In preparation for the 2023 general elections, it is pertinent to x-ray some of the pitfalls occasioned as a result of the romantic relationship between some so-called political elites and the media.
By way of introduction, Nigeria is known to be Africa’s powerhouse when it comes to international politics, especially as one of the most politically inclined countries on the continent.
However, the once most regarded country in terms of political participation is now tilting towards what can be best described as the “commercialisation of media contents,” thereby affecting the democratic fabric of its political system.
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As the 4th estate of the realm, it is the onus and core responsibility of the press to present news in a balanced and objective way, as against what is dominant today.
Media and influence
Media has a huge influence on the audience because it is directly stuck in the mind of the viewer/audience. This means the media has the potency of setting an agenda for the people to follow. It is in this light that political gladiators employ the potentialities of the media to colourise their aspirations in a bid to gain goodwill and public acceptance.
Now, what does commercialisation mean in terms of media?
Commercialisation means paid news. News is no longer about reporting timely occurrences or events, it is now about packaged broadcasts or reports sponsored or paid for by interested parties. Paid news means when a person pays money to a journalist or news channel to cover a particular aspect or angle of a story.
According to Willie Nnorom, news commercialisation is “a phenomenon whereby the electronic media report as news or news analysis, a commercial message by an unidentified or unidentifiable sponsor, giving the audience the impression that news is fair, objective and socially responsible.”
Commercialisation of media depends upon it because income revenue is the main problem.
In traditional media like print media, which undergo various challenges to get an income source, they have mainly two sources – advertisement and paid news.
Hence, media houses see this anomaly as one of the economic ways of generating revenues to sustain themselves.
Going forward, commercialisation can also be engineered by the ownership factor, a parasite that has eaten deep into the democratic fabric of our country.
What was considered an aberration has now become a norm whereby politicians influence media contents for political gains.
The media has deviated from ethical principles of journalism in the name of dancing to the tunes of the pipers in the corridors of power.
It saddens me to see the media promoting the ideals of their proprietor, especially during the electioneering process. A vivid example is a recent scenario displayed by a popular national newspaper promoting the candidacy of their proprietor who for many Nigerians should have retired from politics, considering his health status.
How would a national newspaper ignore the ethics of journalism just to fulfill the ill-gotten desire of its owner? What is the essence of good journalism if the only way to sell a candidate to the public is by slanting news stories? Isn’t it a better idea to give all candidates equal representation than politicking the media in the guise of practicing journalism?
It is high time Nigerian media embraced the basic tenets of journalism as intended, with global best practices.
There is more gain to be independent of external control and influence of media contents than falling prey to ownership factor.
We must leave behind the practice of wining and dining with politicians who ought to be held accountable for their actions as ethical journalism demands, instead of promoting them as saints before an election. A free press is achievable if we stick to the ethics of journalism!
- Arogbonlo Israel, a journalist and good governance advocate, writes from Lagos