De-marketers’ zone – Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics
By kayode idowu
When microblogging and social networking giant, Twitter, announced mid-April that it would site its African base in Ghana, Nigerian media players came under the cudgel for making their country lose out. Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed said they were to blame for de-marketing Nigeria.
The minister rightly observed that the natural expectation was for Nigeria with 25.4million Twitter users to be the hub of the big-tech’s African operations, especially in this part of the continent as opposed to Ghana with 8million Twitter users. He held that the decision was not commercial or business-informed, granting however that the company reserved the right to choose where to site it head office. Then, he called out journalists for censure, saying that was what you get when you de-market your own country and lessons should be learnt on how to better manage the nation’s image. “The media is more to blame for this, which most times exaggerate the challenges in the country. At no time was this worse than during the #EndSARS protest when Nigerian journalists, both traditional and new media, were trying to outdo themselves in painting Nigeria as a hell where nobody should live,” he argued.
According to the minister, the lot “conspired to vilify not just the government but the people of Nigeria.” He added for good measure: “We are not saying that you should not criticise the country, but be fair and patriotic. When you destroy your own house, where are you going to live? You can imagine the job opportunities that siting that headquarters in Nigeria would have generated, the kind of visibility it would have given Nigeria; but we destroyed it! It is what insiders say about their country that the outsider will use to judge and condemn the country.”
Forthright patriotic passion, that was. But if you scrutinise Twitter’s justification of its decision, you can’t help seeing there is more to the snub than the minister’s critique. The big-tech said it considered Ghana a supporter of free speech, online freedom and the open internet, and that itself must be more immersed in rich and vibrant communities that drive the conversations taking place every day across the African continent. “Twitter’s mission is to serve the public conversation and it is essential, for the world and for Twitter, to increase the number of people who feel comfortable participating in it,” its statement read. And there’s a business angle, by the way. Twitter said it was won by Ghana’s significant involvement in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), as the trade pact aligns with its overarching goal to improve and tailor its service across Africa.
Now, to interrogate: without the #EndSARS bad media, would Nigeria have been attractive to Twitter going by its stated values? ‘Seems doubtful in the light of the criteria of free speech, online freedom and open internet. For some years, the Federal Government has been seeding a policy of gagging the web space over – truly horrendous – abuses by some users, especially the scourge of fake news and ‘hate speech.’ “What goes on the social media is so ridiculous and we will contain it. I can assure you we are working on how to inject sanity into the social media space, which today is totally out of control,” the minister said in late 2019. He spoke on the back of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Independence Day broadcast that year in which he said: “Whilst we uphold the constitutional rights of our people to freedom of expression and association, where the purported exercise of these rights infringes on the rights of other citizens or threatens to undermine our national security, we will take firm and decisive action.”
Not counting acute infrastructure and insecurity challenges that presently blight this country, the policy disposition espoused by government is invariably at odds with Twitter’s values of free speech and online freedom and was sufficient to disincentivize the big-tech from adopting Nigeria as its African operational base. That is to say, blaming it all on media negativism was sheer scapegoating, ‘de-marketers’ run high up the ladder. Let’s be clear: government’s concerns about social media abuses in our context were totally warranted, but when a country makes a choice that it considers of primal importance for its wellbeing and survival it must be willing to be at ease with all consequences of such a choice.
Now, there is another strain of our national life that could potentially de-market the country, and that is the itchy fingers of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to circumscribe the space for expression in the sector it regulates, with the possibility of this diminishing the country’s liberal image. The commission early last week served independent broadcaster, Channels Television, a notice of infringement of the broadcasting code and threatened sanctions that included the operator’s licence being suspended and a N5million fine being imposed for having allowed a leader of the proscribed Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) to make secessionist and inciting claims on air without caution or reprimand. Many stakeholders argue, though, that the move was a gag on media freedom and plurality, which is an affront on democracy.
In its letter to Channels, NBC said the broadcaster violated extant codes of practice, among them Section 9 of the Broadcasting Act that mandates a licence holder to “use it to promote national interest, unity and cohesion, and (that) it shall not be used to offend religious sensibilities or promote ethnicity, sectionalism, hatred and disaffection among the people of Nigeria.” It described the programme at issue as “reprehensible, especially that IPOB remains a proscribed organisation as pronounced by the courts of the land,” and reminded the broadcaster that it owes Nigeria “the responsibility (to be) a truly professional and ethical guided broadcast station, especially at times of crisis.” Contrary to criticisms that it had tossed the station’s licence and imposed the fine, however, the commission has explained that its letter was a only regulatory instrument by which it warned the station to discontinue the programme or get sanctioned. It wasn’t the first time Channels came on the raw end of the regulator, being among three broadcasters issued sanction letters at the height of the #EndSARS protests in October, last year, for allegedly transmitting “unverified and unauthenticated social media sources” potentiated to aggravate tension during the protests.
I am of the view that there is no question the privilege of media freedom comes with heavy responsibility to safeguard and stabilise society. Indeed, it is in enlightened self-interest of practitioners to seek the preservation of their ecosystems, because as Information Minister Mohammed observed: “When you destroy your own house, where are you going to live?” But also, NBC’s beef with Channels highlighted the whole debate about the role of the media as a modulator on one hand, and its role as a mirror on the other. In the case in point, for instance, to what extent can the media stymie ‘the other side’ with the demagoguery of caution and reprimands if it must accurately mirror the plurality of the society? It is a delicate balance to be struck through continuing mutual engagement between the regulator and operator, as opposed to the proclivity of NBC to throw in the hammer – never mind that the very code it wields was dogged by controversy of authenticity between the commission’s board and management when it was enacted. By the way, allowing the ‘adversary’ free and full expression could lend rare and actionable insight into the workings of his world; like in the early 2000s, at the height of Al-Qaeda insurrection, when Time magazine did a cover on ‘Inside the Mind of a Terrorist’ by which it debriefed an active suicide bomber on the thought processes informing self-sacrificial mass murder. It was a nugget of a story on motivations to deal with and how to avoid being a victim.
NBC needs to learn the art of accommodating society’s plurality with some generosity, as its fits otherwise de-market Nigeria before the free world. When the chickens come to roost, we should remember where from.
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Source: Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics
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