Will the media houses survive COVID-19? By Bolanle Bolawole

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The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to preserve these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs through the channel of the public papers and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them – Thomas Jefferson (1787), served as the third president of the United States of America (1801 – 1809).

Perhaps you, too, have noticed what I did days ago: The paginations of newspapers have returned to what they used to be in my own days as editor some twenty-something years ago (1990 – 1997). Unlike the bumper editions that was the fashion before the break of coronavirus (sometimes even more than 100 pages); we now have mostly 32-page newspapers. Thanks to technology (internet, social media, etc.) it would have been practically impossible to produce newspapers under this lockdown. How do you get the news; how do you get back to the office from assignment; and how do you put together the then laborious and time-consuming production process? How do you get advert copies – the backbone of the media? Technology has created a lee-way for today’s news people.

The media people’s innovations and imaginative responses to the times have also helped. Much recourse is made these days to interviews and resource materials from the library, archives, social media, etc. Despite these, I can imagine what stress they must be going through. Whereas I understand that media people thrive under stress and tension and their never-say-die spirit is equal to none, these, all the same, are not the best of times to work as a media person. How do you move copies around? How do you sell them and to whom? Is it to people on lockdown and in their hibernations?

I understand sales were not on good footings even before now. Many factors account for this: The proliferation of newspapers; the advent of social media and the avalanche of internet publications; the economic hardship that has whacked newspaper buyers and advertisers, and the dearth of quality hands in many newspaper houses. Brain drain; the search for greener pastures; ownership interference; and the inability of the media owners and managers to retain quality hands have all combined to impact negatively on the media.

Many media houses were limping before Coronavirus while others were on life-support, as it were. Only a handful of media houses were paying salaries as at when due. Even at that, not many take-homes could take the workers home and bring them back to the office. Recently, the journalists’ union called on some newspaper owners to pay salary arrears owed their workers, some running into years! It is that bad and scandalous.

It is shocking that those who fight for the rights of others are laid-back fighting for theirs. Those who scream against injustice from the rooftop accept unimaginable drubbing and suffer so much indignities keeping sane and quiet. What could the magic be? Not long ago, someone sauntered into my office to complain that his employers hadn’t paid him for 26 months! I asked him how he had managed to survive and then told him point-blank: You must be a thief! Haven’t you been cutting corners?

I wouldn’t know how media people – or anyone for that matter – who are owed months of salary arrears could manage decent living, not to talk of taking good care of their family. The ubiquitous “Brown envelope” apart (which is even more of blackmail than reality), I suspect that the African family system and the biblical injunction of being our brother’s keeper must have worked the wonders. But for how long before donor fatigue sets in?

Government must now move in and criminalise non-payment of salaries by employers – ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO HAVE THE VERIFIABLE CAPACITY TO PAY. Some engage in frivolous and ostentatious living; they live like emperors while the goose that lays the golden egg is allowed to pine away. That must now stop! We must stop celebrating such wicked employers but send them to where they rightly belong – jail!

Besides that, government must come up with a Marshal Plan for the media industry. This is a very important national institution. The role played by the media in the fight for Independence from Britain has been etched in gold. The role played by the same media to end military dictatorship and enthrone the democracy we currently enjoy is also still fresh in our memory. It is for no fun that the media is called the Fourth Estate of the Realm – after the three other realms of the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary. The media has the constitutionally-assigned responsibility of holding the government accountable to the people.

This responsibility is onerous! Only a vibrant media can perform it. Only a financially boisterous media can command the resources needed to maintain a free and independent flow. And this they do, not for themselves but for the good of all. The price of liberty, as it is said, is eternal vigilance. The media is the watch-dog that does that for all of us 24/7.

For those in government and out of it who loathe the media, who think “their good grief” if they (the media) sink, and who, in fact, will assiduously work towards this and celebrate if and when it happens – simply because they have mistaken the adversarial role of the press as personal enmity – I commit then to the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson quoted above. Jefferson was one of the most harassed US politicians by the media; yet, he rose beyond pettiness and personal prejudices to understand, appreciate and preserve the place of the media in a democratic society.

