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The Economics of Press Freedom

      Funke Egbemode, President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors

One of the reasons I elected to venture into Advertising and Public Relations rather than journalism upon graduating from the Jackson School of Journalism otherwise known as the Department of Mass Communications, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was what I would term the demystification of bylines or the economics of journalism, from which I have extrapolated the title of this intervention. Being that today is World Freedom Day and every serious-minded journalist or anyone directly or remotely associated with the media must spare a thought or two about the Fourth Estate of the Realm, I wish to use the opportunity not only to felicitate with my friends, who are in active media practice but to also look at the economics of media practice which I think is a major factor impeding press freedom-in Nigeria.

Few days ago, Saturday to be precise, I spoke with a brother and good friend, Joel Nwokeoma, the Editorial Page Editor of The Punch, who had graciously returned my earlier call to him, which was intended to commend him and his newspaper for a brilliant editorial they published recently. I praised not only the logic, the turn of phrase and the sagacity of the publication but also the courage and lack of equivocation that ran through the document from start to finish. Joel, whose political views are mostly diametrically opposed to mine, especially on Abuja matters, then seized the opportunity, as he’s wont to do, to regale me of how and why The Punch is still the best. He didn’t forget to underline the fact that The Punch, unlike most media organizations, doesn’t owe staff salaries and indeed offers perhaps the best welfare package in the entire industry. Joel really packs a punch (pun fully intended) and he maximally threw quite a few at competition-unwittingly though-which then took me right back to my final year in UNN.

As the Editor of the prestigious campus newspaper, The Record, I was a sure banker for the media. Besides, I had made very good impressions on the Management of the then Imo Newspapers, publishers of The Statesman, Sunday Statesman and Statesman Extra (a soft-sell patterned after Weekend Concord and edited by the inimitable MacDonald Nwokorie now a pastor). Between 1988 and 1990, I went in and out of Imo Newspapers for my Industrial Attachment and I didn’t do badly, even if I say so myself. So, when upon graduation, the then Managing Director of the organization, Prince Ford Ozumba, asked me to join the Editorial Staff and I politely declined, it was a surprise to many. The truth really was that I had demystified the byline! I had come to the unfortunate conclusion that journalists were poor and I wasn’t going to live and die a poor man just because my name would ring a bell courtesy of my loud byline. And so, I packed my bag and baggage and moved into the more lucrative world of Advertising and later Public Relations. The rest, they say, is history-even if I miss the wonderful world of the media.

So, back to The Gospel according to Joel, I want to say the reasons why I decided against joining Imo Newspapers or any media organization back in 1991, when I finished National Youth Service have not changed. If at all, they have gotten even worse. Now, there is the little matter of some media practitioners, who are very rich even by the standards set by politicians, but those are the exceptions and not the norm-and only they can explain how they came into such opulence. The reality is that most journalists are not well remunerated and some are not even remunerated at all. A situation where a journalist is owed upward of six months salaries is perhaps the best form of limitation of Press Freedom. Ironically, the media owners, not all of them, live like they are fantastically corrupt! Please don’t get me wrong, ladies and gentlemen, because I also know there are some journalists who make legitimate earnings from ghost-writing, book reviews and other “editorial services”.

It is myopic to look at freedom only from the point of view of limitation of movement or incarceration or persecution. The economics of Press Freedom must be examined in detail. Many a time and oft, we have heard of journalists coming down with one serious sickness or the other. We have also heard of sudden and sometimes preventable deaths in the industry. Most of these journalists do not have good Medical Insurance provided by their employers. Salaries are paid spasmodically and so they are not even credit-worthy at any hospital. Some of them cannot afford to send their children to good schools given that public schools have been systematically destroyed by the uncaring and unflinching ruling class-who can most conveniently relocate their families abroad and send their kid to foreign schools or expensive private schools locally.

With so much stress and strain and an unsparingly harsh economic climate, the typical Nigerian journalist must survive-like everybody. So, you can understand the poor quality of stories you read. You can understand the involvement of journalists, practicing journalists including Editors, in partisan politics. You can understand why some journalists will do two to three rounds at the buffet table at public events. You can understand why a journalist will follow you to your car after an event, like an Area Boy chanting “More Blessings Sir”. You can understand why the standards of journalism are on a free fall. You can understand why every journalist is now a PR Consultant-working mainly for politicians, actors and actresses, musicians and even bank CEOs. You can understand why the question of ethics is not asked around most media houses. You can understand so many things. You can also understand why certain opinions are passed off as news especially in newspapers owned or run by politicians. Indeed, you can understand why the press is NOT really free here! Still, I would like to retire into media practice or journalism, soon.

The media must be supported to play its role as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, especially in a fledgling democracy like ours. And one sure way of empowering the media for the onerous task at hand is by freeing the media practitioners from poverty. The time has come for media owners and media practitioners to sit down and talk sincerely and transparently about the profession. The Funke Egbemode-led Nigerian Guild of Editors and her counterpart, Abdulwaheed Odusile of Nigerian Union of Journalist must rise up to the challenge-even if it’s the only thing they achieve while in office.

As we say on every occasion in these parts, Happy Press Freedom Day!

The Economics of Press Freedom The Economics of Press Freedom Reviewed by Emeka Oparah on Tuesday, May 02, 2017 Rating: 5

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