What is opennaija.com all about?
Opennaija.com is a project by Rave 91.7 FM foundation. It is an instrumental value that we developed, a thematic focus that we designed to bridge the developmental lacuna that we have noticed. It stems out of a conviction that media needs to do more in its pursuance of developmental journalism or developmental communication. Wittingly or unwittingly, the urban political elite have taken control of media narrative. The media focuses attention on them. We report news from their angle and we devote substantial amount of media content to the urban elite. Ordinary people are left out of the equation; they are mere spectators in the media sphere. They are mere consumers of media and most times not contributors of media content.
If we are serious about sustainable development, we must change this one directional news flow. So, the essence of openaija.com is to mount an advocacy campaign on unequal access to media and the need to reverse and give ample opportunity to ordinary people regardless of social status.
In your view, how does this present arrangement affect the ordinary people?
We should not lose sight of the fact that the media is a critical institution in any modern society. The elite know the value of the media that’s why they always strive to maintain control. The agenda setting strength of the media gives it ample control of how we behave, how we think, what we believe, what we don’t believe, what we accept and what we don’t accept. If we remember the cosmopolitan periphery relationship that existed between colonial powers and the colonies, cosmopolitan being the colonising countries of Europe and the periphery, being the colonies, the African nations. Those were the era of media imperialism of one directional news flow from the cosmopolitan to the periphery. The essence was to maintain control and hold the colonies in perpetual servitude. This is what we have domesticated now. The top dogs are the elite who are in control of the media, the underdogs are the ordinary people who have no access to the media whom the elite want to hold down. Information is power; it gives a sense of belonging. You remember in the 70s, UNESCO tried to promote the idea of developmental journalism/communication though to the chagrin of the Western powers, who saw that the theory as antithetical to the freewheeling Libertarian theory. UNESCO realised that if we do not bring people into the media equation, you cannot involve them in governance structure. You cannot lead them out of poverty and you cannot achieve development across the ladder. That’s why the poverty index in nations like ours where the media is still substantially under the control of the elite is very high.
You are a media practitioner and a media owner. What have you done differently in your own space?
Well, I sit on a tripod on this discourse. I am a practitioner like every one of us; by privilege, a media owner and also a doctoral student in Mass Communication. So, I see this issue from all angles. Rave FM foundation is venturing into this because of my practical experience as media content developer. We have a programme on Rave FM called Igimo Ajoro (People’s Parliament), it goes on air twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On this platform, we discuss trending issues within the polity, political, economical and social. The anchor is the Speaker of the House, while every contributor to the programme is a honourable member [of the House] at least for that moment. The essence is to give them a sense of importance and honour. The quality of debate amazes me. People on the lowest rung of the ladder own the programme. It is their platform to ventilate on national issues. I must confess that they love it. Most often, I discover we underrate ordinary people’s understanding of national issues. Some of the propositions are great, some of the ideas are well thought out. Some of them are very clear headed and they feel part of the governance process. So, to achieve inclusiveness in public governance, we need to do more of bringing ordinary people into the media net. So that is what I have done within my own little space and it has encouraged me to do more and that’s why we came up with openaija.com.
We can only change the status quo if we realise ab initio that there is a gap that must be bridged. We must realise that the media as an institution has shut its doors to ordinary people in media conversations and narratives and it’s time to open the doors to achieve inclusiveness in public governance so that they can be fully integrated into the mainstream of public discourse and public governance. What we do presently is what I call tokenism. We devote a token of our media content to people in the rural areas, people in the lowest rung of the ladder. We only remember them when they are ravaged by diseases or ravaged by calamities. We must balance the equation by devoting a substantial percentage of our content to ordinary people across genres. It will give them a voice and a sense of active participation and importance. If you listen to radio stations, watch television stations and read newspapers, you discover that community news and content does not constitute more than five per cent of the content that we disseminate. It’s not just enough to devote one hour in a week to focus attention on the hinterland, rural and provincial of the periphery. We should develop a deliberate and sustained strategy to give voice to the ordinary people.
On the wish list of the sustainable development goal, the number one agenda is to banish poverty and hunger and number eight is to develop global partnership for inclusive development. For any development strategy to be successful, it must be bottom up or horizontal. It will amount to self deceit as a people if we continue this oasis of riches in the ocean of poverty mentality and we still pretend we want a developed nation. It can never happen and the media has a critical role to play.
What practical approach does openanija.com intend to adopt?
It’s an advocacy platform to galvanise the media towards inclusiveness and opening its space for people across social status. What we are canvassing is a mind shift, an ideological reorientation. So we need to engage people at the level of training. We will be engaging editors, media content providers to buy into our argument and be advocates of this principle.
At the level of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Guild of Editors, Radio and Theatre Workers Union (RATTAWU), Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), etc, we are proposing robust engagement and interface to sell the idea. We also plan to create our content, especially on radio and television stations across the geopolitical zones. Content that will be in local dialect, content that will be developed by locals for the locals. We are talking content about agriculture and farming, a village square kind of platform where they can discuss issues of political and socio–economic importance. And we will be seeking partnership with development partners to make this a reality.
Would you say the media is overpriced and out of the reach of the people you are canvassing for?
To a large extent, yes. But I’d like to sound a note of caution. Media should not lose sight of the fact that it has a dual mandate. It’s both a business (information merchant) and public trust. The pendulum should not swing too much in the favour of one to the detriment of the other. There is what we call balancing act; the media must not lose sight of its social responsibility role in building an egalitarian society. Going back memory lane, when you discuss at the realm of Mass Communication, the Libertarian theory of the press was a freewheeling paradigm or model that was running riot with its attendant consequences of abuse before American theorists propounded the Social Responsibility theory as a means of alerting journalists of their responsibilities to the society. The media as an institution must be very ethical and accountable to the society and should not be consumed by the lust for revenue. I know it costs a fortune to run a media organisation, especially in our clime, but let the rich and powerful in politics, in business, subsidise media for the ordinary people. By so doing the media would have fulfilled its dual mandate role.
Don’t you think the social media has democratized the media space?
Well, to some extent yes. Citizen journalism has democratized the media space. It has brought so many people into the communication net not just as consumers of media content but as contributors to media content. But it will shock you that in our clime, social media still remains elitist. It has not permeated or percolated down the social ladder. An average rural person or ordinary folk still finds radio more accessible than the social media or any other means of communication. Yes, social media is trying but the traditional media can do better. I want us to bring back the days of Community Concord. Each newspaper should dedicate some pages to community news everyday while television and radio stations should look more to the rural areas for news not just for reporting calamities, diseases or hunger, but reporting the scientific discoveries at their level, their culture, tradition, festivals, artifacts and celebrations.