Media Experts Say Radical Fiscal Reforms Needed to Salvage the Media from Negative Effect of COVID-19

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Ms Blessing Oladunjoye, Publisher, BONews
Ms Blessing Oladunjoye, Publisher, BONews

Media experts including the chief executives of some media organizations have called for radical fiscal reforms, including steady power supply, bailouts in form of grants and soft loans, and other basic social amenities, to salvage the Nigerian media from the negative impact of the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in conjunction with the BONews Service hosted media experts to a Twitter Chat on July 2, 2020, at which discussion the panellists dissected the challenges and proffered solutions to the impact the COVID- 19 global pandemics has had on media outlets, practitioners and journalists across the country.

The Twitter Chat with the theme: “Ensuring the Survival of the Media in the Face of a Global Pandemic – The Role of Governments” and used the hash tag #MediaNGCovid19 was moderated by the Executive Director of MRA, Edetaen Ojo and had on the panel seasoned journalists including Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher of Premium Times; Toun Okewale, MD/CEO of Women Radio; Ted Iwere, MD of SME Media and Mrs IbimSemenitari, Publisher of Business Eye.

While the expressing their views during the Twitter Chat the media experts agreed that the media had been facing challenges prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, they, however, noted that the pandemic had further deteriorated the work conditions of media practitioners and journalists across the country.

The professionals expressed concerns that the current economic situation might bring about Government negative influence on the activities of the media.

Responding during the chat, Ted Iwere explained that the complete absence of activities at the height of the COVID-19took a direct hit on the media. “With limited or complete absence of commercial activities in the private and public sectors, the media took a direct hit. It was struggling in the best of times. Things just got worse under COVID,” he said.

Also sharing her perspectives on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the media, TounOkewale- Sonaiya pointed out that a lot of media practitioner lost their means of livelihood as a result of the pandemic. A lot of our media colleagues lost their means of livelihood. Employers are struggling. Nigerian traditional media is sinking. Media is at the frontline of Covid-19 and needs help. Without the media, there’s no news. Let’s remember the media broke news on COVID19,” she said.

DapoOlorunyomi, while sharing his insights pointed out that the pandemic gave “law enforcement agencies discretion to abuse journalists and certainly it has tightened the screw in the ability of the media to generate revenue through events, circulation and advertising among other things.”

Mr. Olorunyomi, further emphasized the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the media, revealing that: “It has affected the capacity to do good storytelling because the access to sources are more problematic, it has raised human rights challenges especially with regards to the privacy rights of patients.”

While making recommendations, Mrs. Okewale suggested that the provision of basic social amenities like power supply and the good road will go a long way in reducing the impact of the pandemic. “The government should focus more in providing an enabling environment to allow for professionalism. This is what the media need” she said.

Mrs. Okewale added that bailouts in the form of a grant and soft loans were inevitable to help the media survive the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, Mr. Olorunyomi said: “it is a more elaborate conversation which cannot be easily summarised. It will include radical fiscal reforms, significant waivers on imports of machinery and tools, broadband access and creating an environment for innovation” to put the media back on the right track.

Zoe Titus, a participant from Southern Africa, tweeted that governments should routinely provide a conducive environment for media operations (public or private) saying: “let’s take a leaf from the Windhoek Declaration.”

However, a twist of opinions arose on the issue of government giving grants or other financial assistance to media organisations to ensure their survival or sustainability.

Bankole Adams, a participant noted that the move has the potential to birth ‘a tainted media that will pander to the paymaster’. “We already see the ugliness of the pandering in the media space. Why make it worse?”  he said.

Buttressing Bankole’s position, MrsMojirayoOgunlana-Nkanga said the move could lead to unnecessary influences and manipulation of the media suggesting rather that: “It’s better private media houses remain independent from government. And of course, we know politicians, especially the Nigerian kind.”.

Ted Iwere also agreed with the position, saying media houses are more likely to throw their independence into the bargain if they receive free money. He believes that it would result in the loss of editorial independence unless the concessionary funds are subject to standard credit conditions.