Monday, 30 December 2013

(85): Online journalism and the ethical question in the Nigerian media (II)

The myth and the controversy generated by the alleged letter written by Iyabo Obasanjo, daughter of former president Olusegun Obasanjo suggested that it is in the interest of the media organization to acknowledge the source of the information. To date no one can say with absolute certainty whether the letter was genuinely written by Iyabo, or whether it is a political fabrication.

The second observation regarding the letter from Obasanjo is the growing rivalry between traditional and new media. Online publications have one major advantage; they can easily break stories, and continue providing update within a 24 hour news circle, not all the traditional media enjoy the luxury of having separate editorial boards for the online and traditional outfits, each taking independent decisions in running its stories while at the same time complementing each other. 

Recent trends in journalism suggest that for the traditional media to compete with online news media, they need more investment in building new media platforms. The Washington Post, New York Times, Daily Mail are typical examples of how they use online news platforms to break stories. They understand that the 21st century audience does not have the patience to wait for 24 hours before getting in-depth analysis and update on the story.  They do that with an eye on other online news competitors such as BBC News online that is run by separate editorial teams.

The issue of positioning also comes to mind here, a lot of the emerging online news organizations do not have adequate journalistic training, compared to those in the traditional media, therefore some of them are quick to break stories in order to solidify their market positioning, and increase popularity but do not always pay attention to following a rigorous editorial procedure in order to ensure the accuracy of the story.  The traditional media needs to make a decision between quickly jumping on the bandwagon to break a story, and ensuring the credibility of the information before making it public. I believe both the traditional and new media need to learn from each other.

The third observation the controversy generated is on ethics, originality and courtesy. There are a lot of ethical challenges faced by the media industry, some of which are universal and others peculiar to the Nigerian situation. This controversy has highlighted the inability of a section of the Nigerian media to live up to the basic standard of the journalism profession. There are a lot of factors responsible for this. First is journalism training itself. The institutions that train our journalists, from polytechnics to universities suffer from shortage of  the basic infrastructure required to train future journalists. 

Second, the imbalance between academics who teach journalism, and professionals from the industry who train the students on ‘the field experience’ is so wide, to the extent that when students graduate from the college or university, they are not ready to go into practice, rather, their new employers have to retrain them, before they could be ready to function as proper journalists. 

Third, journalism is a profession that goes with passion, and you have so many people who joined simply because they could not get job elsewhere. Therefore whatever comes their way; they append their names on to it and send to their bureaus.

The Nigerian Union of Journalists has an important role to play here by revisiting the code of conduct of the Nigerian media, and devise ways to address the future confrontation between sister institutions.  Media houses themselves, should create partnership among themselves which in practice even the global media industry pursues. 

I do not see any reason why Premium Times will not establish partnership with the Daily Trust or Guardian or Blueprint newspapers, or Sahara Reporters with the Punch, Leadership or People’s Daily newspapers. Such partnership exists for instance between CNN and ABC News, with that kind of official partnership, if none exists already, the news organisations that publish purely on online platforms, and the traditional ones that produce both hard copies and publish online versions, can easily exchange stories, train staff, use the bylines of reporters, and even share offices in the areas where only one of the partners has a bureau. This could go a long way in solving the accusation and counter accusation of plagiarism, originality and ethics. What do you think?



Tuesday, 17 December 2013

(84): Online journalism and the ethical question in the Nigerian media (I)

It will take a political storm like the one released from Ota farm by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to displace the series of events marking the death of Nelson Mandela from the pages of Nigerian newspapers. The storm was so powerful it has arguably created the hottest debate in the polity and overshadowed other stories.

In this specific contribution my interest is not in the letter itself, but the debate it has generated among various media organisations within Nigeria, particularly the acknowledgement of sources, which I believe has an implication in both the theory and practice of journalism. I hope students are following the debate with keen interest because I could see a lot of areas for postgraduate research which if pursued could contribute greatly in enhancing the quality of journalism in Nigeria.

Of particular interest in the debate is the exchange between Premium Times, an online news outlet, which got the scoop and breaks the story to the world, and newspapers like the Punch, an old timer in the field of traditional journalism, and Leadership, another newspaper that is gaining ground in Nigerian journalism.

Before discussing the issue of attribution which created the hot exchange between various newspapers, let me discuss some of the issues observed which would help us in understanding the underlying issues which contributed in the allegations and counter allegations between the various news outfits.  

