Home MIXED GRILL Opinion (1/4/17): The media, convenient falsehood and development, by Uche Nworah

Opinion (1/4/17): The media, convenient falsehood and development, by Uche Nworah


Mass media refer to the various forms of communication that reach large, widely dispersed audiences simultaneously with largely undifferentiated messages using a media vehicle or platform such as electronic media ( Radio, Television, Film), Print Media (newspapers, magazines, journals and other forms of published matter), Online media ( internet websites, social media websites example Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat etc).
Traditional media which is often classified as Alternative Media is included in this discussion as they are considered relevant in reaching the rural communities and include town criers, mural paintings, markets and village square meetings and other forms of traditional media practices which still exist in various forms in our rural communities.
Mass communication scholars share this age-long view of the traditional roles of the media as agents of change (Owolabi & O’Neil 2013). Okunna (2000) corroborates this and argues that the mass media help to maintain constant flow of vital information for economic progress without which national development is bound to be stagnated or at best be retarded. Owolabi (2008) goes further to add that decisions are made on the basis of the quality of available information at the disposal of the citizens.
Beyond the traditional functions of the media to educate, inform and entertain, Wood and Barnes (2007) acknowledge the role of the media in reducing poverty by raising public awareness and debate, and shifting public and political opinion. They also recommended the following functions for the media in any society: (1)Providing an open forum to reflect different public views, including those of economically poor people (2)Providing an open forum to reflect different public views, including those of economically poor people (3)Scrutinising and holding all actors to account for their actions.
The challenge for media practitioners therefore is to ensure that the information we are sharing with the public to aid their decision making process are truthful, relevant, useful, objective, timely and are such that will help to improve their quality of life. 

Information from the media should also aid government officials, policy makers and entrepreneurs to be aware of and respond to opportunities and challenges in their respective political, social and economic domains.
The media is expected to play leading roles towards the development of the society where they operate. Igben (2006) argues that the mass media are believed to be central to the over-all development of the society. Ucheanya (2003) submits that the role of the media in development lie in their capacity and capability to teach, manipulate, sensitize and mobilize people through information dissemination. Other writers such as Yakasai (1996) prescribe further roles the media should play towards the development of the society; (1) establishing societal values and promoting change towards desired directions thereby encouraging a climate of change (2) promotion and protection of social justice (3) promoting social cohesion, peace, progress, co-existence and discouraging corruption and injustice (4) proffering solutions to societal problems and providing a platform for the exchange of ideas and giving voice to the voiceless.
Development refers to an improvement in the economic situation of the people where the basic necessities of life such as food, housing, education, good income and health care are met at affordable cost and where the society is safe, peaceful, secure, attractive and worth living. Walter Rodney argued in his book – How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, that development in human society is a many – sided process. At the individual level he said; “It implies increased skill and capacity, greater freedom, creativity, self-discipline, responsibility and material well-being”.
The media have big roles to play in helping our people come up in the Human Development Index as popularised by the UNDP, and its Sustainable Human Development (SHI). The media can pursue reportages that promote people-centred development through people’s empowerment; encourage popular participation that put the people first, a bottom- up development model from the grassroots that also promotes shared environmental responsibilities.
Exchange of information is therefore key to the development of any society. Lack of information could lead to under-development. This discussion would not have been necessary if not for the accusations from some observers that the media have largely failed to lift Africans and mainly rural dwellers from poverty, choosing rather to focus and thrive largely on the philosophy of convenient falsehood.
In most parts of Africa and indeed Nigeria, mass media activities have remained urban enterprises to the neglect of people living in the rural areas where 70% of the population live. When the story of the agricultural breakthrough deal brokered by the Anambra state government broke in 2016, rather than explore further by climbing boats and using other means to get to the locations where the Ugu and Onugbu farms are located, many of our colleagues chose rather to report ‘convenient falsehood’ which were regurgitated and fallacious stories bothering on scandalous falsehood copied from bogus and fake internet websites and off the facebook pages of sworn enemies of the Anambra state government.
Some media practitioners in Anambra state are gravitating dangerously towards the widely travelled route of ‘Herd mentality journalism’, where everybody reports and writes the same thing, mostly copied and pasted without efforts at fact checking. It is not only in America that the divisive concept of ‘Alternative Facts’ have berthed. It is alive and thriving in Anambra state with its attendant consequences. This is particularly true of the so-called online journalists, bloggers and social media crusaders who abide only by their own self-written survival code which does not come anywhere near the NUJ code of professional ethics.
Before you copy, paste and post, before liking and sharing, please pause and think.

We can see all around us the new craze for everybody to become a blogger. It appears that the invention of the WordPress, Blogger, Facebook and other free social media applications and platforms has unleashed the beasts in us. It has given us the freedom to publish malign, abuse, threaten and blackmail. Surely, these unethical practices cannot be what the founding fathers of the journalism profession had in mind when they risked personal safety and freedom and used the newly discovered and powerful tools of mass media to fight for independence and seek an end to military rule in Nigeria.
Many of our colleagues do not come prepared. It appears that for some, the fame must come before the craft. If you bother to read what some us write in the name of blogging, you will cringe. The journalism profession is gradually slipping away from the hands of trained journalists and rather than fight to wrestle back this noble profession, many of us are still chasing mundane things. 

