Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
MEDIA, POLITICS AND NATION BUILDING
I am honored and quite pleased to be asked to give the lecture marking the establishment of Anambra Broadcasting Service.
I am quite sure why Uche Nworah and his team targeted me for this role. I wonder if it is because I am an in-law, having been gifted with a very dear wife from Anambra, or because I was, as they say, the first non-Anambra person by birth to become a ‘member’ indeed a ‘founding member’ of the League of Anambra Professionals.
One rumor about why I was invited is that Anambra is attempting continuous extracting of bride price. I must admit it is a demand I am pleased to meet given that the wife Anambra people were gracious to allow me take has been a great blessing. If after 30years of marriage, you look 30years old, and lift the spirit like a bunch of 300 roses, paying additional bride price should be welcome. But further rumors suggest it may be related to my multidisciplinary back-ground that include a mass communication degree and discipline implicated in Nigeria’s current troubles, policy Economics, Political Science and Business Administration.
I do hope that whatever the reason, those antecedents bring some value to the conversation. Surely one thing that background brings, from the fact that my very first publication in an international academic journal of some prestige, the Dutch Journal, Gazette, in 1981, was titled “Historical-Philosophical Foundation of Government Ownership of Newspapers in Nigeria is familiarity with the turf”.
No one doubts that ownership is a critical part of the role media has played in the evolution of media impact on politics and Nation building.
I have chosen, in reflecting on the times, to speak to the role of the media in Nation Building and the effect of how it reports politics with consequence for nation-building.
It is fortuitous that as I was about to start putting down my thought on this subject, Dr. Tom Adaba, pioneer Director-General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission published a scathing critique of how the media has handled the uncivil campaigning that has marked the 2015 elections campaigns: He was evidently quite upset that the media betrayed lack of social responsibility and poor gate keeping. The lambast came as the postponement of the elections were announced, simultaneously triggering higher levels of tension and capping the pressure in a great paradox of Nigeria on the brink.
For me even though the damage is significantly done, effort can be made to reduce the extent of damage. The amount of hate messaging in the air is enough to poison ethnic, regional and faith relations in a way that will make living together and governing difficult for generations. Why politicians who claim to lead, do such damage, puzzles me. But how media do not know some of these politicians are either too ignorant to truly realize the damage they are doing or too desperate to know better, should bend themselves to be so used calls for indictment even more damning than Tom Adaba’s trashing critic.
I wish again to point to Rwanda and the call on Radio to cut down the tall tree in the expectation that leadership would better appreciate the impact of hate speech. It is frightening therefore that incumbents seem to have done more to stoke divisive politics that can stoke hate that lasts generations and that the NBC could not act because incumbents were deeply involved. If opposition acts foolishly, incumbents should know better because the real burden of leading imposed certain responsibility, which is why incumbent US Presidents, besides the self-interest of ‘acting Presidential’ tend to deploy the so called Rose Garden Strategy.
The media has additional accountability as the fourth estate of the realm, that may surpass that of a wayfarer who stumbles into public office as a result of rigging. Besides, serious journalists are typically better informed than politicians and it should be easier for them to tell the people what similar conduct as we are currently having did to Kenya. It has taken Kenya a good six years to begin to recover from that election. Is anybody’s personal claim to power worth that much damage to the soul of a nation?
Could the media have prevented us from getting to this edge. That surely depends on what you think of media influence, what it takes to build a harmonious and prosperous nation, and how the media is oriented to playing its role in Nation Building. So how does the media exert influence?
Understanding how media influences society is an enterprise that is generations’ old, beginning largely around elections behavior surveys early in the 20th century. Back then ideas around media influence suggested a powerful media that literally determined society’s orientation. The underpinning theory, the hypodermic Needle thesis, hypothesized that like injection delivered medicine to a receptive blood system, the media administered reality to audience. But this thesis was shown the ‘lie’ card when powerful newspapers like the New York Times would endorse candidates who went on to lose the elections.
The media influence Paradigm of that moment yielded ground, in the face of evidence, to a new one which saw media influence from the perspective of opinion leaders mediating media influence, the so called two step flow of communication. This paradigm which asserted the superior place of Opinion leaders produced the hypothesis of two step flow of communication and then the multiple step mediation from media to social action. This view of media influence would increasingly give way to views that suggest media influence came from its Agenda setting function.
Since so much happens in the world, and only a few of these occurrences enter our consciousness, and a fewer still dominate our consideration, the gate keeping function of the media allow it to set the agenda. In the sense, therefore that the media help us, or decide for us what is important, media has great influence.
So if media has influence, what suggests the direction in which they deploy this influence regarding politics and nation building. As many have found economics of media survival, the nature of ownership of media, and the organizational challenges of the media enterprise including the human capital element are critical for media influence. Also valuable thesis in the evolution of media theory from which our media like Anambra Broadcasting has an accounting is the status conferral function of the media, the thesis suggests, confer status. People seen in media get a bit of hallo. The prestige, best noted in the fact of the public assuming newscasters on TV to be well-of celebrities being shocked to see them in those days when they could be level 9 civil servants scratching out an existence, means that those seen in media quickly became role models. So if the media feature crooks, celebrate corrupt people or promote 419 people, the failure of the gatekeeping function there makes such people role models. The current collapse of culture in the country, especially noted in some of the values in today’s southeast can be significantly traced to media access to people who should not make it into media for their ways without editorial commentary on what they represent. That failure of the media has affected what the young value. Part of it is heard in the clichéd saying that the gorgeousness of the man flows from his pocket (nma nwoke di na akpa ya).