The first observation highlighted by the cold war between these newspapers is the challenge that online journalism is posing against traditional media. This challenge should not be seen in a negative way. While newspapers around the world continue to increase their online presence, the need to satisfy their audiences who rely on traditional means of communication still consumes their energy.

Online journalists are dealing with a set of new audiences who are hungry for news, prefer to access information from the internet and enjoy the interactive nature of the online news media. Despite the attempt of the online news outlets to break stories and give their contribution to journalism, there is still skepticism about the quality of journalism produced on the internet. That skepticism could partially explain the resistance of the traditional media to acknowledge stories they sourced from the internet.

I do not think the challenge posed by the online media will overtake the influence of traditional newspapers, it will simply require the traditional outlets to change their business models, which some are doing well, while others are still trying to adapt. This point was aptly captured by the French newspaper Lemonde Diplomatique, “that in the history of communications the introduction of new media has never succeeded in chasing out the preceding technologies”.

There are two key noticeable issues which need to be settled in this debate; lack of aknowledgement of sources and sometimes outright plagiarism, and secondly how far can you go in acknowledging the sources of the original story. Ethically speaking all sources of information should be attributed, and this is in the interest of anyone who lifts a story from a secondary source. The attribution enhances the credibility of the medium, but it also protects it from falling into legal disputes should the story be a fabrication or contains libel or defamation. 

On the other hand when a story breaks, as many journalists know, serious media organisations would always make an effort to explore other angles from the story in order to make their own mark, but at the same time to outdo their competitors. Certainly some media organisations would have done that on the “storm from Ota farm”. I do not see any conflict here, its simply part of basic ethics to acknowledge the source of the story, and the same is expected from the media organisation that break the story to acknowledge its competitor, should it quote a different angle from its competitor. 

With all its shortcomings journalism in Nigeria remains one of the most vibrant in Africa, at least the media is relatively free to bring such issues of national importance to public domain.

To be continued



Monday, 9 December 2013

(83): Who steps into the shoes of Nelson Mandela?

Africa had never been short of great people. But few would argue against the idea that in colonial and postcolonial Africa, the greatest son produced by the continent is Nelson Mandela.  Here is a man from a humble background, whose traditional name was “a trouble maker”, yet he translated the meaning of his name in a positive way, by making trouble against white minority rule in South Africa to ensure the emancipation of his people. Mandela was a natural fighter. As he told us is in Long Walk to Freedom, “there was no particular day on which I said, from henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise” (p.95).

The struggle of Nelson Mandela United the African continent, various African leaders from Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who made one of the largest donations to the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela’s political party and the platform for fighting against apartheid, to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who supported the struggle against oppression in South Africa, to Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya, who became the Arab son of the struggle to free the people of South Africa, down to  the likes of Halie Selassie of Ethiopia, the sincerity of Nelson Mandela’s struggle united the continent, and the world at large.  Murtala Muhammad of Nigeria lost his life potentially one would argue, due to his stand on the struggle to free African countries like Angola and South Africa, although the failed coup that resulted in his assassination had the colouration of a domestic uprising.

The life of Nelson Mandela developed in phases. From that of a youthful freedom fighter working to emancipate his people, to a politician who has the dexterity to plan, coordinate, and negotiate the freedom of his country from prison, to statesman who lived above his ambition by sacrificing his desire to lead South Africa. One would argue that if there is one leader in Africa, who deserves to remain president for life, and would have secured the backing of his people, it would have been Nelson Mandela.

For with without doubt, the freedom and liberty for black and other coloured South Africans to live as equals to the whites is more important to them, than living the most affluent life as second class citizens under the apartheid system. Yet Nelson Mandela decided to quit, and by so doing, he has helped his country to consolidate the transition to independent statehood. The dream of Nelson Mandela to have a country where social class is irrelevant has not yet been achieved, but the hope to build a country where everyone is relevant remains alive.

The spirit with which he fought, the conviction he had that no matter how long a journey takes, it will one day reach its destination has inspired others to fight for the freedom and dignity of their people. One lesson I learnt from reading the biography and observing the life of Nelson Mandela is one key thing, whatever cause you are pursuing, it is those little things that you do, those minor sacrifices that you make which will one day lead to greatness.