The likes of the great Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alade Odunewu, Mokwugo Okoye, Dele Giwa etc will be turning in their graves at how rather than use the media to promote development in our societies, we have converted it to a profession for pursuing personal vendetta, settling political scores and for personal aggrandisement. We may also wish to recall the exploits of Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, both of The Guardian newspaper who chose rather to go to prison in 1984 defending their conscience, rather than disclose the source of their published information.
The biggest story in the modern ‘fake news’ era in Nigeria has its roots in Anambra state. The real story of the Miss Anambra lesbian sex video scandal is yet to be told. In choosing to go with ‘convenient falsehood’ or the way of the American ‘alternative facts’, we may have failed to truthfully serve our publics.  
Media practitioners should begin to see themselves as stakeholders in the Anambra project. Through responsible journalism and adoption of a culture of shared values, If Anambra does well on all the indices (health, education, roads and infrastructure, doing business, quality of life, agriculture, security, FDIs etc), media practitioners living in Anambra state will also benefit and partake in the socio-economic growth. The schools will not be reserved for angels only; neither will heavenly automobiles only ply on the roads. When we scandalise the state and sensationalise falsehood, when we are guilty of scaremongering and chase investors away, we are not contributing to the socio-economic development of Anambra state.
The attitude of many point to a growing culture of cynicism bordering on hate if not dislike of the activities of the present administration in the state. Such narrow mindedness tends to preclude purveyors of such vile and hate filled narratives of seeing anything good in what the government is doing. Since when did journalism become anti-progress and anti-development to the point that a journalist who probably is sitting in this auditorium did not find any single thing good to write about the Willie Obiano administration after going round the state for 2 days.
John and Olusola (2015) opine that Development oriented-messages are largely elusive in the rural areas of Africa. According to him, Media, as custodians of development, have done little or nothing in the dissemination of development messages in the rural areas. The fate of the rural African people in the face of urban- centric media practice and elusive development-oriented messages still hang in the balance with regard to information, mobilization and education.
What could be the reason for this? Don’t we find reporting rural communities of Anambra state attractive? Is it dangerous to report from the rural communities? Are there no stories to be told from the rural communities of Anambra state? Is it difficult to access rural communities? Why is journalism practice in Anambra state majorly an urban phenomenon? I am aware that the Anambra state Ministry of Information and Communication strategy has Information Officers at all the LGAs and communities in Anambra state but the question is, to what extent do their reportage make it to mainstream media? Also to what extent are the information officers effective in taking back developmental news and information from the city centres to the rural communities?
One may conclude that modern means of mass communication have not lived up to expectation in terms of adequate coverage of newsworthy events in the rural areas where Wilson (1999) notes “seventy percent of the people live without access to modern media of communication”. 
It is my view that if media practitioners in the state are guided by the theory and principles of development communication, it would serve us better. Development media theory which is recommended for countries at lower levels of economic development and with limited resources takes various forms but essentially proposes that media freedom, while desirable, should be subordinated (of necessity) to the requirements of economic, social and political development.
To empower rural dwellers, there has been a push in the advocacy for the establishment of community radio. Individuals, as a matter of right, should have access to media and the right to be served according to their own needs. Therefore, the siting of rural community radio stations and even viewing centres in most rural areas for education, enlightenment, and information become imperative. The same goes for the establishment and shared ownership of local community newspapers in native languages and the continued use of other traditional media forms.
Media organisations operating in Anambra state should increase the Igbo language content of their offerings. This is to help promote the dying language, promote Igbo language, culture and identity and also carry the rural dwellers along by giving priority to news and information links with rural areas for balanced and unbiased news reportage and analyses.
We expect that journalists operating in Anambra state take further interests in helping to sensitise Ndi Anambra on ecological and other issues facing us. As men of conscience, we need to review how we reported the aftermath of the rainfall in some parts of the state last week, the rains washed up debris on the roads from blocked drainages but some of us chose to blame the government for this. In encouraging the efforts of the state Ministry of Environment and the state waste management agency (ASWAMA), the media can help in campaigning and informing our people on good waste disposal manners.
We appear to be much fixated on reportage of government activities to the neglect of other issues. Why is this so? Is it much more ‘lucrative’ to praise or criticise government? There are too many stories we are not yet telling which are begging to be told, for example, the plight of widows in our society and other such stories. 
Other areas that media practitioners can help in the socio-economic development of Anambra state are: (1) Promoting government’s developmental strides (2) Sensitisation of the people in health and related matters (3) Voter sensitisation, registration and voting to discourage apathy in the coming gubernatorial elections (4) Promoting Anambra state’s shared values, anthem etc. (5) Promoting the investment opportunities that abound in Anambra state, the works of Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency (ANSIPPA) and Anambra Small Business Agency (ASBA) (6) Promoting the language and culture of Ndi Anambra (7) Promoting peace and inter-community relationships (8) Highlighting the ills in the society with a view to suggesting accepted norms and sharing best practices etc.
As media practitioners, when we partner with the government and Ndi Anambra in these areas, we are helping to promote socio-economic development in Anambra state. ​

Being excepts of a Paper presented by Uche Nworah, MD/CEO, Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) at the Anambra Media Summit organised by the Anambra State Chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (March 28th & 29th 2017)

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