Revolution of imagination key to better journalists’ welfare in Nigeria

THE challenge of poor remuneration and welfare for journalists and media practitioners in Nigeria must be addressed in order for the Nigerian media to effectively carry out its functions of holding the government accountable to the citizens.

This is the general concensus at a one-day roundtable discussion on journalist welfare, organised by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), in partnership with the Coalition for Whistleblowers  Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF).

Participants at the roundtable were unanimous that if the welfare of journalists was not prioritised, the ugly trends that have crept into the media profession in Nigeria, such as the ‘brown envelope’ syndrome, will continue to linger.

Speaking at the event, publisher of Premium Times Online Newspaper, Dapo Olorunyomi, said the poor remuneration of journalists can, in most cases, be traced to poor revenue generation by several Nigerian media houses. He said there is a need for the revolution of imagination, on the part of media organisations, on how to increase revenue generation, which will, in turn, translate into better welfare for workers.

Olorunyomi pointed out that the biggest company in Africa, is neither in the oil and gas nor the telecommunication sector, but a media company. He said that the days were long gone when media houses depended only on sales of newspapers and funds from adverts for survival.

“Media houses must begin to think along the lines of innovation,” he said. “If we don’t do this innovation, we can’t deal with this question of welfare. And if we don’t deal with the question of welfare, the assumption that the media will be central to bringing about all the great things we hope for is going to be a lie.

“So we’ll have bandits running the media, and they will just be bargaining with government or with any other institution, they will make their money, cash out, and it’s the staff and workers that will lose out.”

Olorunyomi insists that “there is no reason today, in this country, that our journalism cannot sell”, describing as the “greatest irony”, the fact that staff of some government-owned media institutions have had to go on strike because salaries were not being paid.

The media industry, Olorunyomi maintained, “is supposed to be the richest industry in Nigeria”.

“So there is a failure, and that failure is of imagination and innovation, and not any other thing. So let’s deal with the issue.

“To challenge the mind, to challenge the leadership of the media on taking this new and innovative path is our collective responsibility.

“I always tease my younger friends with this, the richest company in Africa, is not an oil and gas, it’s not even telecommunication, it’s not banking, it’s media.”

Naspers, a South African-based organisation that is into broadcasting, cable services, print media, and book publishing, is Africa’s biggest and richest company, valued at about $125.5 billion.

“The knowledge that it takes to build that, we can use it to build the Nigerian media to serve purposes more than these,” Olorunyomi said.

Also speaking on the issue, popular broadcast journalist, Sumner Shagari-Sambo, said journalists must also insist on being treated well or be brave enough to walk away in the face of poor welfare and remuneration. He also advised upcoming media practitioners to become members of the relevant trade unions in their field so that these unions can fight for their rights in case of ill-treatment from their employers.

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In December 2o17, while speaking at an event, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo noted that one cannot make a decent living as a journalist in Nigeria. He urged media practitioners to seek ways to remedy the situation.

“I realised first of all that this is not a profession from which one could make a decent living in the first place unless you find a really good way of doing so,” Osinbajo said.

    “But more importantly for me was the fact that you are just on your own. Journalism as a profession is so wide open. There are a few reasons in my view why remuneration is poor.”

    In Nigeria, the average pay for entry level into a government-owned institution, as a journalist, is between N60,000 and N80,000 (about $221) per month. Which is equal to N960,000 ($2,651) annually.

    In the United Kingdom, a journalist earns an average of $72,000 per annum, in the US, it is approximately $39,000, and in South Africa, it is about $8,700.

    Tuesday’s roundtable marks the kickoff of a social media campaign tagged ‘#journalistswelfarematter’, which is aimed at drawing more attention to the subject matter with a view to finding a lasting solution.

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