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The research examines the effects of news commercialization on the contents of private media” with a case study of AIT and Channels Television, Lagos. Commercialization of news began in Nigerian media houses as a result of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) introduced in 1986 and the eventual withdrawal of subsidies from government owned media houses. With the increasing rise in production cost and dwindling circulation, the media houses resort to all kinds of tricks including commercialization of the news to make money. The situation has led to a lot of compromise, with sensationalisation of news stories and half-truths reaching alarming stage. This commercialization at the institutional level is thriving because editors, publishers and owners of the broadcast stations/ print media see the organizations, or their investment, as a profit making venture that should yield the required financial return. Increasingly, commercial-oriented news stories are taking the place of hard news reports. Reporters and editors are supposed to be concerned not with profits but rather with reporting the news as best they can. But that barrier is coming down, and editors are increasingly looking at media as a product that should appeal to advertisers as well as viewers. Survey research method was adopted and 180 copies of questionnaires were administered to the respondents that were drawn through Yard Formula of 1971. It is recommended that if commercialization should continue there should be a minimum any broadcast house should used daily.
1.1 Background to the Study
In contemporary society across the globe, irrespective of the prevailing media theory and or communication system, the society relies on the media for information about the unfolding events within and outside its environment. The media through their interpretation and analysis of these events help the society to make informed decisions. This is why Konkwo (1997) admitted that the recipient depends on the information he obtains from the media to make rational decisions in the economic, political and cultural spheres.
News, therefore, provides one of the platforms through which the mass media perform their cardinal functions of information, education, entertainment and mobilization of the society to the desired objectives. Unlike advertisement, news is not paid for but it is determined by certain professional and or traditional characteristics called news value such as timeliness, proximity, prominence, human interest, consequence, oddity among others. Though, with divergent definitions by various scholars, news is a timely and accurate report of current events that is of interest to the audience.
Over the last few years, there have been increasing concerns about the emergence of news commercialization in Nigeria, which tends to be gradually redefining the traditional concept of news among practitioners. According to Omenugha, et al. (2008) news commercialization is in two levels in Nigeria. The levels are:
(1) at the organizational level, where media house officially place charges for sponsored news programmes.
(2) at the journalists’ level, they submitted that the journalists ask for “brown envelop” before reporting newsworthy events. In their analysis of the situation, they typified this trend by citing the Delta Broadcasting Service, Warri, which according to them charge N20, 000 for the coverage and reporting of religious news programme; N36, 000 for corporate organisations wishing that their events be covered and reported in the news and N25, 000 for social and cultural related news worthy events. Ogbuoshi (2005) lent credence to this as he submitted that Federal Radio Corporation Nigeria (FRCN) Enugu commercial news rate is N47,000; commentaries and political news, that is, news events that has to do with political parties, elections, tribunals etc. is N52,000; the rate for special news commentary N60, 000.
The charges are subject to review. At the Nigerian Television Authority NTA LagosNetwork Centre, news which used to be N32, 750 is now N36, 750 for local, while the same news item when relayed on its network programme is as much as N862,500 for 9p.m up from N575,000 effective from February 1, 2013.
The situation is not different with what is obtained at Africa Independent Television (AIT), Silverbird TV; Radio Nigeria or Rhythm 93.7 FM as different stations have their individual rates for various classification of commercial news story- see Appendix A for more details in some media houses.
Zayyard (1990) traced the history of commercialization in Nigeria media to the wake of the global economic downturn of the early 1980s, which resulted in a fall in oil price and government revenue. Given that the Nigerian government could not further sustain its support for its public enterprise, the then Ibrahim Babangida’s regime in 1986 introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).
In order to give a legal backing to the programme, in 1988, the federal government enacted the privatization and commercialization Decree No. 25 which clearly captures the import of a new economic order with a minimal government involvement in public enterprises decisions and a further withdrawal of government subvention in public enterprises. An eleven-member Technical Committee on Privatisation and commercialization (TCPC), selected from the public and private establishments, was assigned the powers to oversee the implementation of the programme. Establishments under the arrangement to be partly commercialised are required to run akin to a commercial business with respect to their managerial structure and in profit drive. Nevertheless given that their service are of the public welfare, and in a bid to make their services affordable for the public good, government would have to provide somewhat capital grants. Thus, the NTA, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN and News agency of Nigeria, NAN, were granted partial commercialization with a performance agreement that was formally entered into between the Federal Government, the TCPC and the management of these establishments. Under the arrangement, the federal government resolved to provide grant for capital projects for the parastatals while they are expected to generate fund for their operational costs. The aftermath of this accord brought about this journalistic jargon “Let Them Pay” (LTP), and “Commercial news” , which are terms used to describe news of interest emanating from a person, group, organisation and even government agencies that originates story ideas for media coverage, which the media house would usually want the entity to pay for such coverage and reportage. Scholars have insisted that this practice is unprofessional and against the NBC provisions as encapsulated in Section 4.3.11 NBC Code 2010, which holds that the selling of news space to generate fund for media organisations encourages bias and does not give equal access to members of the public to air their views.
There has been concerns here in Lagos that many media houses would ask for payment even to cover oil spills and dilapidated roads when issues of such arise or community members seek media coverage and reportage of such events. So many rape incidents are oftentimes said to be under reported and or not reported at all because many a times, those affected cannot finance the reportage in the media. The traditional news value judgment is taking a second place in preference to commercial news in many media houses news bulletin.
