Repositioning Nigeria’s public media for greater efficiency

Sani Adamu-NAN

Mr Sampson Worlu, the immediate-past Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria-VON, recently hailed the efforts of the Federal Government to keep the public media running but urged it to help the agencies to address their infrastructure decay.

While speaking with State House Correspondents after a visit to the Presidential Villa, Mr Worlu said that the public media is a veritable platform for the dissemination of the agenda of the current government, “which is focused on change.”

“The government is doing what it can to support the public media industry but I think a lot more can still be done, considering the fact that the infrastructure in many of these organisations has been neglected for years.” He said.
“In VON, for example, our transmitting facilities in Ikorodu, Lagos have been neglected for so many years. We have a new transmitting facility in Lugbe, Abuja but it is not properly maintained due to some funding challenges. But the Minister of Information and Culture has been kept abreast of some of these challenges and he is doing everything he can to tackle them. We are hopeful that in the budget of this year (2016), considerable provision will be made for us to begin to address some of these challenges.” Worlu stated.
While stressing the import of proper funding for the media, Mr Worlu said: “I think government media organisations will require continuous funding for quite a few more years before they can get their facilities and infrastructure up to where they ought to be.”
Mr Worlu, who is one the heads of the Federal Government-owned media organisations relieved of their appointments by President Muhammadu Buhari, also underscored the need for constant training and retraining of media personnel, to prepare them for current and future challenges.
He conceded that the public media had enough personnel working hard to drive the agenda of the Buhari-administration but stressed that a lot needed to be done to fill the skills’ gaps existing among the media workers.
“In VON, for example, we have close to 1,200 members of staff, which I think is more than an ideal number of people to have. The problem is with the skills’ gap. And because the media is constantly changing; constantly evolving new ways of doing things, new ways of passing information and all that, you must continuously train the staff.” He emphasised.
According to Mr Worlu, “the skills that they require for the future, we don’t even know some of them now. However, you need to have a programme of constantly training the workers”, he said.
The former Director-General announced the opening of a new VON Training Centre for broadcast organisations, saying “this is one of the things I have prioritised since I took over the leadership in VON. I have just opened the Centre in our Transmitting Station in Lugbe; and we are training people there.”
“Already, we have had a series of five courses; two organised in-house and three organised in conjunction with the British Broadcasting Corporation-BBC.” He explained.
On the alleged poor content of the broadcast media, Mr Worlu argued that the quality of the programmes had not dropped.
“What I would say is that the challenge of satisfying the audience now has increased; you need to do more. For those who ran institutions like VON or NTA in the past, I wouldn’t quite say they had an easy time but their era was different.”
“Today, virtually every person all over the world has 10, 15, 20 or 30 sources of information and news. So, people expect more from you; they want to know what makes you different”, he emphasised.
Mr Worlu recalled that as recently as 1986/87, television stations used to open at 4 p.m. and close at about 10 p.m or 11 p.m., adding, however, that the situation has changed dramatically, as 24-hour broadcasting is now the vogue.
“So, if you own a news organisation, you then have to find what your niche is. You have to do a whole lot more to satisfy your audience. You have to really show them something different that they are not getting from the plethora of sources of news, entertainment and information, which they already have. So, I wouldn’t say that the quality is going down. I will say that customer satisfaction is now even more difficult”, Worlu expatiated.
Across the different media platforms in Nigeria, analysts have shared similar sentiments, insisting that the infrastructure decay in VON was not so different from what exists in other government media organisations like the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria-FRCN, Nigerian Television Authority-NTA and News Agency of Nigeria-NAN.
image1(1)Mr Isiaka Mustapha is one such analyst. He bemoaned the fact that NAN for instance, still relied on an internet-based portal system to process and disseminate news to its subscribers.
“The NAN satellite system has broken down since 2006. Even the Pan African News Agency-PANA, which was set up by the then Organisation of African Union-OAU, now African Union-AU, is also facing serious funding challenges”, Mustapha, a publisher, noted.
He therefore, urged the Federal Government to (urgently) take steps to address the infrastructure challenges confronting its media organisations, to enable them to discharge their professional responsibilities of projecting government’s programmes and policies, as well as generating more meaningful feedback from the society.
In allaying the concerns of public sector media industry operators, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, pledged that he would carefully study the challenges facing the public media organisations, with a view to proffering solutions to them.
The Minister during a familiarisation visit to NAN headquarters in Abuja, however, urged NAN to strive to be the first source of credible news about Nigeria, by regaining its “competitive edge to play in the big league.”
Alhaji Mohammed pointed out that media organisations that exhibited a lot of creativity in their approach to news would excel in the journalism industry, adding that NAN has what it takes to excel.
He said: “I have come with just one message to you: NAN must regain its competitive edge and play in the big league. A few years back, NAN was dominant in the country’s news architecture; it was then widely quoted within and outside the country as a source of credible news. Then it went multi-media full blast, thereby becoming a leading, if not the leading national news agency, in Africa.”
The Minister however, lamented the down turn in the fortunes of NAN but he expressed optimism that the agency has what it takes to turn its fortunes around.
“Today, however, it has lost that edge in an increasingly competitive news environment. Only those media organisations that exhibit creativity in their approach to the news business will excel. NAN, I must say has what it takes to excel and must show more hunger for the kind of news that cannot be resisted by subscribers. It must become the first source of credible news about Nigeria.” He stressed.
Furthermore, Alhaji Mohammed underscored the need for the agency to give priority to human capacity development, so as to enable its workforce to cope with the emerging dynamics of modern journalism.
The Minister, also pledged Nigeria’s resolve to “do all it takes to ensure the continued survival and repositioning of the Pan African News Agency-PANA, to enable it to fulfil its mandate.”
He told a delegation which comprised PANA’s Interim Board Chairman, Dr Ibrahim Daggash and its Managing Director, Mr Babacar Fall, that Africa needs PANA now more than ever, to tell the continent’s stories from the African perspective, rather than the perspective of others.”
“If African stories cannot be told from African perspectives by Africans, events on the continent will always be viewed from the prisms of the western and other media – and such prisms are often distorted. With PANA unable to fully fulfil its mandate, Africa has continued to be portrayed as a continent of wars, diseases, deaths, famine, poverty and bad governance, among others.” He said.
According to Alhaji Mohammed, “The spread of democracy; economic growth which for decades remained among the strongest in the world; and the end of most of the wars that bedevilled Africa for years, are some of the good news coming out of Africa but these are rarely reported.”
He said: “What we see in the media are mostly negative news that portray Africa as a land of plagues, poverty and hopelessness. This has led to the desperation of many of our youths to escape from the continent at all costs, even at the gravest risks to their lives.”
The Minister noted that a vibrant PANA could have helped to change the narratives but noted that the news agency was “chronically hobbled today” as it continues to struggle for its survival.
As Nigerians await the naming of new substantive chief executives for all the Federal Government-owned media organisations, expectations are that the interim period will be harnessed to plan how to effectively reposition public media organisations for quality service delivery.