By Dr Ibrahim Siraj Adhama
News is often assumed to be a factual and objective account of happenings at global or local stages. Yet, news has always been a function of gatekeeping and, therefore, selective. Much is included or omitted through a selection process that is not entirely devoid of subjectivity and intrusion of personal judgement. Stories are framed to convey certain interpretations or promote certain ideologies. Facts are skewed to confer advantages on some individuals or groups who happen to be the news media owners and put the “others” at a disadvantage or cast them in a bad light. Globally, the media are being used, albeit cleverly, to promote their funders’ political ideology and protect their economic and other personal interests in a manner that is beyond what a layperson can see and understand. As the saying goes, no news is value-free.
Since its inception in Nigeria, one crucial feature of the media has been its religious, ethnic and regional configuration. Since independence, the Nigerian media have not only been highly politicized but were also found to be regional and ethnic in orientation and patronage. They seem to have fallen into and accepted the sad characterization of being ethnically and regionally oriented to the extent that issues of regional or ethnic significance are hardly treated objectively and professionally.
Northern Nigeria has always been a victim of media misrepresentation. Often, the media amplify the region’s challenges and, grossly, underreport its potentials. Of course, the North is battling serious developmental challenges, yet its vast mineral, agricultural and human resource potentials are entirely overlooked. The impression one gets is that of a region that is gradually turning into an epicentre of everything terrible or backward about Nigeria, bereft of any meaningful contribution to the country’s socio-economic development. It took the recent protests by food and animal suppliers to remind Nigerians that the key to the country’s food security lies in the hands of the North, a region portrayed by some as worthless.
True, the North has its more than fair share of challenges. It has a higher number of poor people. It also leads in other negative indices such as illiteracy, diseases, child mortality, hunger, and out-of-school children, especially if the available local and international statistics are anything to go by. This is not to mention the high level of insecurity that has continued to bedevil the region and is threatening to turn it into the largest killing field in the world.
The Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast is more than a decade old. Unfortunately, it does not show any sign of ending anytime soon. Bandits and kidnappers are on the prowl in the Northwest and the North-Central, killing and maiming at will. The kidnapping of school children is assuming a worryingly disturbing rate. The region similarly witnesses social and political upheavals with secessionist agitations re-emerging from East to West ostensibly to counter phantom Northern domination, domination about which an average Northerner knows close to nothing. Essentially looked upon through a parasitic lens, the North has disappointingly continued to be projected as the “sick man of Nigeria”.
To make things worse, the North appears not to have a voice of its own. Unlike what obtained in the past, the North has given up on the race to establish media outlets (especially news channels) to cater to the region’s information needs and ward off negative media campaigns from other regions. It was the late Ahmadu Bello Sardauna (of blessed memory) who said at the opening of New Nigerian in 1966 (shortly before his assassination) that “if you don’t blow your trumpet, nobody will blow it for you for the simple reason that they are too busy blowing theirs”.
Owing to good leadership, the North in those days was able to compete favourably against other regions in the media arena – from newspaper to radio and television. However, this is no longer the case, especially with regards to private news channels.
Since the deregulation of broadcasting in 1992 to allow for private ownership of radio and television in Nigeria, all the North can boast of are private FM radio stations and a handful of entertainment TV channels. In Kano, for instance, there are over twenty such radion stations and counting.
What the North actually needs at the moment are news channels in the form of TVC and Channels Television that will broadcast news and analysis of significant events to the world from a perspective that represents the average thinking of Northern people or at least does not misrepresent them. Enough of these avenues for “talking to ourselves” that these FM stations represent. There is the need to channel concerted efforts and resources towards achieving this in the nearest future if we are interested in changing the narrative about our region and what it stands for.
To better appreciate the need for this, one has to watch AIT, TVC or Channels Television coverage of such issues like restructuring, resource control, farmers-herders conflict or any of those issues that are so dear to the South but about which the North feels differently. The North is effectively turned into a punching bag of some sort by annoyingly ignorant noisemakers posing as analysts or barely informed ethnic bigots parading themselves as advocates for justice. Neither the right of self-defence nor the ethical prerequisite of fairness and balance could guarantee hearing from the other side. This has to be countered!
Dr Ibrahim wrote from the Department of Mass Communication, Bayero University, Kano.