There are ongoing accusations by many stakeholders and policymakers that the Nigerian media allows its obsession with bad news and screaming headlines to obstruct the principal mandate of setting the right agenda towards building a united and stable nation.
Indeed, it was reported some time ago that media stakeholders specifically decried the preponderance of fake news that had caused sharp divisions along tribal, religious, and social lines, leading to mutual distrust, suspicion, and hatred that had constituted a huge threat to Nigeria’s corporate existence. Others even accused the unregulated social media of being the worst.
Truth is, oftentimes, when one reads the news, it looks like the only things reported in Nigeria are terrible, depressing events. And the question that comes to one’s mind is, why does the Nigerian media concentrate on the bad things, rather than the good? And what might this depressing slant say about the audience?
Perhaps, journalists are drawn to reporting bad news because sudden disasters are more compelling than slow and steady improvement. Or it could be that news gatherers believe that cynical reports of corrupt politicians or unfortunate events make for simpler and more appealing stories. But another strong possibility is that the readers or viewers have “trained” journalists to focus on these things.
News stories that contain more negative than positive words attract higher readership and ‘clicks’ on social media easily, than stories in which positive words dominate. A research study, few years ago, focusing on selected Western countries, revealed that magazine sales in the US and Germany increased when their covers display negative information and images.
These are mostly scandalous stories of stumbled politicians or events related to the most notorious members of a criminal gang. This trend is not too different in the Nigerian media space. The reasons for this can be found primarily in the bias of the Nigerian media consumers, leading to the dominant selection of negative content in most news bulletins.
In other words, peoples’ interest in news is much more intense when there is a perceived threat to their way of life. They care much less about what happens around them when they enjoy relative peace and/or comfort. Detailed studies on the level of interest in news in developing societies and emergent democracies provide many clear confirmations that fear and poverty stimulate greater interest in the news.
It is also important to note that the prevailing fear in Nigeria, created in recent times by terrorism, banditry, cultism, among others issues, has massively enhanced the sales of extra thousands of newspapers and magazines. That apart, the lack of interest in regular news among a segment of the population is traceable to the comfort provided by relative affluence. This aspect of self-interest may be unsurprising. But it does have diverse forms of influence in news-gatherers.
First, it implies that regular calls for papers to publish “good news” rather than “bad” ones are largely a waste of time. People are stimulated to read by the latter. They want to know what has gone wrong rather than what is going right. Second, it reminds people that “real news” – about events – wins far greater attention than “manufactured news” about personalities and scandals. Third, it proves that journalists face an uphill task in trying to tell people what is happening. The audience is just not reading or listening.
In spite of all the above and considering the instrumentality of information dissemination, democratic institutions hold the media as an enormous tool in building its structures. To this end, democracy thrives better on the wheel of freedom for all citizens to express their views.
However, it is fundamental to note that freedom of expression which democracy cheerfully gives, is not as important as the concomitant obligation of a responsible expression by all.
In the present circumstance, has the media promoted the democratic ideal of freedom and equality for all Nigerians? Are recent media reports and editorial comments laced with the potential for democracy’s triumph? Many analysts would respond positively on this.
This, among others factors, explains why the media remains a contributing factor to the nation’s socio-economic and political woes. Majority of media professionals in the country have overtly become more cautious than courageous in performing their agenda-setting roles. They have watched the making of political-cum-economic decisions that breed poverty and perpetrate powerlessness, yet prefer the easy way of “romancing” the political hierarchy without addressing the underlying factors.
For instance, the failure of the media to study the various propositions presented by the leaders in the past, and their failure to inform the masses accordingly, has resulted in situations where politicians persuaded Nigerians to endorse and applaud policies that were even harmful to their interest.
This and other sordid performances emanating from the industry is why the nation is currently groping and stumbling, remaining politically divided and confused. But in the face of these failures, one point the operators often forget as the watchdog of the society is that a lot is expected from the media.
Despite challenges limiting the effective performance of the media in the country, the sector remains an essential tool in promoting good governance and sustainable development.
The primary roles of the media in any society include informing, educating and entertaining. These roles are very important. That is why no contemporary society can progress meaningfully without a vibrant press. In this light, the media in Nigeria must strive to live up to the expectations of the people in ensuring balance, advancing national growth and development, no matter the constraints and challenges that stand in its way.