Besides – and interestingly so – everyone gets to need a virile and strong media, able to speak truth to power, at one point in time or the other! Ask Obasanjo! Ask Jonathan! Ask the many other ex-this and ex-that who, like the present powers-that-be, wished the media dead while they were firmly ensconced in power but who, today, rush to the same media for help!

Need I say more?


RE: “Nigeria: Beware of Greek gift” & “…Too much furore over 666”

In the words of that great author who wrote “Let London keep its own fools at home”, let China also keep its own virus at home and if it must do otherwise; let the proverbial “abiku” die from the mother’s hand? – Olalere Fagbola.

I pray we don’t miss the opportunity of self-development presently staring us in the face, as you rightly reminded us that “necessity is the mother of innovation” One of the major advantages we should come out of this pandemic with should be self-reliance or self-development, at least to an extent. This, our health workers had already commenced, as all nations seem to squarely battle the demon called Coronavirus. God deliver our land and save the whole world from the world powers and their antics! –Wole Awodire.

This is World War 3 without ammunitions and weapons. God will save us from the hands of the Chinese and Americans because this is a battle for supremacy and power between them. “Olorun o ni je ka je iya aimodi” – Prophetess Arojah.

Yours reminded me of a similar furore over computer digitalization in the Year 2000 with the fear that the entire world could be blown off by the midnight of December 31st, 1999, which was the change-over time to a new year 2000 and a new Century. However, the date came and went without any mishap! Thus, out of ignorance and fear of change, people try to panic and perceive danger in anything new, like the 5G technology. But just as you have rightly observed, 5G would surely come to stay while COVID-19 will soon become a thing of the past – Dr. JF Olukotun, Kogi State.

We appear to be in desperation for the Greek gift, not minding the eventual outcome. The Nigerian handling of the virus thus far is commendable. Why do we need the Chinese ‘expertise’ now? Can’t we for once take a firm stand and prove that we can do something for ourselves? Too much dependence on foreign goods and services has deprived us of normal growth as a nation. We take little to lose so much! The so-called developed world always come “lati fi buredi ko wa l’obe je”! – Daddy Odeleye.

Nigeria is a nation of warped thinkers instead of deep thinkers! We act before we think! This is another classic example. The Chinese arrived in Nigeria supposedly on a rescue mission. Hours later, Nigerians in China were being hunted like undesirables being forced to leave China willy-nilly. Is that not a parody? Are the Chinese friends or foes of Nigeria? Again, I want to enter your caveat: Nigeria, beware of Greek gifts! – Yacoob Abiodun.

Thank you for the analysis and advice but will those in control of Nigeria give a damn whether or not the Chinese are planning by insidious means to wipe off Nigerians? The overriding interest of a typical Nigerian politician is the accumulation of wealth by any means conceivable, even if he/she is destroyed in the process! They have devoted their time and energy to this pursuit. – Triumphant Ogre.

Indeed, they (Chinese) should also stay at home and stay safe! – Pastor Denis.

LAST WORD: As governorship election knocks on the door in my native Ondo State – if Coronavirus permits! – it makes sense to begin to look at the contestants with a view to passing comments on each and every one of them. Who will the cap fit? Will the incumbent, Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu, win second term? Or will one of the avalanche of contestants from Akeredolu’s home base of Owo which, incidentally, is also my own home town, snatch the crown? In the process of trying to snatch the crown, will Owo lose it entirely to another place? Can Akeredolu win his party, APC’s nomination or will he decamp, as some are rumouring? How formidable is the Unity Forum led by one-time deputy governor, Ali Olanusi? Can they walk the talk or are they mere paper tiger? Where does the Ondo PDP stand in all of this? Is it strong and tactical enough to reap from the cacophony of voices distracting the ruling APC? Stay tuned!

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