A human rights organization, ActionAid Nigeria, AAN, Journalists Against Poverty, JAP, and other stakeholders, Thursday, disclosed that Nigeria still ranks low on the table of free press operation.

This was made known in a communique issued at the end of the National Media Virtual Roundtable jointly organised by ActionAid Nigeria and Journalists Against Poverty on the theme, ‘Between Survival and Existence: Media Objectivity in the Face of Dwindling Fortunes’, on the 7th of May 2020, in commemoration of 2020 World Press Freedom Day. According to the Communique, the media in Nigerian is yet to be totally free from attacks and clampdown by the ruling class and that Nigeria still ranks low on the table of countries with the atmosphere for free press operation.

It further indicated that the financial crisis rocking some media organization has become worrisome as the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the issue, which massive retrenchment looms in the industry if there are no urgent deliberate interventions by stakeholders. It also cautioned that if media house owners go on mass downsizing it would result in job losses and lead to serious security threats as unemployment is a key driver of insecurity.

Therefore called for an urgent bailout structure that will not compromise its independence bearing in mind the large number of Nigerians employed by the industry. Some of the speakers at the meeting included Publisher, Premium Times Newspaper, Dapo Olorunyomi; Osun State Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation/ immediate past President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Funke Egbemode; Manager – Communications, Policy, Government & Public Affairs, Chevron Nigeria and Mid-Africa, Sola Adebawo; and Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria, Ene Obi.

The meeting also had in attendance 68 participants including journalists, media and public relations practitioners, communication executives, and representatives of civil society organisations.

The Communique reads in part, “A communique issued at the end of the National Media Virtual Roundtable jointly organised by ActionAid Nigeria and Journalists Against Poverty on the theme – Between Survival and Existence: Media Objectivity in the Face of Dwindling Fortunes, on the 7th of May 2020, in commemoration of 2020 World Press Freedom Day.

Stakeholders at the roundtable recognised that the Nigerian media is yet to be totally free from attacks and clampdown by the ruling class and that Nigeria still ranks low on the table of countries with a conducive atmosphere for free press operation. “The financial crisis that is rocking the Nigerian media has now been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, thus massive retrenchment is foreseen in the industry if there are no urgent deliberate interventions by stakeholders.

Digitalised operations are no longer an option for media owners and managers considering the current financial constraints, overhead costs, and the increasing digital advertising. “Lack of innovation as a major threat to the Nigerian media existence. Besides, physical and operational innovation, a mental shift from the way journalism has been practiced needs to occur to address current operational realities.

Merger and acquisition will not be a lasting solution to survival, but financial and operational innovative strategies must be urgently developed. “Mass downsizing and job losses in the media industry may pose a security threat as unemployment is a key driver of insecurity.

Hence the Nigerian media might need to consider an urgent bailout structure that will not compromise its independence bearing in mind the large number of Nigerians employed by the industry. “The public and private sector need to see investment in the media as an investment in the nation and its people, not a favor to the practitioners.

Despite its Watchdog role, the media has been ignored to fizzle out, and this is most glaring in the face of the current pandemic. “Responsible journalism must be encouraged to fulfill its mandate as enshrined in Section 22 of Nigeria’s Constitution. “The public interest must be defined by the media to align with the constitutional provision which states that;

The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.” Meanwhile, in its recommendations, the communique pointed out that media owners, managers, and practitioners should recognise that digitalisation has come to stay for good, thus evolve, be more creative, innovative, and technology-driven in order to survive.

That Government at all levels must come to terms with the reality of the media’s importance to the growth of democratic tenets, and that attacks on the media should be halted if the nation desires to come out of its woods.

Stakeholders and government need to jointly develop a legal framework to guide and effect bailout in the media industry without prejudice as applied to the banking, telecommunications, and aviation industry and without recourse to politicking its intervention and abuse of power or as a means of control. “Media owners, managers, and practitioners should recognise that digitalisation has come to stay for good, thus evolve, be more creative, innovative, and technology-driven in order to survive.

The media and CSOs should better coordinate as allies to attain the mutual objective that puts the interest of Nigerians at the center. CSOs to support media’s full transition to digitalisation by building the capacity of journalists and bring back activism as in the days of old where public interest based on truths and selflessness determined media contents”, it highlighted.

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