Media  

How harsh milieu, general election, anti-hate speech campaign shaped media landscape in 2019

It was Maya Kosoff, writing in GEN, a publication about politics, power and culture, who said, “being a journalist in 2019 meant working under the gun.”

To the freelance editor, 2019 crystallised something media people have known to be true for a while: lack of media stability.

In a gripping description of the media landscape in the world, Kosoff said, “in January, over a thousand journalists lost their jobs as layoffs hit Gannett, BuzzFeed, AOL, and HuffPost. Vice laid off 250 employees in February; New York Media laid off 32 employees in March; in April, G/O Media let go of 25 people. New Orleans’ Times-Picayune let go the entire staff, 161 employees, in May after the newspaper was sold to a competitor; in August, Pacific Standard shut down after a decade of publishing. No company or sector of news was spared. NBC Universal laid off 70 employees in two rounds of layoffs in August and September. Spin Media Group cut 29 jobs in September and January; Cox Media Group, which owns the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, announced plans to lay off 87 people in September. Sports Illustrated laid off more than 40 employees in October. In November, the Toronto Star and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had a combined 108 layoffs.”

Though there is no correct statistics of media lay off in Nigeria, the year, however, provided a number of issues to reflect on as 2020 gradually grinds in.

As is the case for many media industries around the world, the shift to digital has resulted in changes in Nigeria. Some alterations have been simple to navigate, while others, such as the rise in online content, have proven more difficult.

Nigeria has traditionally had an extensive and diverse media landscape, and the medium-term potential for growth and development in the sector remains strong. In 2015 the media and entertainment industry in Nigeria achieved total revenue of $4.8bn, according to data from the London-based global professional services firm PwC. This is expected to reach $8.1bn by 2019, with PwC marking it as “the fastest-expanding major market globally.”

The year was busy for media in Nigeria, especially with the general elections that held in February and March.

Like in the past, there were rigorous regulations around content. In fact, international monitors have sometimes concluded that the Nigerian authorities go too far in terms of media oversight and regulation.

At a forum organised by the South West arm of the Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) on April 23, 2019 at Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Executive Head, The Guardian Editorial Board, Mr. Martins Oloja, who was the guest speaker, charged the Nigerian media to sharpen their coverage of politicians and political office holders ahead of the 2023 general elections.

Oloja, who spoke on Challenge of reporting in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious setting: The case of Nigeria’s 2019 General elections, said the Nigerian media failed to highlight, through reports and editorials, the consequences of President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to sign the Electoral Reform Bill into law.

He said the media failed to provide information on those engaged in the buying and selling of votes during the election.

“Most local and international observers posted this in most reports. But the Nigerian media did not report this scandal and blighter well. Only the BBC did.

“The media failed to interrogate and track what governments have been doing with our money. If the GDP cannot tell us how well nations are performing, what can? This is how data journalism shapes election as a process around the world.”

Oloja said the media also failed to focus on a lot of the political actors – current and former state governors, senators, and reps members – ahead of the elections.

Ahead of the 2023 elections, he advocated for journalists to embrace financial journalism as a means of holding governments accountable for their monthly IGRs and federal allocations.

Also, while speaking at the public presentation and media roundtable on trends in print and online newspapers’ reportage of 2019 elections in Lagos, an International Press Centre (IPC) initiative, a senior lecturer, School of Communication, Lagos State University, Dr. Tunde Akanni, noted the gaps for the purpose of using the “outcome as a tool for continuous engagement with journalists, media managers and media gatekeepers on the need to ensure media professionalism.

Akanni said, the report’s thematic areas focused upon campaign promises, where a total of 3,145 reports on political and governance issues were tracked between July and September.

“171 reports were published on political conflicts, accounting for 5.44 per cent of identified relevant reports. 49.22 per cent of all political and governance issues reported were on election petitions with 1,548 reports. A total of 688 reports were published on campaigns by political parties’ candidates, representing 21.88 per cent. The reports were in the context of the buildup of political and campaign activities ahead of the Kogi and Bayelsa States’ gubernatorial elections on November 16, 2019.”

Out of 4,217 total reports identified as relevant and monitored, 3,710 reports were published as news (at 88%) while 204 of the relevant reports were published as features at (4.8%). There were 23 editorials at (0.55%); 98 reports were opinion articles at (2.32%); seven reports were Letters to the Editor (0.17%) and 26 were photographs (0.62%). Others include nine reports published as Cartoons (0.2%); 1 as Vox Pops (0.02%) and 138 Interviews making 3.3 per cent. One Video was found relevant within the period, representing 0.02 per cent.

BUT more inauspicious in 2019 is that politicians are overseeing concerted attempts to throttle the independence of the media sector.

Reputed to be one of the liveliest in Africa, Nigeria’s media scene is beginning to be muzzled by lack of press freedom. The Hate Speech Bill, which has passed the first and second readings and heading for the committee that will subsequently call for public investigation before it is passed, is already in the front burner and will dominate discussions in 2020.

The Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019 proposes that offenses be punishable by a fine, a prison sentence of three years, or both. The bill also seeks to allow law enforcement agencies to order Internet service providers to disable Internet access.

Head of Department of Communication and Language Arts, University of Ibadan, Prof. Ayo Ojebode, said peddlers of fake news are a danger to democracy, “but this bill will be a disaster to the country. Without the bill, state emperors called governors have shown us what they can do with their critics – where is Agba Jalingo and others?

“And now, with the bill added to the existing cybercrime law signed by President Jonathan, I think we would just be in trouble. Yahuza Tijjani spent 59 days in detention for a Facebook post that annoyed a member of the Kano State House of Assembly. Yahuza is a student of Bayero University, Kano, I learnt. All that is happening without a social media bill. Imagine what will happen once it becomes law.”

Although those championing the bill said it would help enhance security, peace, and unity, the language of the bill appears to create vague criminal offenses that would allow the authorities to prosecute those who ordinarily criticise government as part of their social and democratic right of extracting good governance from elected officials.

At the presentation of The Gatekeepers (volume two) and Nigerian Journalism: 160 Years of Advancing Accountability, Promoting the Public Interest & Speaking Truth to Power, former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, said journalists and media houses must ensure that the hate speech bill is killed before it gets to the plenary session.

Osoba, equally tasked media practitioners in the country to stand against the passage of the Hate Speech Bill before the National Assembly, as it portends great danger for the survival of the nation’s democracy.

He urged practitioners to take up the challenge posed by the bill squarely, by explaining to members of the National Assembly why the bill must not be passed.

In view of activities of some bloggers and non-professionals, who have turned the social media to money-spinners by spreading falsehood, professional journalists must provide alternative for the readers, he asserted. This, he said, should come through credible and investigative stories that are educative and spread via the social media platforms.

During the year, journalists were threatened, subjected to physical violence, or denied access to information by officials and police.

Jones Abiri, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Weekly Source newspaper, was arrested in May and charged with cybercrime, sabotage and terrorism. The case related to 2016 allegations of links to rebels in the Niger Delta, after which he was detained by Nigeria’s intelligence agency for two years without trial.

In the southern state of Cross River, Agba Jalingo, who publishes the Cross River Watch paper, was arrested in August, days after the publication of an article about alleged corruption. Jalingo has been charged with treason and a bail request has been declined.

“These [recent] incidents suggest a disturbing trend towards repression of freedom of expression and create a climate of fear which may stifle the media,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Throwing reporters in jail for doing their job of informing the public sends a chilling message to journalists, activists and citizens.”

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