ICIR@10: Stakeholders Brainstorm On Media Enterprises’ Survival In Nigeria

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From Shakirudeen Bankole, Abuja

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), owners of media organizations, media managers and other practitioners converged at the Banquet Hall of the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, to discuss the most challenging threat facing the business: survival.

With the unfortunate experience of the past, including the death of one of the Nigeria’s most impressionable media businesses like the defunct Next234 Newspaper, which died at the prime of its evolvement in spite of its product quality, widespread brand acceptability, inspiring vision, and workforce competence, the meeting couldn’t be more timely.

And as expected, it was not going to be dedicated to just Goodwill Messages and the celebration of a decade of excellence at the ICIR alone; the convergence was going to provoke a robust and frank intellectual discussion on how to win the battle against the incursion of the social media, internet penetration, disappearing advert patronage, and the cost of innovation vis-à-vis the economic realities of today.

For context, like any other businesses, sustainability is a big challenge for media organisations in a country like Nigeria.

From strangulating regulatory system, inadequate infrastructures, to the cost of reskilling and retraining new employees, to the dwindling market, which is being speedily taken over by the social media, to the most devastating of them all, the outrageous cost of production, Nigeria’s business climate is definitely not one of the most conducive to operate.

The Keynote Speaker, Bongani Sikoko, the General Manager, Strategy and Alignment at the Arena Holdings, one of South Africa’s topmost and most successful media organisations, shared his company’s successful business model with the audience.

In audience were Nigerian media heavyweights, most of whom have had unblemished stints from the newsrooms, before transcending to the boardrooms. There were also those in academics.

They included Professor Umaru Pate, a Professor of Mass Communication and Vice Chancellor at the Federal University, Kashere in Gombe State; Professor Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndiska, also a professor of Mass Communication at the University of Lagos; Kadaria Ahmed, Founder of RadioNow and a former Editor at Next234; Alh. Mannir Dan-Ali, former Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-chief, Daily Trust Newspaper; Angela Agoawike, Chief Executive Officer of Omalicha Radio; and Martins Oloja, the Managing Director of The Guardian Newspaper, as the moderator.

Others who shared goodwill messages were Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher of Premium Times; Mr. Hamza Lawal, Founder of Connected Development (CODE); David Kaplain of the Global Investigative Journalism Network; and Mr. Dayo Olaide, Deputy Director of MacArthur Foundation, among others.

Dayo Aiyetan, the Executive Director of TheICIR, expressed profound gratitude to the company’s Managing Board, donors, and the team for their supports, work ethics and unflinching commitments.

He narrated the humble beginning of the organization, and attributed the success to the clarity of purpose, tenacity and commitment to excellence by the team.

Sikoko started with the need for a media organization to have a deep sense of purpose, one that is not only driven by profit making but connected to driving a societal change.

He explained that a purposeful media organization has a better chance of thriving and making profit, if reinforced with competent personnel and operated with best work ethics and uncompromising internal editorial integrity and freedom.

“As media owners, you must understand that once you have successfully established the process, you must allow it to take its full course. Yes, many of you want things to work immediately and start making money, but it doesn’t work like that.

“You must allow for the process to work and not interfere at any point in time. This would further reinforce the credibility of your media organization and its product. This would ultimately make the people to see your quality and commitment to excellence and embrace your product, thereby inspiring profitability and growth,” he said.

He said it was disrespectful of the hardworking and honest practitioners for media owners and managers to allow themselves to be approachable for compromise on editorial contents, saying such represents one of the unforgivable compromises that would ultimately kill a media enterprise.

“We must define a fine line between our editorial integrity and independence and the politicians and as well as the big corporations. We must not make ourselves approachable by the politicians or these companies for whatever compromise. They must never think it is possible to approach us as media owners or managers to kill a story or tilt it to favour them. The red line must be drawn clearly,” he admonished.

Sikoko identifies electricity as a major necessity for the survival of all enterprise.

“The energy challenge is a very big problem that can not be wished away. It must be tackled head-on, if truly the media or any enterprise whatsoever would stand a chance of survival in this country,” he said.

Demystifying the myth that the end of the traditional, professional media practice might have gone forever, Sikoko said based on his company’s experience, the greatest quality to sell in news product remains the truth.

“The traditional media is not going to die. Because its business is selling the truth to the public. What is happening is that the industry is witnessing the shockwave effect of technology and the social media. Hence to survive in it, all we need is to adapt,” he said.

He also admonished that for a media business to survive, it must diversify into a multiple or income-generating sectors that do not necessarily have to be news production.

“The entertainment and creative sector is one good example the media can explore. African stories can be told and retold creatively in ways that the world would be amazed and excited to want to listen again and again,” he added.

Professor Pate said the future of media is in “audiovisual content production.”

From studies, according to him, the era of long text reading on the newspaper might still be fashionable with some people, but “not definitely with the young, technology-savvy young people who prefer to crunch their content on the go.”

He also admonished the government to look beyond laws that may ultimately limit the survivability of the media, but support it with robust legislative frameworks.

According to him, “the government must look beyond Hate Speech and Fake News and support the media with relevant policies. Amazon and Google are taking all the big adverts. We can have a share of that if we have a favorable policy from the government.”

Ms. Ahmed reiterated that it is the primary responsibility of journalists to hold the government and power accountable.

“It can be done through documental, movies, and in pieces broken down of multimedia contents, ” she said.

“Can’t you all see that the country’s leaders need to be held accountable?” she asked rhetorically.

Mannir said if not for unnecessary arrogance, many media organizations in the country would have been profitable.

“At Daily Trust Newspaper, we can print the entire daily production of the Nigerian newspapers. We know the figure. And it is not much at all. But because of the empty ego of wanting to have my own printing press, many of us today have gone to pour billions of naira into purchasing the sophisticated equipment that are so expensive to maintain.”

He also expressed concern around the issue of ethnic profiling, saying one of the major issues facing the country, is the role the media is playing in polarizing the country.

Martins Oloja painted a scenario on how advert placement has become so insignificant in augmenting the cost of production of newspapering.

As part of its diversification strategy, he said Guardian Newspaper recently veered into film production, with the production of a movie titled Mofe.

On the question of the welfare of the practitioners, the parley suggested that it was equally important for them to be creative by creating other sources of legitimate income for themselves.

“There is the need to retool and reskill. If you do not have the current skill the market is demanding, you are definitely going to be in hot soup,” Oloja said.

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