By Vincent I. Maduka
I would like us to take a few moments to examine the purpose of a handful of media organs, where we can establish them.
The records available show that it was the then director–general of the BBC (1992-1998) who first formally ascribed the tripartite role to broadcasting, namely: to inform, to educate, to entertain; this has since become part of the BBC’s mission statement and the broad objectives of all broadcasting organisations all round the world. The BBC is famous as the epitome of public interest broadcasting, committed to such liberal practices as inclusivity, access, and good programming, as against that of a profit motivated or other narrow cause. With regard to the print, the first newspaper published in Nigeria was a Christian one with the objective of promoting a religious set of values. This, we are told was the Irohin, first published in Abeokuta by the missionaries. There were also early newspapers that were politically targeted like the Lagos Weekly Record. This was edited by Ernest Ikoli, as an anti–colonial newspaper that addressed the colonialist more than the populace itself. One of Nigeria’s most notable commercial newspapers was the Daily Times, first published in the 1930s. The Daily Times was, naturally, more inclined towards entertainment.
The Zikist newspapers, namely, the West African Pilot stable, were essentially nationalistic and could be considered, at the time, to pursue a public or national interest. Zik’s newspapers relied far more on subscription income than advertisement revenue, because advertisements were in the hands of those whom he set out to antagonise at the time, namely, the foreigners. Incidentally, one of the Zik’s newspapers, The Comet, was acquired from a man named Duse Mohammed Ali, an African nationalist of Sudanese Egyptian origin, who lived in the UK and visited Nigeria from time to time. Along with the Daily Service begun in the 1940s, all these newspapers were directed at sensitising Nigerians to reject colonial rule and demand independence from the British. As a business, the Zikist papers employed sensationalism and populism; nevertheless, their advocacy or objective as media organs was the promotion of a new sense, you could say, a new value among Nigerians. Some of the educated and priviledged Nigerians, especially those in the Lagos area, were beginning to distance themselves from their less privileged and less educated compatriots, as they donned European suits and wined and dined like, and with, the colonialists. The nationalist newspapers often turned their venom more towards these Nigerians than to the public enemy, the colonialists.
National partisan politics came strongly to the fore, as played out in the Nigerian newspapers during the 1950s, with the entry of such papers as Obafemi Awolowo’s Tribune (incidentally today’s oldest surviving newspaper), for example. The nation’s newspapers were pre-occupied with name-calling and factionalisatioVincent I. Maduka
Vincent I. Madukan among the nationalists during this period, and we can hardly refer to the role played then as one of value building, if we define value as something widely desirable. Meanwhile, Nigerian newspapers had earned themselves a reputation for combativeness, first in their relationship with the colonialists and then with one another.
The broadcasting services introduced a new dimension to media practice by which both literate and non-literate Nigerians were now brought into the media consuming community – the employment of several Nigerian local, ethnic languages, serving to bring information to far more Nigerians than hitherto. The broadcast, nationwide, of the cultural and artistic expressions of the different ethnic “nationalities”, no doubt, have had the effect of exposing Nigerians to the rich social tapestry that is Nigeria. Sometimes people of one “nationality” show impatience or irritation when they are exposed to the unfamiliar performance from another part of the country but, with time, they do grow to tolerate, then accommodate the new fare.
In 1953, the colonial governor criticised the leader of Government Business in the Western Region, Chief Awolowo, on the platform of the NBS over a political issue, but when the chief demanded a right of reply on the same radio service, he was refused the opportunity. Now one would have expected that the NBS would operate in a similar manner to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), in matters of fairness. The treatment which the Chief received prompted the Nigerian nationalists to demand a constitutional change that would permit regional governments to establish and run radio broadcasting services, thus leading eventually to the establishment of the Western Nigeria Television Service (WNTV) in 1959. The two other Regions soon set up their respective services, the East in 1960 and the North in 1962. Incidentally, the central government, also set up the NBC-TV in 1962.
Television is, no doubt, a most powerful communication tool, given its engagement of both visual and aural senses. South Americans are reputed to have put the entertainment power of television to great use in their social marketing soap operas, the Telenovelas, and an NTA attempt in the mid 1980s to adopt the method in Nigeria failed to take off. The so-called Sabido technique combines social research and literary creativity to deliver soap operas that are scientifically proven to engender certain changes in society, notably, family health and adult literacy. These social changes derive from the demonstration of personal gain, which the viewer can readily identify with. I presume that the type of value re-orientation which we are examining today could possibly succeed from the application of social marketing to a number of related sub-values.
A value re-orientation presumes that we, or someone, are not satisfied with what passes for our values at the present time. Now, no nation can say it is perfectly satisfied with the state of its values; there is always some slack somewhere. In the case of our country, Nigeria, you could say that a very high proportion of our commentators and opinion leaders would say figuratively that we do not have ideals.
Now, ideals should be socially acclaimed, accepted goals of high standard, of perfection and, we should have a few of them.
We speak frequently of our greatness as a nation, something we cherish. This is a desire, perhaps, of all nations; those people who are in public office speak easily of the unity of our country, and any suggestion that that unity may not (yet) be quite there sufficiently is often considered unpatriotic: it is as if the observer of a lack of unity was the cause of the short-fall in our unity. My job at one time as editor-in-chief was threatened under a military regime because I had asked my colleagues in the news department to jettison such epithets as great and united when referring to Nigeria: of course, they could report that way if someone said so. Now, my action was not as a result of my lack of patriotism or desire for Nigeria, rather it was that I did not think that a responsible media organ, as our own, should use words lightly. Unity and greatness are ideals, what we should work towards, but I am also aware that some of our traditional religions sometimes substitute desire with reality. To report imperfection on our part is to wish it, they fear, and so imperfection is reserved for our enemies. You ask your worker or colleague why s/he missed work the previous day, was s/he ill? And the person looks at you as if you were evil. Then, s/he replies in the negative (ill?) and says that s/he is “strong”. That was the reason why s/he did not come to work! I reckon that that practice or belief has found its way into some of our later-day Christian practices in Nigeria. If we can make a sick man well by telling him and ourselves that he is strong, that is, in a way, encouraging him to feel well, then, the task of the Nigerian media is well cut out and easy in the matter of value re-orientation, which is the subject of this discourse.
Nigerian critics, of whom there is no shortage, whatsoever, complain about the country’s deficiencies, whether in material or ethical terms: simply, send in the media. In 1984 when the Buhari military administration replaced President Shagari, the former set out to root out indiscipline (“indisplin”) which the government considered the major root of Nigeria’s imperfection. So, the federal minister of information summoned all the heads of the federal media agencies along with the high officials of the Ministry. Then the officials directed that the media should propagate certain messages to promote discipline in our society. The Ministry had prepared some for print and others as radio jingles. NTA, of course, was to use the combination of visual and aural symbols, and we all would fight and, hopefully, eradicate indiscipline thereby.
Vincent I. Maduka is a engineer, broadcaster and pioneer director general of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).