Staff Indebtedness: A Monster Threatening The Foundation Of Independent Media In Nigeria
(Onitsha Nigeria, 23rdJuly 2015)- An extensive investigation carried out recently by the leadership of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (Intersociety) showed clearly that there are three hydra-headed monsters threatening the foundation of independent media establishments and press freedom in Nigeria, particularly the print and visual media. These are: indebtedness, corruption and unprofessionalism. Media indebtedness is triggered by greed and maximization of proceeds on the part of the independent media proprietors. Media corruption, on its part, is caused by corruption of the media industry and injection of billions of naira derived from ill-gotten wealth as well as ownership of many of them by corrupt former public office holders particularly former, and in some cases, serving State governors; for the purposes of influencing and skewing public opinions on matters of politics, ethnicity and religion, as well as covering their kleptomaniac and homicidal records in office. Media unprofessionalism is caused by vicious factors like promotion of ethno-religious clannishness and personal interests; poor working condition and job de-satisfaction on the part of staff or media practitioners, occasioned by poor remuneration and remuneration arrears of journalists as well as general ineffective and inefficient media management policies and actions. Our extensive investigation also found that media indebtedness, corruption and unprofessionalism are interwoven, resulting to guided press freedom in present democratic dispensation.
The sad situation above mentioned is similar in color and outlook to the media dark days particularly under Decree No. 4 of 1984 (limitation of press freedom and independence), enacted and enforced to the letter by the Buhari’s inglorious military epoch of January 1984 to August 1985. The Decree under reference was drafted on March 29, 1984 and its dreaded nature was only second to another Buhari’s repressive decree called “Decree No. 2 0f 1984 (State’s indefinite detention of persons)”. The anti press freedom Decree was promulgated to whittle press freedom and punish through long pretrial detention and “no right of appeal” sentencing of authors of “false statements”, “rumors” and reports that exposed the Buhari’s iron fisted military government and its official to “ridicule” and “contempt”. It also provided for the presidential proscription at his whims and caprices of the affected independent media houses or outfits.
Indebted Media Houses:
The extensive investigation of ours under reference followed wide outcries in the media by media practitioners including the leadership of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) against huge staff remuneration indebtedness by proprietors of many independent media houses in Nigeria. For instance, the Lagos State Branch of the NUJ had few weeks ago picketed the premises/corporate office of the Thisday Newspaperin the State over nine (9) arrears it owed members of its editorial department. There are at least eleven (11) independent media houses in the country owing workers of different categories in their editorial departments.
Apart from the Thisday Newspaper, other ten (10) owing independent media houses are the African Independent Television (AIT), seventeen (17) months, Daily Independent Newspaper nine (9) months, Tell Magazine eight (8) months, National Mirror seven (7) months, the Newswatch (Daily Newswatch) seven (7) months, the News Magazine nine (9) months, the PM News nine (9) months, Daily Champion Newspaper eighteen (18) months, the Hallmark Newspaper eight (8) months and the Daily Times Newspaper six (6) months.
Apart from huge indebtedness under reference, there is also parasitic staffing policy adopted by other independent media houses as well as a number of indebted ones. This is a policy whereby reporters working for the referenced are not remunerated, but asked or allowed to be filing stories with their real or pseudo names. Some of these reporters are paid stipends at every month end, which depends on the number of their reports that were published. The Vanguard and the Guardian Newspapers are typical examples of independent media outfits engaged in this policy in Nigeria. In other cases, such reporters are just asked or allowed to be filing stories without receiving a dime at the month end. To survive, those reporters are forced to depend heavily on “brown envelopes” from their news “customers”, leading to hunting and publication of “any news brown envelope can fetch”.
Brown Envelopes As Triggers Of Media Corruption & Unprofessionalism:
The three hydra-headed monsters highlighted above have been, and are still responsible for under-growth and guided media freedom in Nigeria. Until the advent of online media industry in Nigeria, news reports and publications were “brown-enveloped”.Till date, the sad culture is still in vogue to an extent, if not large extent. Owing to brown envelope culture and corruption of the media sector by corrupt and illicitly rich former and serving political office holders and their accomplices; the independent media sub-sector has steadily recorded under-growth and guided press freedom.
