Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Notes From Symposium: The Role of Journalism in Nation Building

“a time would never come when the Nigerian media will become a toy in someone’s pocket”

During the first couple of minutes into the symposium, I was a bit apprehensive. Political reporting is really not a beat I’m ultra-excited about. So when political coverage dominates a discussion around Journalism, I find myself tuning out. I can do this. I can do this. I CAN survive a few hours of political discourse. I tried psyching myself up. And then it happened. The discussion took a dramatic turn. It became more diverse. More exciting. More whole… to borrow the journalistic term, more balanced.

I am talking about the recent Symposium organized to honor Pastor Tunde Bakare on his 60th Birthday [HAPPY BIRTHDAY PASTOR B!]. The event, which took place at All Season’s Plaza in Agindigbi Ikeja, had in attendance key players in the journalism and political sphere. I call them the elders of journalism. The event was open to non-journalists as well.

This is a personal account of the event. Someone else will tell his or hers differently. That is to say, the views here do not represent that of the organizers or other attendees.

The chairman of the occasion was Chief Ajibola Ogunsola while the Keynote speaker was Mr Segun Adeniyi. The Panelists: Mr Simon Kolawole, Mr Azubuike Ishiekwene, Mr Edward Dickson, Mrs Funke Aboyade, Mr Femi Adesina, and Mr Dele Momodu, who later revealed that he would soon become Pastor Joseph. Yes—read on!

In his opening remark, Chief Ogunsola gave a brief historical context to the topic of discussion. What is press freedom in Nation Building? What is the role of journalism in Nation building?

Mr. Segun Adeniyi was called upon to give his keynote speech. In his overview, Mr. Adeniyi reminded us that the key function of journalism is to inform, educate and entertain. Journalists also investigate the work of governance, while playing the role of a watch-dog. He called for more collaboration between the media and the political governance. Without this, we cannot build the nation.

Mr. Femi Adesina was next on the panel. He spoke passionately about the role of media beyond political coverage. Mr. Adesina is said to be very passionate about human-interest focused journalism. He is also passionate about the future of Nigerian Press. To paraphrase what he said, a time would never come when the Nigerian media will become a toy in someone’s pocket. That is to say, people should stop trying to manipulate the media for their personal gain. Mr. Adesina reminded us that the Nigerian media was birthed from activism. It must remain so in its quest to build the nation.

The role of Journalism in Nation Building is very crucial. We can’t see a new Nigeria without the media, Adesina said.

Mr. Simon Kolawole was the man who brought in the fresh perspective to the panel. He said we think of Nation building in terms of politics. When discussing nation building, we should be looking at the quality of lives of the people. Media Independence is also a very critical issue that must also be addressed. Who are the people founding and funding Nigerian media? The history of Nigerian Press shows that the early media organizations were created to project the political ambition of the founders and funders. This has remained the case, which is limiting the media in its quest to keep the government accountable. To put it simply, journalists cannot question those who pay their salary.

Talking about journalists, Kolawole said journalists must be well informed if they want to be able to build the nation. Some journalists only scratch the surface of issues because they themselves lack in-depth knowledge about them. For example, the first Nigerian newspaper is called Iwe Iroyin fun awon ara Egba ati Yoruba. Does that not mean that as far back as 1859 when the publication came into existence the Egbas were not considered Yoruba? What does that have to say about our cultural history? Journalists must empower themselves with knowledge to be able to empower others. My thoughts.

Mr. Azubuike Ishiekwene brought a theoretical perspective to the discussion. He said today’s journalism is not a monopoly. Thus journalists must stop seeing themselves as the sole actors in the field. He highlighted the four theories of the press and how they intercept today’s journalism practice. He also pointed out that the Nigerian constitution covers the profession in terms of ownership and watch-dog role of keeping the government accountable.

Journalism that will build a nation must first redeem itself and focus on context, connectivity and connection, Ishiekwene said. For context, reporting must go beyond merely breaking the news to telling the audience how such information affects them. For connectivity, journalists should learn to network with others, across the globe. On content, the media must produce useful contents others can share. The dominance of the future belongs to content providers that can be shared by others.

Mr. Edward Dickson, brought a human face and emotion to the discussion. He shared how the practice of journalism frustrated him at the early stage. Aside working in a media firm that was shut down twice due to political interference with the media, he also observed/experienced people’s poor attitude towards journalists.

He said the government sees journalists as a dog that must be trampled upon. Even the people whose interest the media protect do not think well of journalists, a self-less group who put their lives in line to serve them. It is difficult to be a watch-dog in Nigeria, Dickson chirped. Referring to the poor welfare of journalists, he said this group of people who are expected to be veracious cannot be so on empty stomach.

Journalists are often shackled, muzzled, blackmailed and intimidated in Nigeria. He gave an example of how his newspaper did a cover story about the poor condition of education of a particular state, only for representatives of the government to send them a letter asking for the building plan of their office. How did an office that was build way before Nigerian independence suddenly become of interest?

As daunting as it is, journalists must not shy away from their role as nation builders. Dickson is optimistic that someday the Nigerian media will be able to join forces with the publics to check the excesses of government leaders.

Don’t be despondent. We have taken off on a journey. It will lead us to a good success, he said.

And then, the only lady on the panel, Funke Aboyade SAN, brought a legal angle to the discussion. She pointed out the different lapses of the Nigerian media, sighting the poor coverage of the kidnapped Chibok girls as an example.

Nigerian media must learn to hold the feet of government leaders to the fire. Our Nigerian media can be more robust, she said.

Dele Momodu wrapped up the panel discussion with a high level of humor. First he commended Pastor Tunde Bakare for being an exceptional Journalist—he runs a column on TV called Moment of Truth :-). A very effective medium that has gathered dedicated viewership from across sector, Mr. Momodu noted.

Then he announced he feels he now has a pastoral calling. He will take up his English name and be called Pastor Joseph or Pastor Jo, for short.

Aside his jokes, Mr. Momodu touched on a very important angle. He said if we want journalists to build the nation, the nation must build journalists. [I hope managing editors and media owners are reading]. The need for training opportunities for journalists cannot be overemphasized.

While reacting to the outcome of the symposium, Pastor Tunde Bakare appreciated everyone for their contribution and also commended Nigerian journalists for the incredible role they play in building the nation. Awards were given to all the speakers for their immense contribution to the journalism profession.

And yes, Gbenga Adeyinka was the anchor for the day, with cool jokes. There was so much to laugh about! Now I understand why people really pay thousands to attend his comedy show.

I’m glad I attended the event! So grateful for the opportunity to learn, learn and learn. 

It is time to take the root downward and produce fruits upward.

The celebration continues.

See some of the pictures of the event:
The panelists

Pasto B and Mrs B

Pastor B and Chief Ogunsola

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