ICIR at 10: African Media Urged to Look Inwards for Sustenance

ICIR at 10: African Media Urged to Look Inwards for Sustenance

The biggest challenge facing African media today is lack of adequate finance to fund their operations and hold power accountable to the people. Media Sustainability therefore appropriately took the centre stage as the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, marked its 10th anniversary at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.

Dayo Aiyetan, executive director of ICIR, said the centre had been able to increase critical reporting in Nigeria and the African continent over the past 10 years by training, equipping and funding journalists across several newsrooms.

“The journey has been rough. We started with only two persons, (himself and a National Youth Service Corps assistant). We started with absolutely no money. Today, the staff strength has grown from one to 40. Our mission is to build a culture of transparency, accountability and good governance in Nigeria through robust watchdog investigative reporting.”

He explained, “It is donor-funding that has moved ICIR from one staff to 40, but donor fund is not sustainable. The media in Nigeria is haemorrhaging and we have to go back and sort it out. We have put in enormous resources to put this together to start the conversation on the sustainability of the media. Our job is important and very dangerous.”

He said though “we see our work as complementing the government, but when a government official steals money, it is the duty of the Press, including government media, to report it. We are complementing ICPC, EFCC and DSS. Government should see us as partners. We call on the government to work with the media if it is serious about fighting corruption.”

The keynote speaker, Tshepo Mahloele, chairman of Arena Holdings, South Africa, represented by Bongani Siqoko, head of strategy, urged the media to be more innovative, diversify, collaborate, create a process and trust to become commercially viable.

He said that Arena Holdings, publishers of several successful titles in South Africa, are thriving because of their quality innovations and effective management principles.

“We are doing a number of things in South Africa and it’s working and getting noticed. Media Sustainability is a subject close to our heart. Our holding company has been working on sustainability.”

He explored sustainability from two points – the media as a business, and the media as Fourth Estate of the Realm. “The issue is how to build a sustainable business. We are building a legacy balance sheet. Those who founded the business had always had sustainability in mind…”

He explained that sustainability “goes hand-in-hand with being purpose-driven. We have to be clear what our media business is. What is your purpose of being? To be successful, you have to have a purpose. It’s an imperative.” And this purpose should not just be to sell subscription.

A much bigger purpose is, what is our contribution to the development of Nigeria and Africa? A well-defined purpose also has to go hand-in-hand with a coherent sustainability plan. To be successful, a media outfit should equally have a strategy or strategies of how to realise its purpose.

In the case of Arena Holdings, he revealed that there are multiple streams of income. Their purpose is, “To connect people of all cultures. We sell connections, not newspapers, to enrich lives; to build a purpose-led integrity business. To be a platform of hope.”

He explained that an Arena is a village square, a town hall, open to scrutiny. As a platform of hope, “We are going to write all the negative stories, but people must see hope when they read our papers. “

He rationalised that the media cannot ignore the negative stories. “But can you also make efforts to find hope, pockets of excellence, so that when people come to your papers, they will find hope? We go after corruption with venom; destroy our country. We can be part of the solution. Find a different angle, not necessarily kill a story. We go after them, shame them, but I’m also arguing that we must be part of the solution. We can be very powerful change agents.”

Siqoko also emphasized competence. “Your business must be competent and strong. A business that does good, commercially viable, and has a deep culture of appreciating people. The focus should be to be a competent media organisation. For us to be competent, we must be clear about our business.”

Two things that will help deliver competent news products are : compelling news content, and editorial independence. “We have to take over as media executives. We must not interfere with media freedom. Sustainability depends on it. Politicians must know that there is a line that the media is not ready to cross.”

Likewise, integrity is key. “Integrity that we so much desire leads to news worth paying for. So, independence of the media is sacrosanct. My argument is that media freedom is an imperative for media sustainability. Media owners should guarantee press freedom. Content of integrity is when there is no interference”.

To be profitable, the media must also be structured correctly in a way to establish sustainability and growth. There must be a strategy for development, and a process that is trustworthy. Have the right personnel that will deliver on the promise of your strategy. Then trust the process you have created and build a financial sustainable business.

Time also comes in. Sufficient time should be allowed for the business plan to mature and flower. “In business, there are things that cannot be rushed,” advised Siqoko. “So be patient and trust the process.”

He reaffairmed Arena Holdings’ trust in the media business: “We don’t believe the papers are dying. We believe that the consumption pattern has changed. It means hiring top professionals and buying cutting-edge technology. Change yourself instead of investing elsewhere. Protect your legacy business and expand; explore new opportunities.”

In this mix, the media was advised to grow from the traditional news products to creative contents, targeting audio and video.

Finally, collaboration is the new way to go. “You can’t do it alone,” says Siqoko. “We can collaborate to create content, local content, African content to sell to the international platform. Let’s transition to the content business.”

Martins Oloja, the managing director of The Guardian Newspapers who moderated the panel discussion, lamented the absence of business education in journalism. “We must learn how to sell content – the business aspect of journalism – and how to sustain it.” He called it the political economy of press freedom and sustainability.

