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The upsurge of political newspapering in Nigeria

Recently, the media industry in Nigeria has witnessed a number of new developments, prominent among which is the emergence of newspapers which are reportedly ‘owned’…

Recently, the media industry in Nigeria has witnessed a number of new developments, prominent among which is the emergence of newspapers which are reportedly ‘owned’ by politicians. Former Lagos state governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for example, is said to be the major stakeholder in The Nation and National Life, while Ogun state governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, is believed to be behind the Nigerian Compass. Even the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mairice Iwu, is rumoured to have started a monthly newspaper called African Herald Express.

Already, these papers have been identified as toeing the lines of the political parties to which their sponsors belong. While The Nation is believed to be presenting the views that are sympathetic to the causes of the Action Congress (AC), the Compass expresses views that are identified to be decidedly those of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The Sun, believed to be propped by former Abia state governor, Orji Uzo Kalu (he is also said to be the owner of the Spectator), is seen as a  Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) paper.

This, however, may not be the first time politicians are seeking to influence the views expressed in the media in Nigeria. According to Dr Umar A. Pate, a professor of Mass Communication in the University of Maiduguri, politics has always played an important role in the history of mass media in Nigeria and politicians have always sought to influence what the media report.

While some media practitioners see the establishment of more media houses as a positive development which can engender healthy competition in the industry, others are apprehensive, especially in view of the mouth-watering salaries these new media houses are offering journalists which might lead to compromising professionalism.

Kenneth Akpabio, an Abuja-based media practitioner, told Sunday Trust that “the establishment of newspaper houses by influential politicians is a welcome development, especially as these new media outfits offer mouth-watering salaries to their prospective staff. Personally, I think it is a step in the right direction because it will serve as a wake up call to media proprietors who subject their staff to many unethical working conditions”.

But Professor Pate argues that the primary intention of any politician who ventures into newspaper publishing is to influence editorial content and, in the process, “things like ethics may suffer; things like balance may be at the mercy of those who are controlling the editorial positions”, adding that they may end up employing only people who are ready to “do their bidding as opposed to the professional who may want insist on the criteria of his profession”.

Dr Kudo Eresia-Eke, a one-time commissioner for information in Rivers state who has been a journalist and is currently external relations manager with the Nigeria LNG Limited, says there is nothing wrong with journalists being paid fat salaries, as long as they hold unto their professional principles.

“I don’t see anything wrong with [journalists’] accepting fat salaries”, he says, adding: “I think journalists should be easily some of the best paid professionals—and in several countries they are—because their job is hazardous and boundless—there is no time a journalist is off-duty. But what you do when the challenge of principle comes is what makes the difference. Are you going to sell out for money or are you going to hold [unto] the principles of the profession?”

Abdullahi   Abdulrahman (not real names), the Abuja correspondent of one of the national dailies, believes that the emergence of more newspapers is good for the industry and its stakeholders. “There are speculations in some quarters that the media industry is already saturated. [But] there is still room for more media outfits”, he says, adding that there is no such thing as too many media outfits. The overall beneficiary of this media renaissance, he maintains, “is the country because it has the tendency to deepen the country’s democratic experience.”

But in view of this optimism, pundits have been quick to point out that the political class knows the powerful role which the media plays in influencing public opinion, hence their tendency to invest in the media ahead of the 2011 general elections.

Dr Eresia-Eke predicts that more newspapers will come into existence as 2011 approaches. “We shall have more and more newspapers as we move towards 2011”, he says. He however says that where these papers express the views of certain politicians and political parties, they are mere public relations newsletters because, according to him, by definition, journalism is objective.

Whether the new media outfits will survive beyond the aspirations of their sponsors is, however, a subject for speculation. Professor Pate observes that newspapers established by politicians do not usually last long because they are established to serve a particular purpose, at the end of which they become unsustainable. “Some of these newspapers”, he says, “when the politicians establish them, some times, they have presidential ambitions. But by the time they realise that their ambition will no longer be feasible, you may sometimes see the newspaper collapsing. We have had several experiences of this in the past. If you look at the history of newspapering in Nigeria, [you will see that] some very prominent politicians who were state governors had established some powerful newspapers. But the extent to which these papers can survive after the ambitions of these politicians have died is something that we are yet to see”.

Dr Eresia-Eke concludes that the use of media as political instruments is a sign that journalism is dying in Nigeria. “Journalism is dying in Nigeria”, he says with emphasis: “I say this with all the passion I can muster”. He also called for the establishment of a very strong press regulatory body to ensure that the ethics of the profession are safeguarded, and urged journalists themselves, including those who are no longer working in the media, to come together and defend the profession.

Professor Pate also points out that newspapers used by politicians as a means of expressing their political views are working against themselves, because “people will get fed up with the same message every day because the papers are nothing but propaganda rag sheets”.

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