For us to fully appreciate the direction of media choice and how these affect the direction of human progress in Nigeria, it should be profitable to interrogate a framework for understanding economic growth which was first offered in my 2006 book, Why Nations Are Poor. The Growth Drivers Framework crystallized from a desire to develop a more holistic framework for understanding why some countries thrive and others incline towards misery.
The growth driver’s framework was the core tool of my 2006 book, Why Nations are Poor. It grew out of two challenges. In 1998 I had published a book; Managing Uncertainty: Competition and Strategy in Emerging Economies, which essentially looked at how competitive strategies of firms were shaped by uncertainty in the environment and how institutions reduce uncertainty. Its focus was mainly on the micro levels response to choices at the macro terrain. In 2006 I sought to show how factors shape that macro arena that firms respond to.
The second influencing source was trying to better explain the frustration African leaders face in following prescriptions by multilaterals. I had gone to the Southern African summit of the World Economic Forum as contribution to the Africa Competitiveness Report. The team, led by Jeffrey Sachs wanted to make the leaders sensitive to factors affecting the Competitiveness of their Economies. One of the questions asked by one of the Southern African leaders showed me clearly how important it was to move away from analysis of change for progress that was unicausal.
The outcome was a framework of interdependent sets of variables that I thought resulted in sustainable human progress.
These are policy choices, institutions, human capital, Entrepreneurship, culture and leadership. I doubt that progress is possible where we fail on most of these counts, but quite central is culture, because values shape human progress, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Two Truths’ emphasize and the Harvard colloquium on it, illustrates. The pervasive impact of culture and institutions on progress are ultimately affected by how leaders set the tone of culture. Leadership failure, compounded by the problem of citizenship can be very easily seen as the reason the promise of Nigeria has dropped to the level of paradise deferred. Until people in power recognize that leadership is other – centered behavior and think less of self, beyond a place in history, we may continue to be challenged. Stephen R Covey does well to remind us of two dimensions that must be present for effectiveness in leadership, knowledge and a sense of service. If you look in Nigeria you generally find both knowledge and a sense of service severely in short supply in the class of typical power welders in Nigeria. Poor performance is therefore understandable. This is actually compounded by a progressively anti – intellectual disposition of the political actors.
Media and Nation Building
The Growth Drivers framework shows us that in advancing the quality of policy choice, moderating contending voices in a manner that result in boundaries that become institutions, the media advance the possibilities of progress because institutions, as Hernando De Soto persuasively argues in the mystery of capital, advance the material possibilities for man.
But where the narrative is one of impunity, as has been that of our recent history, our institution atrophy, and society’s progress remains putative, just potential.
Indeed the framework suggests to us the importance of human capital for growth and development yet if you look at how the media sets the agenda, Nigeria politics is decidedly anti-intellectual, often the extant narrative points Nigeria in a direction of uncompetitiveness.
With Entrepreneurship, you can see an increasing understanding of its importance. Yet the kinds of institutional frameworks that Rhagiram Rajan and Luigi Zingales promote in the book, Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, have not received concerted push from the media.
The big Gorilla in the room here is culture. Values shape human progress. But we have witnessed a collapse of culture in Nigeria. The dominant ethos are of an entitlement mentality and instant gratification.
Also rife in the culture is corruption and abuse of position of authority for vendetta, ethnic and nepotistic motives and cronyism. All of these shoot progress in the foot. While media remains vibrant in Nigeria it has not systematically campaigned to end such elements of the collapse of culture.
In my experience the media is handicapped in this regard by low levels of professionalism, poor economics of its business model and the nature of its ownership.
The matter of professionalism, affected by the training of journalists, the ethics of practice and quality of the people that enter the profession as well as their sense of self worth and mission. The street wisdom, with all the talk of Brown envelopes, exaggerated as they may sometimes be, indicate low levels of professionalism.
Equally challenging is the economics of media. Many newspapers and Television stations run on models that do not allow for enough income for the right levels of investment to get the job done well. Late salaries, and limitation in resourcing tools of the trade, invariably result in poor performance. I tell the story of how a major American newspaper was following up on the Halliburton scandal in Nigeria and a reporter told me he was given a budget of $100,000.00 to nail Dick Cheney, the then Vice-President. I can only imagine of who could receive such a budget to close a story here.
This is part of the reason, besides tradition, from colonial times that we have governments owning media to ostensibly disseminate development information.
Ownership also interfaces with media orientation and content. In the country of the big man this is an even more troubling factor.
The foregoing helps our reflection on how media affects development. We are convinced that a media that plays its role right will be a driver of progress by helping build strong institutions.
Patrick Okedinachi Utomi