Kadaria Ahmed, the chief executive officer of RadioNow, reaffairmed the traditional role of journalism and insisted that comes first. “My job is to hold people accountable. I’m a journalist. Our journalism must set the country on the right path. But how to do my work while holding people accountable is not viable. I tried to go freelance to do what I want to do. I started doing other jobs and using the proceeds to do investigative journalism. I had only one corporate advert in two years. They offered brown envelope rather than adverts.”

She regretted that what was missing is trust. “The Nigerian audience do not trust us again. We have become part of the problem because we take sides, putting out conversation that is divisive.”

She urged journalists to be purposeful and diversify content to allow you to stay afloat.

Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndisika, professor of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, advised media owners to “think about other sources of making money other than the primary. If you want your media business to be sustainable, you must address the audience.” She urged journalists to collaborate and submit their stories in multimedia format.

She further admonished journalists to be more innovative. “It’s not an era of sitting dow to complain but working for policy to make things change. We need to do more.”

She regretted the state of the country. “The country is bleeding. Policy is paramount. There’s failure of regulation. No policy; and government policy is important to get rating.”

She advised media houses to explore crowd funding and also follow the consumers across the digital divide. “Media organisations do not need to work in silos. Collaborate. Come together. Reskill and reroot your reporters.

“You must do audience categorisation and auditing. This would help to know how best to reach the audience, whether through influencers or any other way. This would help to keep and sustain partnership with the audience. There must be need to find a sustainable business model. The modern media business must address what the consumers need.”

Chris Anyanwu, CEO Hot FM, Abuja, represented by Angela Agoawike, the Chief Executive Officer of Omalicha Radio, regretted that many papers that once thrived in Nigeria are now dead. To survive, she urged media houses to collaborate. “ When you become an editor, you are more than an editor; you become a manager of resources. We had to collaborate even with religious organisations to sponsor programmes.”

She reaffirmed her confidence that the print media will not die . “Yes, I believe in the word. Yes, I’d invest in the printing press but it doesn’t have to print papers alone. You can commercialise it. If you don’t succeed as a business, how are you going to exist? We have to harmonise the two. The media can be sustainable as a business and still hold people accountable.”

She lamented the lack of infrastructure in Nigeria – the energy crisis – and the impact on media business. There is also a need for media organisations to adapt to changes.

“Media managers have to look at ways of maximising what they do. There must be strategy to manage media business, and media as the Fourth Estate of the Realm. That balance must be there for sustainability without pulling down the role of media as the watchdog.”

Umar Pate, a professor of Mass Communication and Vice Chancellor, Federal University Kashere, Gombe State, said the government should develop policies that support the media: “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 favourable policy from the government.”

Ayodele Akinkuotu, former editor-in-chief of TELL Magazine, affirmed that content is still key. He recalled that at a time, TELL produced 48 pages without any adverts and did a print run of 200, 000 copies with little or no unsold. “People bought the content. Some even bought photocopies because of the content. These days, no follow-ups. They keep repeating the same thing everyday.”

The following communique was issued at the end of the event:

“Building a sustainable media business is associated with being purpose-driven, therefore, media organisations, like other business concerns, must clearly define their purposes, from which they must come up with definite strategies for growth, development and sustainability models.

“Naturally, media organisations should be change agents in the society; therefore, media platforms must establish themselves as being relevant to the development of the society, else they will not attract patronage.

“Media organisations must deliberately ensure that their staff are competent and be able to deliver on the jobs in the best and competitive standard.

“Media organisations must emphasise excellence, openness, integrity, transparency, accountability, and must invest in exclusive and investigative content in order to survive in the hostile business environment.

“To become commercially viable, media owners must invest in news gathering and effectively fund journalists to do good stories. Journalists must not shy away from holding the government accountable, as that is one of the ways the media could become relevant as the Fourth Estate of the Realm.

“Editors and media owners should become crusaders for media freedom, and this starts by reassuring journalists that the integrity of the media will never be allowed to be tampered with.

“The independence of the media must as such be held sacrosanct, most importantly by editors and media owners. We call on African media owners and editors to stay vigilant and ensure that the voice of the media is not stifled.

“The media, in view of sustainability discourse, needs to explore new content generation opportunities and must be ready to diversify into areas where they have core competence, by coming up with products like music, movies, documentaries, as well as other educational and entertainment concepts.

“The media needs to leverage the power of collaboration. At tables where conversations on global investigations e.g Wikileaks, Panama Papers and so on happen, African media must collaborate and ensure it is ably represented. African media must not be seen as purchasers of global content, but must take its place as generators of global content.

“In thinking about media sustainability, African media must transit beyond news generation into knowledge generation, as part of its drives for diversification and sustainability. “The media need to address the challenge of trust deficit, as sub-standard news contents, misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information, have threatened the confidence of the people in the media.

“The media should engage with media regulators on the need to re-evaluate the punitive approach to media regulations. It is believed that a closer working relationship with the regulators is important while encouraging them to see the media as partners in progress.

“In order to improve the business environment and enable the media to thrive, the media must draw the attention of the government to the challenges of infrastructure deficit, like the lack of electricity, insecurity apparatus, and bad road network, etc, to ensure they are addressed.”

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