Dr. Festus Adedayo is a political communication scholar, author and lawyer. He was a media adviser to two executive governors. In this interview with ROTIMI AGBOLUAJE of The Guardian Newspapers, he spoke on the challenges facing media in Nigeria today.
How can the media industry produce quality hands for this generation?
IT’S distressing when you look at the media industry. At the time we got into journalism, our predecessors told us that we didn’t meet the industry at its prime. Even the one we met was such that we were encouraged. I told some of my colleagues recently that then, if you were going somewhere for a story, maybe, in Sokoto or any other place, you would collect your travelling allowance as well as the one for the hotel and one to give sources. We had sources that would ask for money. The company would give you money to do your job very well. They called it miscellaneous. Those things were wrapped in your claims once you were able to successfully dispense with the job they sent you. So, it was an industry we were proud of.
Those that went there because they wanted to make money, fell by the wayside. I do tell journalists when I have the opportunity to talk, to seek a good name first in journalism. As the Bible says – seek first the kingdom of God. If you have a good name, money will be running after you. People do come to me now, asking me to do this and that for them because they believe I have that good name. I’m not a blackmailer and money-hungry person. And they pay me for the professional services I render with which I survive and take care of myself and my family.
But it’s painful now when you see media houses owing five to six months’ salaries. Journalists barely survive now. They too have children, wives and they are, most times, forced to do what the society is doing. They follow the bandwagon. This is not giving journalism a good name. I feel that, first the economy is responsible. Newspapers are barely surviving themselves. Some people are even alleging that we are going to the period of autumn for journalism. That we are getting to the point where print journalism will die. This is not true. I don’t subscribe to that. What behoves us as practitioners are change strategies. Yes, print is facing challenges, can we migrate into online and plural journalism? This will be in such a way that you make your money online. I mean newspaper houses will make money online and all that. What it also tells us as individual journalists is to sidestep what we pejoratively called he-said-and-I-quote media practice but to use our talent as journalists.
For instance, we are users of the words, can you use your words in another sphere? I give my own example – I just picked a subject. I picked Ayinla Omowura. I decided to use my writing talent to research this particular person. And to the glory of God, it shot me up in every respect. So, journalists can do that. If you are a broadcast journalist, use your voice and talent to also make meaning of your life.
There are so many other things that traditional journalists can do. I’ve told you about exploring the online platform.
How has the advent of social media helped or destroyed media industry?
It is a double-edged sword. Those days we didn’t know that the rest of the world envied our profession. But with the advent of social media, we found that, indeed, we were a subject of envy. This is because, with Internet-enabled phones, every person is a journalist. But it’s threatening our peace. Social media, in a way, is threatening the peace of society. It’s not only in Nigeria but also all over the world. It’s doing that via fake news.
Some people will just sit in the corner of their room and concoct stories and conjure pictures what they call photoshop and push them out as the original narratives. Many people will pick the narratives and begin to see them as truth. It affects what we purvey as journalists because the believability of our stories is subjected to serious scrutiny. So, many people believe that until they go to recognised sites, they wouldn’t be able to trust whatever is published. So, it gives us a lot of issues.
On the other hand, social media is good. Unlike those days, when access to the hardcopy was the only way you could read it. Now, we find out that you write a story and we have millions of people that read that story even outside your locality. From different locals, people call you from California to tell you that they have read your story that was just uploaded about 10 minutes ago. Hardcopy could never have travelled that far. So, it has helped our profession. I remember those days when my editor would tell me, ‘’There is this breaking news go and do a feature on it.” I would go to the library. I remember the library staff then had to climb a ladder to bring out editions published years back. For instance, I might ask them to bring the Tribune of 1979. They would bring it with dust all over and you start waggling through before you make sense out of it for whatever you want to write. But now, your Google search and you get all the stories. So, the advent of social media, especially the Internet, has done us a lot of good but it also has flip sides.
Looking at the flip side, should social media be regulated?
I think the regulations should be done by us, the practitioners and stakeholders. We should have our own variant of the conference. We should have a national media stakeholders’ conference where all of us will agree on the mode of the regulations. We should do self-regulation. We should do self-censorship on how we want our operations to be. We should not allow the government to do it for us. Our government is afraid of the power of the media. So, if they want to regulate it, If given the chance, they will regulate it according to their whims and caprices. Stakeholders themselves should decide how they want to regulate the media.
Let us talk about the Freedom of Information Act. Has it made the desired impact a decade after it became law?
It has not, because the number of those who have been able to explore it is far between. I think there is timidity among media practitioners. Timidity among people generally in being able to try it out, using that Act to ask for information in government. People still see government as some kind of behemoth that has the power of death. So, they don’t want to die. It is so. But as the Yoruba would say – ‘’I don’t want to die cannot take over the reign of his or her father’s household”. Let people in government know that we know our rights. Let’s explore it, and see if we won’t be able to make meaning out of it. Except those who are brave enough to try it out, people don’t actually know they have the right to ask government to supply them information.
Is Press Freedom obtainable in Nigeria?
I know for sure that I cannot compare 1999 and now with what was obtained when we were practising journalism under the military. I remember for instance, when we were at Omega Weekly, when we realised that General Abacha was after us, there was a time we had to cart the computer system from our office to my house. Although my landlady never knew the risk she ran that time. That was where we were operating from. If you wrote anything, you could have security agents seeking to arrest you and all that… So, from that point, you could say there is freedom.
How can we curb attacks on journalists in this country?
There is no way they will not attack journalists because you know what we do. You know what that means! We are upsetting some people’s apple cart. We are destroying their lives by telling the truth. Yoruba will say, there is no way you will beat a child and won’t expect him to cry.
So, you are the one as a journalist who must be mindful, by first and foremost, ensuring that what you write is the truth. That’s a major defence. Like now, when I write some articles, people will say are you not afraid for your life? Am I an animal? I also want to stay alive, but you see, I feel that some of those things society need to read them. It’s not as if I am so lax that I want to die or want to be killed. No. Of course, I am prayerful and watchful, but at the same time, I believe that society has the right to know some of those things. Yes, it’s just an opinion out of 200 million people, but let it be there in the puddle of opinions. In a society where there is so much lie and subterfuge, let that tiny spec of truth be there so that people will know that it’s not an assemblage of people who have been cowed or people who have no direction. Let that be on top of the opinions. As journalists, even the stories you write; exclusive stories, you have written about somebody who has stolen money, you think he is going to be happy?