NBC to broadcasters: We can’t ignore social media, let’s discuss how to creatively, professionally engage it

The Director General of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Malam Is’haq Modibbo Kawu  has urged participants at the 6th edition of the NBC/Yemi Sonde Broadcast Media Stakeholders’ Forum in Ibadan to  discuss how to creatively, professionally engage with the emerging phenomenon of social media.He said this has become necessary because social media, despite its challenges cannot be ignored.

Kawu  said in his speech: “I believe that at this Stakeholders’ Forum, offers a very unique opportunity to exhaustively discuss this exciting if challenging social  phenomenon. The truth is that we cannot ignore social media, nor underrate its impact on the conventional practice of broadcasting. Our challenge is how we can creatively balance the dialectical interface between social media and the conventional, mediated and professionally engaged conventional world of Nigerian Broadcasting. Happily, that is why the Forum has gathered intrepid Nigerian media intellectuals and professionals here at the University of Ibadan to examine the issue. The National Broadcasting Commission is happy to be a partner in (this) annual gathering, because of the opportunity it offers to allow us examine emerging challenges within the context of our work in Nigerian Broadcasting.”

Read the full text of his speech below:

TEXT OF SPEECH BY DIRECTOR GENERAL, NATIONAL BROADCASTING COMMISSION, IS’HAQ MODIBBO KAWU, AT THE 6TH EDITION OF THE NBC/YEMI SONDE BROADCAST MEDIA STAKEHOLDERS’ FORUM. ALUMNI HALL, UNIVERSITY OF IBADAN, IBADAN, OYO STATE. THURSDAY, JULY 18TH, 2019.

PROTOCOLS 

On behalf of the National Broadcasting Commission, I will like to express my happiness at this return to Ibadan; the pioneering city for television broadcasting on the African continent. I have very fond memories of this city, but especially, this citadel of higher learning, Nigeria’s premier university, the great University of Ibadan. During the 1980s, practically no month passed by, that we would not drive from Ilorin to Ibadan. My mission was simple. I came to the University of Ibadan Bookshop, which was one of the very best in the country at the time, to buy books. From here, I would then move to the late Comrade Ola Oni’s residence, somewhere opposite the Peter and Paul Seminary, at Bodija, to discuss the politics of the Nigerian Marxist-Leninist movement and also purchase more books! As a young broadcaster of that period, we couldn’t escape the impressive professionalism of the WNBS/BCOS and it’s array of DeeJays: Alex Conde, Yanju Adegbite, Batiloy Waritey, and so many more. Some would eventually become our friends, just as the WNTV/NTA Ibadan, would set the standards for television broadcasting, which influenced us too, in our corner of Nigeria. There was a sense in which I have always felt, that Nigeria is very lucky, that we have a place like Ibadan, and it’s tradition of excellence in broadcasting, and it’s huge reservoir of broadcasting veterans. This was also a vibrant city of culture; the great artists were resident and performed in Ibadan, while there was an annual cultural fiesta at this University of Ibadan, that was called HAVANA! It was a major fiesta that was well attended and reported by the media. I’m sure you can all now understand why I have felt really happy to return to this city, and this haloed ground of the University of Ibadan.

This is the 6th edition of the NBC/YEMI SONDE BROADCAST MEDIA STAKEHOLDERS’ FORUM, but it’s my first opportunity to attend the forum. The fact that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) continues to partner with the Forum Convener,Mr Yemi Sonde, speaks to the importance of this forum for broadcasting in this part of our country. I believe that we need more gatherings like this, in other parts of Nigeria, so we can 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. I am therefore not surprised, that your theme for this 6th edition of this Broadcast Media Stakeholders’ Forum, is: SOCIAL MEDIA EVOLUTION AND CONVENTIONAL BROADCASTING, THE NIGERIAN PERSPECTIVE. That is also the title of the tone setting that I was requested to do. 

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

In 2014, 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. 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 o thousands of Nigerians. But the most important sidebar, was 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 VANGUARD 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. I have a personal interest in that issue. I am writing a PhD thesis at the moment, for the Nigeria Defence Academy’s Department of Political Science Department. 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.

If we think this issue is only a Nigerian problem, then we miss the point. 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. When they are unmediated, they can 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.

Social media in Nigeria has evolved in the context of the demographic changes that country has witnessed over the past two decades. According to WORLDOMETER, the United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs, Population Division, world population tracking system, Nigeria, as of this morning, has a population of 201, 203, 000 people and counting. Nigeria ranks 7th in the world’s population, and that means that 2.6% of the world’s population is Nigerian. 51.9% 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.

The conventional broadcaster in the Nigerian setting must start from the pedestal of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code. The GENERAL PRINCIPLES set the tone. Talking about the CHARACTER OF BROADCASTING, THE CODE, describes broadcasting as “a creative medium, characterized 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”. Our 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…”

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”. On the basis of that, THE CODE therefore added 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. In a world of convergence of media platforms, that is clear. That is why THE CODE aim 3.21 spoke to USER GENERATED CONTENT. The broadcaster, it says, “shall take cognizance of new and emerging technologies which have made possible the development of a User Generated Content (UGC), provided such content meet all relevant provisions of THE CODE”.

Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen, I will like to state that despite the central place of THE CODE, at the heart of Nigerian Broadcasting, our 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. There are several issues arising today, with the engagement that society has established with the surfeit of social media platforms. Social interactions at home and at work is 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 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. 

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 onto conventional broadcasting platforms as we pointed out, at the NBC, in the recent controversy with one of our major licensees. I believe that at this Stakeholders’ Forum, offers a very unique opportunity to exhaustively discuss this exciting if challenging social phenomenon. The truth is that we cannot ignore social media, nor underrate its impact on the conventional practice of broadcasting. Our challenge is how we can creatively balance the dialectical interface between social media and the conventional, mediated and professionally engaged conventional world of Nigerian Broadcasting. Happily, that is why the Forum has gathered intrepid Nigerian media intellectuals and professionals here at the University of Ibadan to examine the issue. The National Broadcasting Commission is happy to be a partner in (this) annual gathering, because of the opportunity it offers to allow us examine emerging challenges within the context of our work in Nigerian Broadcasting. I wish you a very successful day. 

Thank you very much for your kid attention.

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