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Media Development and Sustainable Funding in Nigeria – John Momoh

Being a keynote Address delivered by John Momoh (OON), Chairman/CEO Channels Media Group at a 2-day roundtable conference on ON MEDIA DEVELOPMENT AND SUSTAINABLE FUNDING IN NIGERIA held at the Bayero University, Kano on 02nd of February, 2022.

Introduction

Let me begin this keynote by acknowledging the fact that the media industry in Nigeria and, indeed globally, is experiencing existential challenges. These challenges are both internal and external. They border on credibility, funding, technical capacity, quality content, safety of media workers, as well as changing audience’s tastes and expectations.

Others are: uncertain operational and policy environment, and weak capacity for investigative and data driven journalism. Additionally, social media is hugely compounding the woes of the conventional media, in multiple of ways. There’s no gain saying the fact that these challenges are threatening and really worrying.

In the Nigerian context, the issues are also very real. The media institution is grappling with similar challenges of underfunding and credibility crisis, even though the sector has remained centrally critical in the consolidation and sustenance of the country’s young democracy. Indeed, the nation’s fight against corruption, can only succeed with an editorially and economically – independent media. As it is, the existing funding model for the media industry in Nigeria requires urgent review.

While Nigeria has a relatively diverse media landscape, ownership concentration is moderate to high, but they are all hurting. Many media houses cannot pay salaries as and when due, or meet other equally pressing obligations. They groan under dwindling advertising revenues, prohibitive license fees and many other exorbitant fees in-between. So, with a noose around their necks, and as a developing economy that is fraught with all kinds of challenges, how can the Nigerian media survive? Worse still – How can it develop?

Evolving Industry Dynamics

Like many other sectors of the economy, the media industry is feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic saw almost a quarter of the world’s population on lockdown. The broadcast and media industry was no exception and like every other sector, is still feeling the impact of the virus, be it in terms of activities related to broadcasting, financing, production, marketing/distribution, sales, advertising revenues or media technology investment.

And what can we say about digitisation, which has caused untold disruption in the traditional business model of the news media. Today, in a technology-driven world such as we live in, television, particularly broadcast journalism, is being transformed in the ways that it is produced, distributed, and used. We are witnessing the emergence of new tools and practices, which invariably has affected the ways we produce information.

Audiences are increasingly moving their media use online; news consumption is shifting to social media in the younger-audience segments. And global platforms such as Facebook  and Google are taking larger and larger shares of advertising revenue. In many media markets, legacy media have encountered this disruption by downsizing staff, consolidating production and merging operations.

The news media industries serve a democratic function. They do this by informing audiences, facilitating debate and performing critical oversight. But they are also commercial concerns. They are privately owned businesses that need to maintain a certain profit level to continue to be in business. However, with dwindling revenues, particularly in the advertising markets, news media are looking for new sources of income. And there is widespread fear about the damaging consequences of these trends for the quality of journalism and the professional survival of journalists.

While innovation represents a way out of the industry-disruption-facing news media today, innovation also requires resources, something many media companies find in short supply. Because democratic states rely on a functioning infrastructure that can facilitate information circulation and open public debate, regulations aimed at sustaining the news industry have generally been institutionalised, to ensure that there is diversity of ownership, voices and topics in national media systems. As media diversity in Nigeria is largely ensured by a mixed system of private and state-owned media, sustaining the news industry is also a question of commercial viability. Much as the privately owned media grapple with these challenges, their public owned cousins have not fared better. In fact some argue that their situation is worse.

According to a study conducted by Kwase Audu Dogari, Wayopwa Shem and Oberiri Destiny Apuke, “Government-owned media in Nigeria are currently in a very poor state – economically, managerially, technologically and politically. In addition, misappropriation of funds, shortage of staff, lack of adequate equipment, poor management, poor salary, inadequate funding and employment of non-professionals, were discovered to be the major challenges affecting media outfits in Nigeria.” In their view, under-funding, which is unfavourable to the operation of state-owned media should be avoided, if they must survive in today’s ever competitive media industry.

Policy implementation in the media sector is therefore increasingly raised as an economic question, motivated by concerns for the ability of legacy media to serve as independent platforms for public deliberation. Media policy has traditionally tended to focus on unwanted developments, the most prominent being local monopolies and ownership concentration. However, policy frameworks that primarily mobilize negative regulations aimed at curtailing such unwanted outcomes generally fail to incentivize innovation in the media industries. To ensure that news media industries can overcome the obstacles that the digital disruption represents, future media policies need to focus more on enabling innovation.

To gauge the effects of such policy implementations on the news media industries in Nigeria, I’d like to engage in a scenario analysis of two policy avenues, protectionism and liberalization. The aim is to ascertain future possibilities for innovation in the news media. Nigeria represents a prime case for a scenario analysis of media policies aimed at ensuring a viable news and current affairs industry in liberal-democratic states.

