Addressing Professionalism in Broadcasting

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The emergence of social media broadcast has continued to raise concerns about professionalism in broadcasting, a development that may be eroding trust and quality of conventional broadcasting, writes Emma Okonji

Evolution of social media is currently affecting the quality, authenticity, originality and trust of conventional broadcasting, which several audiences used to hold with a high esteem. Before the emergence of social media like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter among others, different audiences relied on the conventional broadcast from electronic media like the television and radio, as well as the print media like newspapers and magazines for their daily news. With conventional media, broadcasting and news reporting were held with trust and most people believed every information that was released via television, radio, newspapers and magazines as the gospel truth. With conventional media, journalists who source for news items and make such available to the public, were trained and respected. But with the emergence of social media broadcast, a lot of news broadcasters, who are not trained for news reporting and broadcasting, find themselves disseminating information that are not verified. They have turned themselves into news broadcasters and they are practicing citizen journalism, simply because they have smartphones with internet connectivity. In most cases, the type of information that is disseminated via social media is conflicting with the authentic information and this creates room for doubt, a development that has eroded trust from the audience who are in continuous search of various forms of news items.

Worried by this development, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Yemi Sonde Biennial Broadcast Media Stakeholders’ Forum, held the 6th edition of its forum in Ibadan, Oyo State last week.

The forum with the theme: Social Media Evolution And Conventional Broadcasting, The Nigeria Perspective, discussed the challenges of professionalism in broadcasting,.

General view

Participants at the forum raised the issue of professionalism in broadcasting and the need for social media to verify information as true before broadcast. According to them, the forum has become a platform to address national issues as they affect broadcasting.

They were of the view that such gathering should be extended to other parts of Nigeria, so that Nigerians could have more opportunities to examine the issues that condition, influence or arise from the broadcasting culture of our country.

“The truth is that we are part of an increasingly interdependent world, and the knowledge out there can be very useful to assist our apprehension of our own reality. Just as much as the convergence of new and traditional forms of media has become a major context of the various contradictions of contemporary broadcasting, including that of Nigeria, it is therefore germane that the forum is expanded to enable Nigerians from al, walks of life, discuss the issue of professionalism in broadcasting,” the participants said in one voice.

Regulatory perspective

The Director-General, National Broadcasting Commission, Mr. Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, while delivering a paper at the forum, said

scholars of the media around the world all agreed that the advent and consolidation of social media has posed a great challenge to conventional media in general, and conventional broadcasting, in particular.

According to him, the circulation of newspapers around the world has suffered a great deal, especially in the advanced capitalist countries. This same trend has become the norm in the setting of Nigeria. The presence of social media opened new accesses for media consumption for millions of people. This has also affected conventional broadcasting too. The opportunities to live stream has become a major added value for conventional broadcasting and the effort has largely been driven by the fact that there is a huge population of the young, that consumes media in a different way, majorly, on hand-held devices. But the most important issue has been the fundamental rupture in the manner that content can be generated and disseminated. While the conventional broadcaster must work within certain codes of professional performance, the citizen- journalist does not have such inhibiting professional factors. And it is that liberty, which has been responsible for many of the problems which social media is generating in contemporary society.

Information dissemination

Speaking on the importance of information dissemination with  historical facts, Kawu highlighted the 2014 incidence, where Nigeria was suddenly hit by the problem of Ebola Fever, as a result of the tragic arrival of a Liberian infected with the killer disease. According to him, it led to the heroic effort of the late Dr. Adadevoh, to ensure that the man who entered Nigeria with the infection did not cause the type of mass infections that could lead to the death of thousands of Nigerians. He, however, said the most important sidebar, was the information dissemination on the hysterical scrum around the consumption of salt water, as the “possible cure” for Ebola. Nigerians went into panic mode! “And the story crossed over from social media platforms into conventional media, including broadcasting. It turned out, that the origin of the story of that salt water “cure”, was a mischievous effort by two young people to exploit the incredulity of Nigerians. They imagined that Nigerians could or would fall for the story and of course, they did! Quite a number of people lost their lives. I wrote a piece titled: Ebola Virus and The Salt Water of Ignorance, for my weekly column in Vangaurd and Blueprint newspapers on the 14th of August, 2014, to explore that issue. More contemporary, is the issue of the clashes between Nomadic herdsmen and sedentary farming communities, and the manner that stories have emerged unmediated, often from social media platforms, and are carried by conventional broadcasting platforms,” he said.

The NBC boss added: “I have a personal interest in that issue. I am writing a Ph D thesis at the moment, for the Nigeria Defence Academy’s Department of Political Science. The unmediated use of stories from social media platforms, was one of the issues that led the National Broadcasting Commission to withdraw the network licenses of the DAAR Communications Limited group last month.”

According to him, if we think this issue is only a Nigerian problem, then we missed the point, saying all over the world, there is a major challenge to the manner of conducting life that the proliferation of social media platforms, is intruding into.

