There is no gainsaying in the fact that some media proprietors in Nigeria are now wearing an unenviable toga of “debtor media houses”, thereby competing with some state governments over their abysmal failure to pay their staffers’ salaries as at when due.
The fiercest unimaginable and appalling scenario has nearly turned workers in these media to beautiful “slaves” of some sort because their employers have been failing to give them their take-home pay, varying from four months to 18 months. Whether this take-home pay can actually take them home or not is a matter for another day.
Those allegedly fingered in these brutal and cruel engagements include, but in no particular order: THISDAY (eight months); DAAR Communications, owners of African Independent Television and Ray Power (17 months); Independent Newspapers Limited, publishers of Daily Independent (nine months); Tell Magazine (eight months); Silverbird Group, owner of Silverbird Television and Rhythm 93.7 FM (four months); National Mirror (seven months); Newswatch Daily (seven months); The News/PM News (nine months); The Daily Champion (18 months); Hallmark Newspaper (eight months); and The Daily Times (six months).
The whys and wherefores espoused as factors responsible for this unpalatable development are just too numerous to mention. But the principal reasons adduced included financial recklessness and lifestyle of some media proprietors, while others have been accused of unwise adventures in their business calculations.
Whatever factor applicable, the glaring realities today is that most media houses may not survive the current economic downturn in Nigeria, which has forced many sectors to be gasping for breath of survival.
Based on this aforementioned economic condition, some people have insinuated either jokingly or otherwise that since the Federal Government is fast becoming a Father Christmas, doling out billions of naira in the name of bailout, first to airlines in Nigeria some years ago and now to state governments and textile industries, media proprietors should be considered too.
This school of thought posited that if governors with ‘billions’ of naira at their disposal, from the Federation Allocation to the Internally Generated Revenue, could owe workers in their respective states for upward of five to eight months and then suddenly got a lifeline from the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, it won’t be a bad idea after all then to bailout the Fourth Estate of the realm in the spirit of the season.
This thought, way back, recorded a major support in 2009 when President Barrack Obama considered a bail out package for the news industry in the United States of America.
In its report of September 21, 2009, The Hill said Obama expressed concern at the sorry state of the news industry and that he will look at a newspaper bailout, otherwise blogs will take over the world and that would be a threat to democracy.
According to Obama: “I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding.”
President Obama’s position was viewed more as a political weapon to counter a society of people that is fast becoming cyborgs, in which every one tends to rely on technology so much that it’s practically re-ordering our mindsets.
But another school of thought sprung up and reacted both angrily and proactively that never! Never! Never is the word. To this school of thought, the foundation of journalism as a fulcrum of objective reportage and constructive criticism will be forever damned and compromised.
In exploring the decline of the American newspaper industry and examining proposals for government intervention to revive America’s newspapers, Andrea Priest in her article: “Turning the Watchdog into a Lapdog: Why the Proposed Newspaper Bailout is the Wrong Solution for a Failing Industry,” in 2011 concluded: “Governmental support would ultimately harm newspapers.”
Instead of reliance on a government bail out, Priest’s 37-page seminal and informative article, published in William & Mary Business Law Review 401 (Volume 2: Issue 2), proposed that “newspaper enterprises pursue intra-industry solutions to remedy the crisis”.
Certainly the two schools have good groundswells to their protestations.
Feeding on the irreconcilable differences between these two schools of thoughts above, another chapter had been apprehensively and distrustfully opened to the argument, saying journalists “must” learn how to make money on their own in order to survive! Your guess is as good as mine! How? Why should they do that if no such recommendations were ever made to state government workers nor textile workers? They have worked and a worker deserves wages for his/her hard labour.
One significant line of notion I take away from Priest’s hypotheses of exploration is that “the industry crisis will not abate without action…”
It’s a statement of fact. No matter which direction of spat one is firing his/her perspective, the crisis bedeviling some media houses in Nigeria today will not abate without something being concretely and urgently done to save the souls of hundreds of workers as well as thousands of their dependents nationwide.
A considerable percentage of Nigeria’s workforce is employed by these media houses. Arguably, more than 80 per cent of Nigerians still get their news from the traditional media, that is radio, television, newspapers and magazines, leaving less than 20 per cent to rely on online news. In the same vein, more than 90 per cent advert placement still goes to the traditional media.
Perhaps the media houses’ workers’ salaries are fast becoming the peg to negotiate for a bailout for Nigeria’s news industry. This singular stroke, if acceded to and properly channelled, will succeed in not only being futuristic to protect the traditional media from a death-blow of multi-source online information superhighway, but will ultimately also keep the Nigerian traditional news industry on its feet.
With a population of more than 160 million and currently dubbed as one of the 20 most populated countries in the world by the United Nations, I don’t think any newspaper organisation in Nigeria, for instance, can boast of printing one million copies in its daily edition or its weekly edition. Are we then saying that the reading population who can afford to buy newspapers in Nigeria is less than 10 per cent?
* Sowunmi can be reached on: [email protected]