World Press Freedom Day: Journalism Without Fear or Favour

In order to mark the celebration of  World Press Freedom Day amidst the lockdown on May 3, 2020, the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)  organised a tweet meet to discuss the ‘Economic impact of COVID-19 on the media industry’ with the CEO, Women FM 91.7 MHz, Toun Okewale Sonaiya and Executive Director of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Dayo Aiyetan, as the panellists.

As obvious as it is, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the world strongly that the media sector is not left behind. The media industry in the western world, although affected, have been able to provide a lifeline by their various governments through intervention measures.

According to Toun, the media industry in Nigeria on the other hand ‘has been left in the mud’, citing further that most private-owned media in Nigeria are vulnerable. Most Nigerian media houses are on pause, scaling down, salaries on hold, job losses etc. and only a few media houses had to shut down.

About 40 radio & TV stations in Northern Nigeria with about 40k employees were on the verge of shutting down. Sad.’

On the adverse effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the media at home and around the world, Dayo made it clear that the media sector all over the world has been struggling and that ‘even the prosperous media houses have not had it easy’. On describing the situation of media houses in Nigeria, he said: “In Nigeria, the situation is even worse than in many other places. We all know that only a few media houses can break even today and that is why many cannot pay salary. So COVID-19 has kind of knocked life out of an ailing man…’

The impact on the media, like the western world, is damaging but their government has made provisions for palliatives on top of the social welfare granted to them but unfortunately,  the story of Nigeria has not been so as Toun described the situation as the ‘opposite,’ explaining that there has not been any support of any kind to the media since the emergence of the pandemic in Nigeria.

She explained further that the media is as important as the health workforce because, without the media, there is no news and the media is part of the essentials for keeping citizens safe.

Noticing the shortcomings of the government to deliver welfare to the media, Dayo made it clear that it would not be wise for media houses to wait for the government to heed to their cries instead, media houses should grab and exploit opportunities that have been thrown out to them.

…but the media cannot fold its hands and wait for palliatives from the government. It is time to put on our thinking caps and find a creative means of survival’ 

Furthermore, Dayo decries poor partnership and collaboration between media organisations. He urges media houses to improve on their partnership and collaborative skills so that they would be able to work on a project and share expenses and of course credits.

Speaking of bailouts, Toun said: ‘I only hope the Nigerian government understands the need to intervene without interference’.

Dayo speaking on the government giving aid to the private media sector, he explains that there should be no ‘trade-off’ because there would be a clear possibility of that happening. There will be a ‘payback time’ Toun declared.

…even if the Nigerian Government decides to save the private independent media, it won’t be free.’

After the pandemic is settled, there will be practices that would need to change. Dayo explained that many journalists and editors in Nigeria today do not understand the technology that drives today’s journalism. There is, therefore, a need for reorientation in order to bridge that knowledge gap. Dayo further warned that “…any media house that does not innovate and welcome technology will fizzle out because what COVID-19 has shown is that things will never be the same again.”

Discussing the future of the Nigeria private media landscape, Toun quoted her colleague Amina Alhassan a northern-based journalist, saying: “The future of sustainability of media houses is looking very bleak. COVID-19 may spell the end for many newspapers.”

Finally, answering the question on how media houses have been collapsing as a result of the lack of good financing that even the advertisement sector of journalism has not been spared, Dayo advised strongly on the need for good ‘data Journalism.’ He explained that data is the ‘new oil’ and that media houses have to find new realities in this assertion by exploring limitless opportunities that data provides. Data analytics in specialised areas is a thing that the media should take into consideration soon.

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