Before this Nigerian media mess consumes us all
By Jide Jegede
The encounter was recent. A friend and professional colleague introduced me to a Professor who wanted to start an online newspaper and needed an editor to coordinate the job. Ordinarily, since I already have a news website I run, that job should not be for me. But I love challenges and was eager to see if there could be areas in which we can collaborate and be of assistance to each other. I agreed to meet with the don for discussion. Our discussion lasted less than one hour and we were able to agree on many issues, including allowing me to run my own site side-by-side theirs. As I was thinking we already had a deal, my host shocked me at the tail end of our tete-a-tete.
Among the items thrashed at the brief meeting, the issue of remuneration has kept me thinking ever since. In fact, the perception of the budding outfit on the worth of journalists in terms of pay threw me off-balance. Against the usual practice, the Professor did not bother to ask me how much would be okay for me for the job on offer. Instead, he told me the outfit already had a salary scale. According to him, the scale was arrived at after a consultant engaged to design it (the scale) had juxtaposed wages across media houses in Nigeria. In their wisdom, the editor only deserves the salary of Grade Level five, step two (GL5, step 2) cadre in the consolidated salary scale.
I don’t know who or what that consultant was. I also don’t know his level of involvement in the media or if he actually involved any media practitioner in arriving at the scale. But, how he came about the scale still beats me.
One, unlike in the past, it is most unlikely to see anyone coming into journalism practice these days without completing his/her first degree. That is usually the minimum today. Again, you are not likely to be made an editor unless you have been actively involved in the trade for a minimum of five years.
Considering the above, I couldn’t see the nexus between asking me to be an editor and putting me on a salary scale that is far below the standard for a fresh graduate.
What I could see clearly, however, was the evidence of high contempt the Nigerian system has developed against the media and its practitioners.
The media is often tagged the fourth estate of the realm. In essence, to ensure a smooth running system, the media deserves some measure of recognition just like the main three arms of government – executive, judiciary and legislature. What this suggests to me is that for us to ensure a well-functioning system, the media must be in good state of health. And this must be the duty of all. If the primary organs of government desire a sane environment to operate, they must resolve to take a decisive step on issues affecting journalism, its practice and welfare of the practitioners seriously.
We must visit the same level of disgust we express against infractions ingovernmentsonanomalies in journalism practice. The truth is that many of the so-called media owners in Nigeria don’t run their businesses with any shred of humaneness. This class can only operate in such sensitive sector of the economy in a country like Nigeria where insanity is promoted to an order. That is whythe Nigerian media has been so corrupted that it is abysmally sinful to attempt to be saintly. The other side is that we all pretend about this and its consequences on our system.
The rate at which media house do fold up in Nigeria is worrisome. It is an eloquent testimony to journalists’ vulnerability to distress. And from the look of things, the Nigeria Union of Journalists, the umbrella body of media practitioners in the country, is overwhelmed by the telling impact on members.That is why it is incumbent upon the policy makers to wade in and invent appropriate state intervention to protect the industry.Our society’s culture of silence on issues affecting journalists’ welfare is criminal. It is a crime against its own soul.
American President Thomas Jefferson’s preference for a ‘newspaper without government’ to a ‘government without newspaper’ summed up the importance of journalism to good governance and stable society.
We have consistently criticized journalists for collecting money in the cause of doing their job. That is okay. But, there is need to take a step further. Do we care to ask ‘why’? Why would a ‘professional be comfortable humiliating by craving crumbs in the course of doing his job? We must sit back and ask ‘why’.No amount of explanation will do in attempt to justify corruption in the media. But I believe by asking ‘why’ we will be taking a major leap in attempt to tackle the pervasive rot.
How much does an average Nigerian journalist earn? How regular is his pay? What are the conditions of service in the Nigerian media? We need to seek honest answers to these questions and more to be able to know where and how to start in finding solutions to the mess in the Nigerian media.
It is no news that only a few among the private-owned media organizations in the country do pay their workers in the true sense. Many of those who paydon’t pay living wages. Some others pay poorly and even owe their employees months of salary arrears.
This has been responsible for why the industry is losing many of its competent hands to other more rewarding professions. With the few years I have spent in journalism, I can recall how fine hand in the profession switch side to law, academics, public relations, even politics because they could not get fulfillment in their original profession of choice. Many others have escaped abroad in search of greener pasture. Yet, we don’t seem to notice the endemic brain drain in the Nigerian media because we still get something to read in our newspapers, and the airwave is always busy when we choose to hook up on the electronic platforms.
We tend to make so much noise about the Freedom of Information Act as if it is going to guarantee accountability on its own. I still wonder how free the information obtained by a hungry journalist would remain after been processed and served to the public.Even if the processor refuses to be compromised in the course of processing and presenting the information to the public, the fact that the system he works for does not care about his existence naturally prevents him from giving all his best. If the country likes let it enact FoI Act hundred times more. If the lives of its appliers (media practitioners) are in bondage, the freedom in those strings of information is already stunted.
It is important that we realize the urgent need for us to save us from us. Not showing serious interest in welfare of the Nigerian journalists is like a nursing mother denying a Rottweiler dog she keeps in her house regular food. You can just imagine the risk!
Jegede, an Ibadan-based journalist, coordinates www.witnessng.com