Seasoned journalist and former Commissioner of Information in Kwara State, Alhaji Raheem Adedoyin, is on the board of the International Press Institute and secretary of the Nigerian chapter of the organisation. He spoke to KUNLE ODEREMI on the challenges facing the media industry in Nigeria, the issue of fake news and related matters.
As a member of the Board of the International Press Centre (IPC), what do you think are the inherent benefits of IPC for the media industry in Nigeria?
First of all, you have to understand the mandate of IPI. It is not an Omni bogus organisation; it has a specific mandate to protect and promote a free press worldwide. So, whatever we have been doing and will continue to do will be seated within that context, ensuring that press freedom is maintained and that press repression is curtailed or eliminated. Generally in Nigeria and across Africa, we have two concerns. The first has to do with safety. A lot of countries in the continent are experiencing serious security problems. And as such, it becomes very difficult for journalists to do their jobs. If you go there, you risk your life. And then, if you don’t go there, there will be no reporting. So it is almost a lost situation for both the press and the society. So we are concerned about that and we are trying to provide some funding and advocacy along that line.
The second one is ethical issues. There is absolutely no reporting going on in Nigeria anymore and in some other part of Africa, because you don’t have the resources to even pursue good news. For instance, Igboho was in the Republic of Benin. If it were to be during my days at the Guardian, two or three reporters would have stormed where he was to dig into why and how he got there and still remains there. So these days, you find out that it is second-hand information that you get. So because of the economic downturn, most newspapers are not able to get the necessary infrastructure that enables good reporting to thrive. So we are coming in there to help the situation. Also, in the context of what is going on, you see so many ethical issues around the difficulties.
People keep saying there is fake news, but I always insist that there is no fake news. Just like what we all learnt in school, news is news; there is fake and there is no original news. News is news, there is a threshold and once you cannot cross it, you can’t classify whatever reports you have as news. So you can’t have fake news. But again, the talk is all over the place and we have been helping them to promote that abnormality to say that something that is not true is fake, which is wrong. Those are some of the challenges that we are having.
More importantly, we have people that are also damaging our reputation in the industry. You will read some stories and wonder whether its writers ever go to any school of journalism, because it is not only false, it is so ridiculous. It is an ethical issue and that is why some of us are concerned and insist that we do not want the government to regulate us.
But there is usually a long chain of gate-keepers. Will you still blame reporters?
It is a shame, just like I have told you. If there is no good reporting, what are you gate-keeping? It starts from the reporter. I was a reporter and the quality of the reporting that I did tells of the quality of the reporter that I was then. So, if your reporter is not good, there is nothing the news editor or sub-editor can do. They can only make the copy look nice. There is nothing they can do about the originality of the copy. What you are reporting is not their business. So, it is a shame as everybody becomes editor now. Once you get some patrons somewhere, you can become an editor. But can someone who has never been a reporter before be an editor? What is he going to edit? What does he even know? How can he call his own reporters to order, because he is not knowledgeable too? So, I have some concerns about those ethical challenges that we are having. The way out is that we must look inward and self-regulate. You have the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). If you go there and do any nonsense, they will withdraw your licence and appropriate the right sanctions for you. But what do we have in the media for someone who has disgraced all of us? Nothing! So, we all must come together and formulate mechanisms to regulate journalism in the country.
Don’t you think the proliferation of the media can constitute a problem?
No, it can’t be. Instead, it brings competitiveness, because the more medium you have, the better. Where is the proliferation now? The newspapers are dying. I hope you are not counting all the digital nonsense you have around as newspapers? This is because there are so many online platforms now that have taken the place of the traditional newspapers. The time you have a boost in the newspaper was during the Babangida era, when he deregulated the industry and you had so many newspapers and proprietors springing up. But again, after Babangida left, there were a lot of difficulties which made some of the papers to die. Of all of them, we have one or two that are still existing. So, there is really no proliferation now, because even for those who are existing, what are they producing? What is circulating? Who is reading them? Who is patronising them? You need sustainability in the industry for it to be viable. But it is not happening. Therefore, there are a lot of things we really need to worry about. I am not going to agree that we have proliferation, because there is none at the moment. In the years past, we even had so many state governments owning newspapers. But now, it is for the broadcast media. However, most of their programmes have been to entertain people and make them laugh, because in reality, most of what comes out as news today is not heart-warming at all. So, you can say there is proliferation in that sector.
You said there is nothing called fake news, but the government is budgeting to fight fake news and hate speech?
Why are you fighting something that doesn’t exist now? I said news is news. Once it is fake, that means it is not correct. So, it is not news. How did you even come about this fake news idea? Was it not former United States President Donald Trump that popularised it to mean anything he didn’t like? And then, most of the dictatorial regimes in Africa embrace it and tag anything that didn’t agree with them or acceptable by them as fake news. It is just dismissive. How are we budgeting for fake news? Is it something you can see? How are you going to combat it when it doesn’t exist? If it is false, there are so many extant laws that take care of that. We have libel laws, sedition laws. There are enough laws to fight abuses in the industry. So, you don’t need any budget to go and fight one fake news that doesn’t exist.
Another challenge we have is that I think we (journalists) are not really convinced that this whole fake news thing is baseless, because news is definitive. It has a threshold, and if any report doesn’t reach this threshold, it is not qualified to be called news and publishable.
Can’t the new media be a challenge?
Why should it be a challenge? I read the New York Times and Washington Post every day. I read them online as they have digital versions of their traditional publication. It is the same thing. The only problem you have with online mediums is with who has registered them. What are the standards? Everybody just woke up today and registered a medium in his name online and politicians will be patronising him, damaging peoples’ reputation. And nobody can sanction or call them to order, because they don’t have any address that you can trace. They don’t have any reputation they are going to protect. So, I really don’t recognise those media, but they are there. But I recently heard that they have now formed an association to bring sanity to their ranks. I even heard that they just had an election. I think their President and deputy are both members of the IPI. And for a person to become a member of IPI, it takes a rigorous process. The person must have attained a certain level not only in terms of experience, but also in the area of integrity. So, I am beginning to think that the online bloggers are also becoming concerned about the bad name people are giving them. Perhaps, that is why they have started sanitising their forum. So the online media will always exist, but they must be regulated.
So, what do you perceive the future of the media industry in Nigeria against the challenges of an unfavourable economic environment, rising cost of production and dwindling capacity in meeting obligations to workers?
If the media are not paying the salaries of their workers, then they must downsize or resize, because running a newspaper is not a small feat. Someone runs The Herald and hadn’t the person isn’t qualified to run it, the medium would have collapsed a long time ago. As a General Manager, he worries about the quality of what goes into his paper. He supervises production and editorial contents. He does so many things, including to think and act as a journalist, because that is the basis. But the first thing I have said is that you must have good reporting, because if you do, people will want to read you and patronise your paper, even the corporate world will want to see that your paper is an exceptional one.
Secondly, you have to get into partnership. A lot of newspapers today are still maintaining printing presses. But, how many papers are you producing that you are still maintaining a printing press? When I was a Managing Director of a medium, we had a commercial press with which we print other commercial jobs. So the newspaper owners should look at how they can partner so as to achieve greater success together. Thirdly, you must train your staff to ensure that they are ethical and can do a good job. And then, you must begin to develop the digital arm of your publication. This thing has happened today and people don’t want to wait till tomorrow before they read about it. What they want to read about tomorrow is its details. That’s why I said newspapers can never die, because for some of us, some of the things you read online today are just like breaking news. But I want to see the details. I want to read the features. I want to see the photographs and see so many things. So that is why the papers can never die.
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