Udomisor and Kenneth (2013) noted that commercialization of news at the organizational level is trending in the media because the management and ownership structure of the broadcast stations priorities profit-making as key to venturing into the media, hence their investment should yield the required financial gain. It is not surprising to see presently that commercial oriented news reports are accorded preference over hard news; owing to monetary demands to cover an event. No wonder, in contemporary practice of journalism, commercialisation of news is thriving to a situation where the wealthy class appears to be the ones that get their ideas disseminated to the public. Some scholars believe that this, in turn, affects the practice of objectivity in the media. Okunna (2001) is of the view that the media have a duty to providing the right amount and value of information that contemporary society needs to function well. On the contrary, the Nigerian mass media contents appear to be a profit-driven industry that negates the social responsibility duty of the media to the society.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
There is growing criticisms about imbalance reportage in the mass media and the charging of fees for most of the news items; resulting into distortions and lack of credibility in mass media news reports. A careful look at the contents of daily news reports reveal that commercial news reports are taking over the place of hard news and investigative journalism, which is the hallmark of an objective reportage and a socially responsible mass media. This brings to fore, the question of how do journalists in Lagosperceive and or understand the policy of news commercialization? The Nigeria journalism code of ethics (1996) says in its article 12 that a journalist shall uphold universal philosophies of human rights, equity and justice, as well as peace and global understanding. In the same code, journalists are further required not to demand for payment for the reportage of news items as it is seen to be inimical to the idea of news as a fairly truthful, balanced and accurate report of event.
When you watch NTA Newsline or AIT People and Events, which showcases more of social events, you will notice that the news revolves more round the rich class. It is not because they are the people that are easily accessible but because they are the ones that can afford to pay about N1.12million to appear on NTA
Newsline. Take a look at the various media houses news bulletins even in political news reports, you will notice that the news centers on very few of the political parties and candidates who are key players. Events about candidates of smaller political parties are not heard not because they choose to be silent but because they cannot afford the cost. Have you wondered why there is no much investigative journalism? Go to any media house today and inform them that your community is having issues and you would want them to come and investigate the matter and inform the public, you would be asked to pay or sponsor the report. These are facts that are prevailing in many media houses today.
The social responsibility theory entails that the mass media provide the society and their leaders irrespective of class and status, opportunity for interactions, and in turn help them make rational decisions. Also notwithstanding the challenges of the media and by reason of their role to the societies, the citizens ought to be accorded the right to free air time and or spaces in the media devoid of any commercialization, such that the people can dialogue and or exchange ideas on equal platform; avoiding a scenario where the rich do not necessarily lord it over the rest members of the society at all times within the media space.
Journalists as gatekeepers alongside their editors make decisions on the information will get across to the public and or audience and those that are jettisoned. Thus the journalists by this process do exert influence on the public’s information and or perception of the societal events by allowing some news reports go through the channel, while jettisoning the others. However, with news commercialization, the poor and even the enlightened citizens who may not afford to pay for certain news may not be heard. This creates an imbalance; constituting a problem not only to the role of journalism to the society but also to the right towards equal access to the media by members of the society.
Worried by this developments, the researcher seeks to appraise Lagosjournalists’ perception of the commercialization of news policy, and the possible effect of commercialization of news on the newsworthiness of reports in the media if any, as well as the impact on the ethics of the journalism profession.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
It is the objective of this study is to examine the effect of news commercialization and its influence on the practice of journalism.
Precisely, this study sought:
1 To find out from the journalists the motivation for news commercialization.
2 To find out from the journalists in Lagos their approach to, and application of news commercialization policy.
3 To appraise if news commercialization has affected the news value judgment and newsworthiness of news reports in the mass media.
4 To examine the Lagos journalists’ views of news commercialization with respect to the ethics of their profession.
1.4 Research Questions
The underlining questions were put forward for examination:
1. What are the motivation for news commercialization?
2. How do journalists in Lagos interpret and measure the news commercialization policy?
3. How has news commercialization affected the newsworthiness of news reports in the media?
4 Does news commercialization affect the ethics of the journalism profession?
1.5 Significance of the Study
The study would be of immense significance to the Nigerian journalists as it would prompt them to realize the need to preserving their professional standard in news reportage. For the media industry managers and the policy makers as well as the regulators it will bring to their attention, how efficiently or otherwise, the news commercialization policy is been implemented and or interpreted in the media houses the impact of their decisions on equitable access to news and where necessary cause a policy reversal and or adjustments.
Lastly, it would contribute to knowledge enrichment on the part of students, lecturers, and even would-be journalist in their practice.
1.6 Scope of the Study
The study covers AIT lagos, NTA and Channels TV - news managers, editors and reporters who directly participate in the coverage, production and dissemination of news in lagos.
Only commercial news items formed the bases for this study. By this, it implies that other paid reports such as sponsored programmes, features, documentaries, announcement, advertisement, were not covered in this study.
1.7 Limitations of the Study
Given that Lagos is home to so many media houses scattered at different locations, questionnaire administration was a tedious task. And the dearth of empirical resource material, owing to limited inquiry into this area of study was another limitation towards extensive review of literature in this area of study.
In order to overcome these seeming challenges, the researcher administered the questionnaire through the AIT lagos, channels and NTA staffs. The researcher being a practicing journalist also administered copies of the questionnaire to some of his colleagues he met at assignment venues. By this process, the researcher was able to reach out to media practitioners in print and broadcast; national and local media outfits.
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