poor economy that’s affecting us. Poor infrastructure and digitization has always been the problem, we have the technology but the finances and employment are the major problems, which I am not sure if we would get out of it quite soon due to the level of economic activities in the country now.”

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