Help! The media need ventilators

Nigerian press and media

By Olukorede Yishau ― I once argued that the media “have come a long way from Henry Townsend’s Iwe Iroyin, but there is absolutely no doubt that we should be doing far better than we are doing given the advantages of technology and development. We need to emulate the best practices in the advanced world and treat journalists like kings and not dregs. Only then will the media take its pride of place in the heart of the people and only then will the society be truly served”.

The main reason for the argument: The media in Nigeria have for years been struggling with not a few on some form of ventilator as if afflicted by COVID-19. For the majority, salaries are either not paid or terribly delayed. There are times journalists go for months without pay. As you read this, hunger virus has plagued many a colleague.

Only a few publishers constantly pay what can truly be described as a take-home package. I can count them on my fingertips. They are that small. The majority do not pay well and sadly, they struggle to pay these peanuts.

Go to the banks, the oil and gas sector and telecoms, you will see several players who will describe themselves as former journalists. Ask them why they quit and the answer is not going to have any link outside of poor welfare. These guys were good reporters and writers, some of those who made the industry tick but had to jump ship to be able to give their families decent living.

Now the situation in the industry, which has not seen any major investment in the last few years, is about to go gaga. No thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic which has made us strangers in this world we wrongly assumed we knew like the back of our palm.

Governments the world over are on the drawing boards planning for the post-COVID-19 era. Stimulus packages are being unveiled for sectors of the economies. In Nigeria, our apex bank has also announced stimulus packages for sectors of the economy. The Federal Government has also made pronouncements on keeping the economy afloat. In all of these, the media is missing and that is why I fear a post-pandemic era for this industry which fought for and got us our Independence from the British colonial masters.

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Coronavirus has plummeted sales and advertising that had dropped earlier. The lockdown has worsened things and getting up on its own without external help is a task I doubt our comatose industry is capable of. Newspapers have had no choice but to cut pagination to 32. Print-runs have also been reduced because circulation and marketing have been affected by the restrictions caused by the pandemic. We need help.

As the effects of the pandemic bite harder, media houses will see their balance sheets in red. This will make it difficult to foot the bills which before now were Herculean tasks. Significantly, getting to bring in newsprints and other consumables for their production has been hampered by the pandemic— Even when they are about to raise money. So, do not be surprised if some are forced to stop their print version until further notice. I believe this fear, and the fact that sales have dwindled because of circulation challenges, have gingered a number of media houses to advertise their e-paper versions.

Elsewhere in the United States, a campaign is on for the media to get help so that local community sources of news do not dry up. A group of Democratic senators said: “Local news is in a state of crisis that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a letter signed by 18 Democratic senators, including Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), as well as Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine), they catalogued the woes of local media even before the outbreak of the pandemic.

Newsroom employment, they said, has significantly decreased. The COVID-19 outbreak, they added, has led to a rapid scaling back of advertising spending, which has already led dozens of newspapers to announce pay cuts and furloughs. “The current public health crisis has made the already vital role of local news even more critical,” the senators wrote.

The senators sought a new stimulus package to include a provision that is “tailored to benefit aid recipients who make a long-term commitment to high-quality local news”. News Media Alliance CEO David Chavern said: “We certainly appreciate the Senators’ full-throated support for local journalism. Quality local journalism is what we are all depending on right now.”

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The leadership of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), which should work with the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and others to get a stimulus package for the media, is bogged down by inanities. It recently issued a statement against the introduction of 5G and endorsing the fallacy that there is a link between the new technology and Coronavirus. It forgot the rule of the profession that when in doubt, find out or leave out. It instead chose to take the unscientific route charted by Pastor Chris Oyakhilome.

“The Federal Government should as a matter of urgent concern investigate the allegation, that what is happening today is associated with the launch of the 5G communication network as Nigerians are becoming more agitated,” argued a union I sadly belong to.

It also unashamedly urged the government not to allow Chinese doctors into the country so as to stop “a situation where Nigerians will be used as a Guinea pig for any experiment”. For effect, the leadership of what should be a great union added: “It is pertinent to plead with the Federal Government to stop this Medical Team from coming to Nigeria because of the Italian example where there was an inexplicable spike in COVID-19 related deaths when the Chinese doctors arrived in the country.” Absolute fallacy!

My final take: It is not only members of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) that need stimulus at a time like this. The media, which remain a major tool in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, need financial ventilators to be able to breathe well at this time and when the pandemic is over.