Odusile, others seek better deal for effective media practice
In an interview with The Guardian, President of NUJ, Mr. Waheed Odusile, said the summit was in furtherance of NUJ’s commitment to national unity. The summit, tagged ‘The Media and National Unity,’ was aimed at providing a platform for journalists to brainstorm over various problems facing the country and proffering solutions.
Odusile said the current situation in Nigeria was scary thus the need for the media to take a position on what steps to take with regard to unity of the country, adding, “The terrorist group boko haram trying to create an emirate, that they are not part of the country. Then from nowhere, the Niger Delta Avengers came, threatening to ruin the country and also the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) have also been calling for their own separate republic in the South East. We felt the need to discuss the role of the media in promoting national unity, because the media is at the forefront of uniting Nigeria and getting freedom for her people”.
The summit attracted over 460 delegates from across Nigeria, including the governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and representatives of governors of Lagos and Kwara states.There were paper presentations on ‘The Media and National Security,’ ‘Financing the Economy for National Unity,’ ‘Social Media and National Cohesion’ and ‘Building a Strong Union’. After deliberations, the conference agreed that if media organisations encouraged, through good government policies, practitioners would be encouraged to subscribe to the ethos of national development and national security.
Odusile noted, “We believe that the problem facing the media should concern the government, and the media must be supported to survive. The unity of the nation depends on the ability of the media to perform its role in the society”.On the heavy tariff on printing materials and multiple taxes, the NUJ president lamented the high cost of imported printing materials, and noted, “We believe that government can remove the tariff and treat such items as educational materials, and this will allow the media to make more money as it spends less on production, the industry will be more buoyant.
As at today, most of the media outfits are not paying salaries. The private broadcasters pay more in terms of taxes to the government whereas the government media pay little or nothing to government and in the production market they use the same equipment. So, why the discrimination? That’s why we want the government to treat the media as a national institution where it must be nurtured to survive”.
The conference commended government’s effort towards meeting the deadline for digitization, and urged for more proactive measures towards attaining the deadline.“We want to believe that with the pilot scheme that was launched in Jos, and I think Abuja is coming up soon,” he said, “government should be able to meet the deadline next year. The danger is not the deadline, but we should worry about what will happen to the broadcast media if we are not able to meet up with the deadline. We have spoken with the government to carry us along in the implementation so that we can spot areas where we can help them”.
The media conference resolved that the media is a key instrument in engendering national security and must play this role passionately towards enhancing the confidence of the public by communicating security objectives to it. It also noted that the media must rise above commercial, regional and political interests to the height of patriotism and nationalism in the discharge of its duties. It resolved that there is need to enhance the media by developing mechanisms through which new entrants into the profession are inducted.
Further, the conference seeks a comprehensive redirection for practitioners through instigation of a template for training and retraining and renewed devotion to investigative journalism and letting objectivity be the guiding principle because if not done, the “fifth” estate (quacks) could displace the fourth.“We have been trying to get the law enforcement agencies to partner with us to fight this issue of quack journalists spoiling the image of the profession,” Odusile added.
On the issue of social media, the conference emphasised that journalists must take over the social media, and redirect the concept and functions to serve the need for national development. On social media, Odusile said, “We discussed how we can use social media. We want to partner with recognised players in that aspect to teach our members, to give it a journalistic touch”.
Following the success of the summit, Odusile said NUJ intends to put together all the paper presented on what is expected of the media and government in a book form for the benefit of all members, adding, “We will have follow-up review programmes on this. This summit is just the first, and we intend to make it an annual event. So, there will be a media review before the next one, a review of what has been achieved from this summit, and, of course, the national executive council of the union will review the outcome of the summit and see areas where we can implement the outcome and decisions taken to forge ahead, as far as national security is concerned”.
Odusile, who has been the president of NUJ for over a year, said his major challenge is finance, and added, “The life wire of a union is dues, and the more members you have, the more dues you get from them and that is if the salaries are paid regularly and the dues are deducted. We have had to rely on donations from partners both home and foreign, who offer their assistance to us.
“The summit we held in Abeokuta was sponsored by the state government; we thank them for that. But another challenge is the non-payment of salaries to our members. We have constantly engaged with media owners, who are owing, and we have twisted their arms so that they can pay. We felt we had to collaborate with them because our interest primarily is not to ground the media organizations.
“We have been able to get them to pay salaries and a few of them are responding even though the pay isn’t too good. We want to believe that if the government can give us the support we are asking for, it will reduce the sufferings and problems of the industry, and the issue of salary payment will be in the past”.
Although one year seems a short period of time to count achievements, Odusile said, “Since we got to office, we have been able to put our national secretariat in place, and we were able to get a 500KVA generator. At the moment, we are about getting a radio license for our members, so we can operate, not just as a union, but as employers of labour. We want to also use that radio station to teach media owners how to run media organizations professionally and profitable itably”.
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