“The recent resignation of the British Ambassador to Washington, was related to the leakage of what is normally, secured, secret diplomatic correspondence, from an accredited ambassador to his country. The unflattering descriptions of President Donald Trump, in the leaked correspondence, led to a major diplomatic scandal. The Trump White House decided not to have any more relationships with the Ambassador of America’s closest ally, Great Britain. The Ambassador’s position became untenable and he eventually resigned. But in his inimitable style, President Donald Trump took to his Twitter handle, to respond to the issue. He conducted the diplomacy on social media, as he did in the conflict with North Korea. Fake news, hate and dangerous speech, half truths, fantastic claims, hoaxes, the manipulation of photography, the mischievous editing of images and emergence of software that can place image over others to present false narratives, are some of the realities of the world of social media,” Kawu said.

He explained that when information are unmediated, they could be used to deepen discourses of hate, and reinforce prejudices.

“Nigerian conventional media platforms, especially newspapers, illustrate news about alleged “armed herdsmen”, by sourcing pictures of armed herdsmen from the internet. But in almost every single one of these materials that I have studied, as part of my PhD work, these images were either Dinka or Nueur nomads from South Sudan. They carry arms in their herding activities, and since there are no images of Nigerian herdsmen doing so, even with the proliferation of narratives affirming such, our media sources such pictures from online, social media platforms, to reinforce the deep seated prejudices of their readers and audiences. The result has been the increasingly tense environment in the country and the reinforcement of tendencies towards the outbreak of ever more tragic conflicts in our country,” he said.

Social media platforms

Social media in Nigeria has evolved in the context of the demographic changes that country has witnessed over the past two decades. According to Wolrdometer, the United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs, Population Division, World Population Tracking System, Nigeria, has a population of 201, 203, 000 people and counting. Nigeria ranks 7th in the world’s population, and that means that 2.6 per cent of the world’s population is Nigerian. 51.9 per cent of the Nigerian population lives in urban communities, while the median age is 17.9 years. These figures are very vital in the understanding of the evolution of social media platforms in Nigeria. The majority of Nigerians today is young; and these young people spend a significant amount of time on social media platforms, consuming news and other contents, through their hand-held devices. They are also generating or sharing all kinds of content, including the positive or the hateful. That is the nature of social media platforms. The central point is that the material that is spread might not have gone through any forms of professional mediation to check veracity or fairness and other basic canons that would affect the conventional broadcasting praxis.

Broadcasting code

The National Broadcasting Commission, the regulatory body for the broadcast industry in Nigeria, is of the opinion that the conventional broadcaster in the Nigerian setting must start from the pedestal of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code. According to the Director-General of NBC, the code describes broadcasting as “a creative medium, characterised by professionalism, choice and innovation, to serve the interest of the public.”

The code appreciates the importance of broadcast technology and platforms, pointing out that these avail the practitioners “the best means of information dissemination and reception”; and therefore “enables the individual to share in and contribute the best of his/her ability, to the world around him/her.”

The central kernel in the setting of Nigeria is also well set forth by the Nigeria Broadcasting Code: “Broadcasting shall influence society positively, setting the agenda for the social, cultural, economic, political and technological development of (our) nation, for the public good.” According to him, the code appreciates the fact that the Nigerian, through the means of broadcasting, is expected to partake in the sharing of ideas and experiences that will enrich the  life of the citizenry and help them live in a complex, dynamic and humane society.

He said the vision for Nigerian broadcasting, is that it “shall essentially match the best in the profession anywhere in the world, yet be distinctly Nigerian, projecting the best and discouraging the worst in the society. “In other words, the cardinal responsibility of broadcasting to inform, educate and entertain shall not be at the expense of national interest, unity and cohesion of Nigeria’s diverse social, cultural, economic, political and religious configurations,” he said.

Kawu explained that on the basis of that, the code further buttressed that “no broadcast shall encourage or incite to crime, lead to public disorder, be repugnant to public feeling or contain an offensive reference to any person, alive or dead, or generally be disrespectful to human dignity”. The broad platforms laid out by the code, appreciate the important of social media platforms as source platforms for the conventional broadcasting platforms.

Fake news

Kawu, who hinged on the Nigerian Broadcasting Code to discuss the dangers of fake news dissemination, said despite the central place of the broadcasting code at the heart of Nigerian broadcasting, the industry nevertheless confronts the challenges of hate and dangerous speech, abusive comments, hyping, the phenomenon of the anchor who wants to interject his/her own opinion on contemporary societal issues, and the unmediated exploitation of social media platforms as sources for user generated content.

According to him, social interactions at home and at work are gradually suffering as every individual locks himself/herself away into social media virtual reality. The quality of relationships erodes and this is all around us. Even mental health professionals are becoming increasingly worried about the impact that social media has on mental health.

“Some believe that the constant distraction of social media, contributes to shortened attention spans. In addition, many people who regularly use platforms like Facebook or Twitter report high levels of stress. Of course, any issue of mental health challenge can impact on the long term health of society and productivity,” Kawu said.

He added: “In recent times, the cry of “fake news” has become commonplace and societal confidence, in even traditional media outlets, has been significantly eroded. Unfortunately, false, misleading, or confusing online content find their way on to conventional broadcasting platforms as we pointed out, at the NBC, in the recent controversy with one of our major licensees.”