The struggle of Nelson Mandela to free South Africa was unique, it comprises of certain qualities that are rare in Africa today. The struggle involved Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Whites and the Coloured. In one hand you have the likes of Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba, while on the other end you have the likes of Ahmad Kathrada, Yusuf Dadoo, and Ismail Meer, coming together to fight a common enemy. It is not surprising therefore that the ‘rainbow nation’ reflects the coming together of these unique personalities for the dignity of their country.

The struggle led by Nelson Mandela has left a legacy, the legacy of forgiveness. As professor Ali Mazrui once argued, that one of the unique qualities of Africans is “short memory of hate” and he cited the case of Nelson Mandela’s ability to forgive his oppressors at a time when he had the chance to avenge for the wrongdoing he tested together with his people. 

Of course Nelson Mandela is not perfect. He has his pitfalls. “one day, during this same time, my wife informed me that my elder son, Thembi, then five, had asked her, “where does Daddy live”, said Mr Mandela in Long Work to Freedom, “I had been returning late at night, long after he had gone to sleep, and departing early in the morning before he woke.” (p.119), Mr Mandela added. This is the sacrifice he had to make, but it was a feeling that his family had about him in the few years that he could stay with them.

Nelson Mandela is gone, his legacy will be remembered for generations, but the one billion dollar question is, who steps into his shoes? I looked around Africa, and even went on window shopping in other continents, I saw some leaders with potentials, but on a closer scrutiny, I realize that they are not like Nelson Mandela. I came back to Africa again, the picture is not looking good, but we shall never lose hope; if you have a name in your mind, kindly suggest it, for somebody needs to fill that shoe, now, tomorrow or in the generations to come.


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

(82): The age of smart kids

In the late 1980s, I could vividly remember arguing with fellow school mates about the computer, most of us have not seen one physically except in some movies. “Duk Kano babu computer, sai dai ko a gidan gwamna” (there is no computer in the whole of Kano, may be in the government house), said one of us. To the kid, computer was basically imaginary; it is associated with all sorts of myths. One day while passing by Kantin Kwari market, I overheard one mai waazin kan turmi (street preacher), talking to an assembly of youths, and he mentioned something that left me perplexed. He was talking about a computer that is used to catch fish,  people were listening attentively, yet you could see clearly that he was describing a device he has never seen in his life.

But this has changed; we now live in the world where technology is as accessible as drinking water. In a 2001 lecture delivered by Professor Ali Mazrui at the Bayero University, Kano, he mentioned that there are more computers in some universities in the developed world, than in some African countries. Today, it is extremely difficult if such a statement will hold. If there is one segment of the society that has been affected today by the digital revolution,  it is no more than our kids. They are growing in the age of laptop, iPad and iPhone.

One scholar who appreciates the changing nature of our kids is Professor Don Tapscott whose book “Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation Is Changing Your World” explores the attitude and culture of the 21st century young people, whom he fondly calls the Net Gens. In a review written for the Economist magazine, Professor Tapscott stated that “Net Geners are more active. Almost 80% of them read interactive blogs daily, leaving comments and adding links. They multitask, watching TV while texting, talking on the phone or surfing the Internet. They’re more likely to use their cellphones as everything from alarm clocks to GPS devices. They may even use their phones’ cameras as a kind of instrument for social action, for instance, to document police misconduct. They see the computer as more than a tool, as a place to congregate with friends. Their safe communal spaces aren’t mainly in the physical world, but rather online, on social networking sites like Facebook. Rather than being antisocial, Net Geners are developing an entirely new set of social skills”

South Korea is one country that appreciates this changing nature of young people, and decided to come up with an educational policy that integrates the use of technology in education. As a result of that, children from South Korea are ahead of kids from other countries including European and North American nations.

Of course in developing countries, we are yet to reach a stage where our primary and secondary schools will be digitally revolutionalised, and it will be hasty to pull the trigger without working on some fundamental issues such as teacher training, child poverty etc. Yet for parents who can afford, there are so many useful applications to help their kids learn from their iPad and other devices. The Quiz up app is one example to aid the learning of your children. It can help your children especially with mathematics, history, geography, science, health education and other subjects. In fact your kids can invite children from other places around the world to compete in these subjects and see how far they have mastered the subjects in their school.

Of course supervision from parents will be useful, especially to educate your children on the content of certain subjects that might have cultural implications on your child.  It is important to understand the positive aspect of these devices by parents, so that children do not just use them for games and chatting unnecessarily, while gaining nothing in terms of their intellectual development.