By Sani Adamu
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.
Worlu, who made the plea while speaking with State House Correspondents after a visit to the Presidential Villa, said that the public media were 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 can still be done, considering the fact that the infrastructure in many of these organisations has been neglected for years. 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 (FCT) but it is not properly maintained due to some funding challenges. But the new minister (of Information) 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, considerable provision will be made for us to begin to address some of these challenges. But I think government media organisations will require continuous funding for quite a few more years before we can get our facilities and infrastructure up to where they ought to be,’’ he said.
Worlu, who is one the heads of the Federal Government-owned media organisations who were recently relieved of their appointments by President Muhammadu Buhari, also underscored the need for constant training 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 said 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 are constantly changing; constantly evolving new ways of doing things, new ways of passing information and all that, you need to continue to be training the staff. Regarding the skills that they require for the future, we don’t even know some of them now. You need to have a programme of constantly training the workers,’’ he said.
The former director-general said that he had opened a new training centre for the broadcast organisation, saying that this is one of the things I have prioritised since I took over the leadership at VON. I have just opened a place somewhere in Lugbe, in our transmitting station at Lugbe; it is a training centre and we are training people there. There, we currently have an on-going course, organised in conjunction with the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).’’
On the alleged poor content of the broadcast media, 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 that they had an easy time in doing that but their era is different. Today, virtually every person all over the world has 10, 15, 20, 30 sources of information and news. So, people expect more from you; they want to know what makes you different,’’ he recalled.
Worlu also 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 had changed dramatically as 24-hour television broadcasting was now in 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 because in efforts 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. I wouldn’t say that the quality is going down, I will say that customer satisfaction is now even more difficult,’’ Worlu added.
Media analysts, who share similar sentiments, insist that the infrastructure decay in VON is not quite different from what exists in other government media organisations like NTA, NAN and FRCN. One of the analysts, Mr Isiaka Mustapha, moaned that News Agency of Nigeria (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 take steps to address the infrastructural challenges confronting its media organisations to enable them to discharge their professional responsibilities of projecting government’s programmes and policies in a meaningful way. Allaying such concerns, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, pledged that he would carefully study the challenges facing the public media outfits, including NAN, with a view to proffering solutions to them.
Mohammed, who spoke during his familiarisation visit to NAN headquarters, however, urged NAN to strive to be the first source of credible news about Nigeria. He also urged the agency to ensure that it regained its “competitive edge and play in the big league’’.
The minister stressed that media organisations that exhibited a lot of creativity in their approach to news would excel in the journalism industry, adding: “NAN, I must say, has what it takes to excel. “I have come with just one message to you today; 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. 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 and NAN, I must say, has what it takes to excel. NAN 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.’’
Besides, Mohammed urged NAN to uphold its editorial policy of being truthful, honest and fair to all parties captured in the news in order not to jeopardise the country’s peace and harmony. He also advised NAN to develop the kind of services that none of its subscribers could resist, as part of designed efforts to boost its revenue base. He, however, 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, who recently received a delegation from Pan African News Agency (PANA), also pledged that “Nigeria will do all it takes to ensure the continued survival and repositioning of the continental news agency to enable it to fulfil its mandate.’’ He told the 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 the 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. 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 went on: “What we see in the media are mostly negative news that portrayed 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”.
Mohammed noted that a vibrant PANA could have helped in changing the narratives but noted that the news agency was chronically hobbled today’’, as it continued to struggle for survival. All in all, observers express the hope that the recent disengagement of all the chief executives of the Federal Government-owned media organisations will facilitate the planned repositioning of the media outfits for quality service delivery.
Adamu is of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)