Increasingly, only innovative media organisations with great content will attract – patronage, funding and by extension, ensure financial independence. We have observed the emergence of small newsrooms or boutique newsrooms where very few practitioners multi task in a converged environment. This way they keep their overheads down, rely more on technology, some form of “pay-as-you-go” journalists – or stringers, as legacy media outfits would prefer to call them. Nigeria is already experiencing the emergence of such small online newsrooms, particularly the online print media who are fast carving a niche for themselves. They’re also doing well with donor funding – with full disclosure, whether coming from advertisers, foreign or local funders. These initiatives are being spearheaded by the young and the restless in the media space.

This means that the legacy media organisations must do well to innovate, invest in technology and young people, and review their operational models, in order to survive in the new media world.

The media in Nigeria needs support to develop in different areas if it must continue to survive. The challenge will not lie with securing donor funding for media organisations; the challenge will lie with how the piper will dictate the tune. Therefore full disclosure becomes the rudder to navigate through the funding challenges, and assert independence.

Emerging Issues and Trends

A thorough look at most of the donors and their approaches to media, reveals a difficulty in discerning clear trends, because media support by donor agencies is extremely diverse. It defies and eludes definition, is multifaceted, and still, in many cases, experimental. According to Ben Dickinson, the manager of the Conflict and Governance Unit of the Policy Co-Ordination Division at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the media should be self-funded. My impression though is that media support from donors is often fragmented, ad hoc, and in many cases limited to training journalists. I do not recall hearing about many comprehensive institutional approaches.

Basically, media development is broadly defined as any kind of support that helps foster free and unbiased media in developing countries, and this explains why today’s discussion is very appropriate. Included in the definition are any initiatives related to capacity building for journalists and technicians; supporting capital or running costs to radio, TV and print media; support to mass media in terms of information and communication technologies (ICTs); broadcast legislation; management of media houses; support for freedom of the press and for rights organizations; and support to community-level participation through the media.

With such a broad set of activities, it is almost impossible not to let the definition of “media development” spill over into the use of “media for development” and invariably into the realm of communication for social or behavioral change-or using media for “intended outcomes.” Take, for instance, a grant for a women journalists’ group, who run their own activities (such as annual general meetings, internal capacity building etc) and who produce radio programs aimed at educating market women about elections. This is a project that supports media as a sector in itself, and in the same vein supports media as a tool for education and development.

In essence, my analysis concerns the policy conditions for media innovation. And these rest on three strands of enquiry: strategic management theory, media economics and policy analysis.

Strategic Management Theory

Enquiring about future media policy scenarios prescribes conceptual multiplicity, especially in cases where policy aims to sustain the media as a business, as well as a public good in a rapidly changing environment. While the “Resource Based View of Competitive Advantage” and the “Structure Conduct Performance Paradigm”, are both widely used in media economics studies, they are limited in their appropriateness, as they are primarily suited to highly stable markets. The increasing globalization, convergence and fragmentation of media markets therefore necessitate more adaptive and interpretive approaches.

The future success of news media not only rests on factors that are internal to the company, such as resources, capabilities and strategies, but also on external factors such as the national and industry contexts-both of which are in flux. As strategies are not necessarily outcomes of rational planning, but can also emerge as responses to unforeseen circumstances, the interplay between intended and emergent strategies matter (Hill and Jones 1995), not least for an unstable sector.

As the financial threats are endemic and essentially affect all competitors, rivalries move to the policy level. Here, opportunities have emerged for securing financial resources identified as enabling survival, if not necessarily competitive advantage. While other frame-work conditions that may impact on the innovation abilities of news organizations can be difficult for stakeholders to influence, policy in the Nigerian system is designed to involve, solicit and acknowledge key players’ concerns. Regulation therefore emerges as a key area for strategic management, because stakeholders have interests, that, if prevalent, may impact on other firms.

Media Economics

While news is a commodity, it also has some properties of public goods-by virtue of being information goods with positive externalities. Media companies are different because they are subject to scrutiny, in ways that other industries are not. Quality journalism, as such, depends on the priorities of owners and editors, and the resources devoted to journalistic production.

The market model and the public sphere model represent two oppositional approaches to analysing media companies in this context. The public sphere model sees government as the necessary safeguard for the diversity required to sustain democratic infrastructures. The market model on the hand considers free competition as the guarantee.

The main difference between the two approaches is that the market model largely argues in favour of limiting policy measures to regulations that deter ownership concentration; while the public sphere approach largely advocates positive measures, encouraging interventionist policies that support incumbents. Whether the state or the market is considered the best facilitator, conditions for good economic performance are necessary to sustain a diverse media sector, thought to trigger democratic diversity.