It is guided press freedom, when the media departs from the cradle of conscience of the masses and enters into the infamous hall of enemies of the masses by journalistically canonizing enemies of better society and crowning them as kings of unjust society. Owing to media corruption, unprofessionalism has become the order of the day. Media reports in the country are now dominated by vested interests and ethno-religious primordialism. Creative, investigative and innovative stories are sidelined and stories of infantile or none public importance and development now take precedent over the former with utter alacrity and impunity. In all these, “press freedom” looks real, but “independence of the press” is combatively challenged owing to its oiling and midwifery by captains of corruption and “ethno-religious jingoists”.
As this solidarity statementof ours coincides with the ongoing national delegates’ conference and election of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), we humbly and firmly call for a lasting solution to independent media houses’ indebtedness in Nigeria. The policy of parasitic staffing retained by other media houses as above explained, is also frowned at. Apart from breeding media corruption, it also entrenches media unprofessionalism leading to present media woes in the country.
We call for total abolition of the corruption friendly policy under reference and its replacement with across board allowance or contract based policy; whereby all freelance journalists writing for all media houses will be engaged on clearly defined and remunerated contract basis, renewable or revocable within a specified period. In other words, we recommend “remunerated associate staff policy”. The indebted media house owners including the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria are firmly called upon to settle and offset all remuneration arrears so owed as a matter of uttermost immediacy. The Federal Government of Nigeria is also called upon to, within its licensing and regulatory competence and oversights to ensure owed editorial workers of all the media houses in the country are paid all their entitlements without further delays.
The NUJ on its part is also enjoined to rise above pecuniary culture and journalistic quackery that have eaten deep into the country’s media sector and rebrand its journalistic mirror back to the hallowed baptismal name of “conscience of the masses”. Sustained efforts must also be made to recover the soul of the Nigerian media from the parasitic grips of “the captains of corruption in Nigeria”. The managements of the Punch, the Vanguard and the Channel Television are exceptionally commended for keeping faith with their staff remunerations. Though, the Vanguard Newspaper is cleared from the list of debtor-media houses, but it is culpable as it concerns “parasitic staffing policy” explained above. Our choice of the trio stems from the fact that it is not only that they are up to date with payment of the remunerations of their editorial workers, but also the ownership of their media outfits is yet to be traced to any of the captains of corruption in Nigeria”. Others left out in this exceptional commendation of ours, who also keep faith with their staff remunerations; are either wholly or partly owned by some captains of corruption in Nigeria who used public stolen wealth to establish such media outfits.
Finally, we shall continue to commend and appreciate the online media outfits in Nigeria. The advent of the outfits changed the media equation in the country and introduced vibrancy and healthy competition into the industry. They also made it possible for Nigeria and Nigerians to join world global village where news are quick, easily read, cheaply sourced and exchanged. One of the greatest goals achieved by the online media revolution in the country is the breaking of age-long monopoly hitherto held and enjoyed by the media of Southwest extraction.
Specifically, the staffs and managements of leading online news bodies like the Nigerian News Express, the Nigerian Voice, the Will, the Republic Reporters, “the Biafran Online News”, the Neighborhood (online) Newspaper, the Trent News, the Nigerian Masterweb, the Elombah Reports, the Chidiopara Reports, the Advocate News, the All News & Reports, the Street Reporters, the Odogwu Reports, the Premium Times, the Osun Defenders, the Inews Digest, the Global Reporters Vienna, the Odera Reports, the News247 Reports , to mention but few; are commended and thanked in a very special way and urged to keep the candle of light burning ceaselessly over social darkness.
Emeka Umeagbalasi, Board Chairman
International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law
Uzochukwu Oguejiofor-Nwonu (Mrs.), Esq.
Head, Campaign & Publicity Department
Chiugo Onwuatuegwu (Miss), Esq.
Head, Democracy & Good Governance Program
Obianuju Igboeli (Miss), Esq., Head, Civil Liberties & Rule of Law Program