by Chinelo Onwualu
In the month and a half since my return to this country, I realize that many things have changed. In some ways they have changed for the better. One is no longer stopped by members of the police demanding bribes – at least not blatantly and women wearing jeans are not the show-stopping phenomenon it was even four years ago. But while watching evening news broadcasts, I have been struck by a curious difference. The leading stories are always event pieces.
Working for a newspaper in the US, we were always looking for ways to get the biggest news stories out to the public before our television counterparts. If there was a fire, or a shooting or an accident, we wanted to be the first ones there before the cameras showed up. Then at the end of the day would tune in to the evening broadcast, knowing that the first story the broadcaster mentioned would be what the station considered its most important news event. If they led with a story we didn’t have, we knew we had been scooped.
So when I tune into NTA and find that the leading story is a bland speech by a bland dignitary at an inconsequential convention, I have to wonder if this was the most important thing happening in the country at the time. And when I find that the whole broadcast is a series of bland speeches given by even blander men, I have to wonder about the state of the industry itself.
Nigerian journalism is in danger. In the United States newspapers and television stations are struggling with the fact that their audiences are moving to the internet, taking their advertising dollars with them. Here, I think the problem is more insidious. We live in a society where anything can be bought by the highest bidder – including airtime. When faced with the choice of covering a big man’s book launch or investigating a report of shoddy workmanship in a housing estate, I can only imagine what a television station starved of resources would do. Especially if offered enough “transport money.”
I don’t mean to single out one industry for criticism. When I read newspapers where there is little regard for punctuation, style or grammar, I know the problem is not limited to television. This is a symptom of a deeper problem in this country. Journalism is a poorly-paid, highly dangerous profession in many places in the world – even the United States. It requires brave and uncompromising people to do it, and not all of us are blessed with such hearts.
However we owe it to ourselves as a nation to raise our standards. There are news outlets producing quality work. Yet they are not enough and they are working against a very strong tide.
Ms Onwualu lives in Abuja, Nigeria and is a member of Abuja Writers Forum