Media Policy

Media policy is first and foremost committed to normative goals, not to economic efficiency. News media are subject to policy because they constitute a sphere of public debate sustaining democracy, regulated to sustain the function of critical journalism, the freedom of speech, diversity of opinions and protection of minors from harmful content. To achieve the kind of journalism that facilitates democratic debate, policy is required that can engender both competitive behaviour and product innovation.

The need to cater to both economic and normative goals, however, puts policy in an increasingly difficult position. As society grows more dependent on digital information infrastructures, national media policies face new challenges with the emergence of global platform players in the content and distribution markets. Transnational conditions therefore invite national stakeholders to engage both with national policy regulators and with international operations in their long-term bargaining.

While the effect of neo-liberalism on policy intervention has been observed to influence deregulation of media markets, the emergence of a global networked media system seems to shift policy towards a more interventionist approach, at least in Norway. Because media policy-making involves defining emerging conditions as a problem requiring policy solutions, alternatives presented compete for attention and support. Depending on the political climate, one solution may emerge as more applicable than the rest. Regulations, however, tend to be reactive, creating new disputes that characterize issues down the road.

Media Innovation

Francis and Bessant (2005) formulated the four Ps of innovation – as product, process, position and paradigmatic innovation. Digitization of media production and distribution started in the 1980s and led to process innovation in legacy media. The same products could be produced more efficiently, enabled by the introduction of the new technology. Typewriters were replaced by computers, and in newspapers, typesetting in lead was replaced, first by paste-up and later by desktop publishing systems. In the 1990s, the introduction of the World Wide Web enabled product innovation, in a process of convergence initiated by the telecom and computer industries.

Deregulation of broadcasting also opened for local radio and television stations, and lack of local media monopoly regulations in Nigeria also led to model innovations of traditional newspapers moving towards multi-platform media houses with product portfolios of regional, local newspapers, local radio, local television and websites.

Control of local advertising markets was a driving force for the building of media houses. However, the news of digitization of broadcasting led to a collapse of distribution privileges, and thereby the economic viability of local broadcasting. While local media houses went through a positioning innovation process towards multi-platform distribution of newspaper content, a more profound definitive transformation of the media from social institutions to corporate businesses has led to commercialization and ownership concentration.

In the 2010s, global social media had disrupted both user behaviour and advertising revenue for legacy media. Many Nigerian newspapers, and radio and television broadcasting firms have been found to be significantly less innovative in product, service and process innovation, than other service firms.

What about the Future?

The future is uncertain, and recent developments in the media markets have led to a sense of urgent demands for the government to increase its interventions through enforced or renewed policy measures. Within the Democratic Corporative model, new policy tends to be developed by key stakeholders in cooperation, resulting in implicit trade-offs and compromises. Media practitioners in Nigeria should be at the table where, for example policies that regulate and govern the industry are discussed and agreed. By using scenario planning as a systematic approach for thinking about the future, we are able to explicitly formulate multiple futures in a coherent and holistic manner. This approach is not focused on predicting the future, but rather anticipating possible developments. The two scenarios identified therefore constitute lenses for policy makers in the process of evaluating existing measures and developing new policy.

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Closing Thoughts

Here are my closing thoughts. Although I would like to align my thoughts with those of some distinguished professionals and scholars in calling for the establishment of the National Media Development Fund in the country; my message is, that our society needs strong and independent news organizations that do important journalism. And that’s what’s challenging.

There’s no lack of opinions, we’re drowning in them. But whats supposed to drive opinions and expose corruption and abuse of power, is expensive and good journalism. It needs to be financed. Securing support to institutional media in a time of technological disruption is therefore conceptualized as a measure to protect democracy itself-not just the financial security of incumbents.

The Nigerian news media industries are reeling under the effects of the global media market. Innovation is in many respects encouraged by external factors, keeping up with developments and facing new competitors. In this environment, protecting assets is seen as more essential than risking loss in failed innovations. We need to innovate. A situation where so much revenue goes out of media houses, to external competitors, like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Netflix and other global media giants is unacceptable. The fact that we lose 20 percent of our income in advertising, year on year, does something to the will, to think innovatively. When you combine this with the disruption that has wrought the media industry, It’s almost as if we are consumed by fear-based media development.

Some say this is a crisis of journalism; others see it as an explosion of the profession. For the optimist, journalism seems to be more alive today than ever and going through a multiplication of both forms and content at amazing speed. If journalists are in the business of gathering information, interpreting it, and spreading it, we certainly have more means than ever to do so. The future, isn’t gloomy. The future of the Nigerian media is bright.

Thank you for listening.

About the Speaker

John Momoh (OON) | Chairman/CEO | Channels Media Group.

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