Sunday, September 28, 2008

At last, Masaba gets a name…a lesson in news writing

Mallam Bello Abubakar Masaba Bida has been in the news since the first half of August 2008. Yet, until the end of September, he was never referred to in the headlines by his name. Rather, he was known by all the papers as “man with 86 wives”. Common headlines: “Man with 86 wives dares JNI” “Etsu gives man with 86 wives 48 hours to divorce 82” “’Your safety is not guaranteed’ Man with 86 wives warned” etc. In casting headlines, editors and sub desks are warned to opt for the shorter and the catchier. Why did Nigerian editors opt for the long-winding description? Louise Bourgault in her book Mass media in sub-Sahara Africa criticizes African radio and TV interviewers for preferring long and winding questions to short and punchy ones. She even mocks them for causing interviewers to fall asleep during interviews. I disagree with Bourgault, not only on this point, but also because the whole book smacks of Western triumphalism. But that is slightly out of my concern here.

News writing students are taught to append a description or an appellation to the name of an actor when they write the lead of a story if the actor is not prominent. The appended description brings the actor within the readers’ frame of reference and makes a piece more comprehensible. For instance, it is better to say, “Henry Bida, a sergeant in the Nigerian Army has been honored for his bravery…” than to say “Henry Bida has been honored for his bravery”. The latter lead keeps the reader wondering who the Henry is because Henry is not prominent. If it is a known person, for instance, Umar Musa Yar’adua, no description needs be appended.
Not many people knew Masaba. It was therefore understandable that editors chose to describe him by his unusual feat. But why did this last so long? Why did it take Nigerian editors almost two months of consistent reporting to give Masaba a face and a name? My guess: ascending Masaba’s act above his name would sell the story. Even if it makes the headline clumsy, the story would sell, and for many editors, only that matters. But the sad consequence of this is that, to many readers, Masaba has come to be not a human being, but a bizarre creature without a name. He is not one of us so he cannot be sympathized with or understood. And are the courts not treating him like that? Maybe that is why rejoinders and letters to the editors that are sympathetic to Masaba are very few. And maybe that is why his case is being championed only by “a coalition of northern human rights group”, and this coming about six weeks after his ordeal began.

However Masaba’s case ends, whether in his death with which some have threatened him, in jail or in freedom, Nigerian editors should know that, remotely or not, they robbed the man of his human face.
This article was published in Thisday (Monday, October 13, 2008)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Channels TV Closure: if it were FCC...

In the news in the last few weeks was the brush between National Broadcasting Commission and the state security services on one hand, and Channels TV and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on the other. The matter has ended and Nigerians are forgetting it. I imagined what the US version of NBC would have done if Channels' sin was committed in America. I also recommended a major restructuring which could be a lasting solution to the continuous abuse of power by the NBC. My thoughts were published in the Thisday edition of Friday September 26. Click here to read more.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Today’s Tears for Timi—by Doris Favor Esemuze

Timipreye Agbadaebi Zinzinghan was my graduate student. Timi was unusual in kindness, outstanding in grace, firm but friendly. She ignited everywhere with her charm and smiles. Timi fell ill and died in July 2008. I rallied her old classmates together and between us went about 100 emails of lamentations and admonition. Among the best is the one posted here, written by Doris Favor Esemuze, one of Timi’s two closest friends and an elegant word-smith. Doris is my guest on this page. Click here to read the piece.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Iorver: the heart of an art

Iorver Ikeseh is a final-year student of the Department of Fine Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria. Iorver has exhibited his works at many national exhibitions in Nigeria. Though young, Iorver seems to have developed a theme and a motif for his works. It seems to me that his bent is to use arts to depict social problems. Above is one of his works. He calls it Rescue. He has satirised the negative influence of global media on youths, he did a painting of the late Fela Anikulapo, a social crusader, an amazing portrait of Bob Marley and many more. Sometime soon, I will interview this young and budding talent very briefly. He will tell us why he does what he does.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Literacy and human development…Will they listen to RAN?

From October 6 to 11, 2008, the Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN) will hold its 11th biennial conference in Uyo, Capital of Akwa Ibom State, South South Nigeria. Conferees will discuss the intersection between literacy and human development. Keynote speakers are Professor Steve Layne from Chicago, Professor Thelma Oboh from Minnesota and Prof Ralph Omojuwa from Nigeria. Conferees will discuss how literacy can contribute to alleviating human development problems in Nigeria. They are expected to make suggestions to government and NGOS on what to do to increase literacy rate from the abysmal 67% (adult literacy) (See IRA, 2007).
Ms Edidiong Umana, a graduate student of mine, and I will co-present a paper on “The Nigerian newspapers as sources of education on SCD: what is there to read?” We believe the media have done a lot of informing and educating on HIV/AIDS, cancer etc . We are not certain if they have done enough about sickle cell disease (SCD) education. Yet 100 million people worldwide and about 40 million Nigerians carry the sickle cell trait (Ohaeri & Sokunbi, 2001). If the SCD problem is that severe, the Nigerian media should prime it based on the demands of social responsibility and the news selection criteria of magnitude and prominence. We plan to do a content analysis of the health pages of two leading Nigerian papers to see what about SCD is on them. Many SCD carriers are young; they need education in order to make marital choices and so break the chain of pain, woes and misery. Poor or scant media content as well as illiteracy will deny them this much-needed education. These are therefore anti-human development. Ms Umana will make the presentation on our behalf.
It is commendable that RAN has chosen to focus on human development and how literacy can influence it. The literacy rate in Nigeria is low and human development is poor. From this conference will come suggestions on how to tackle the problems. By these, maybe RAN will save some from ignorance, poverty and disease that illiteracy promotes.
But will concerned government agencies take RAN seriously? Does the Nigerian government think the academia have anything to offer? Recently a government official said Nigerian academics had failed Nigerian. I thought the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) would take him up. But it did not. Maybe ASUU felt the right response was silence. Ms Umana and I envisaged that as usual, government and its agencies would not listen to the RAN conferees. Therefore, we might back up our presentation with media advocacy and SCD activism after the conference.
Ohaeri, J. U. and Shokunbi, W. A. (2001) “Attitudes and Beliefs of Relatives of patients with
Sickle cell disease” The East African Medical Journal. Vol. 78, No 4 pp180- 186
IRA: International Reading Association (2007) Nigeria: 67% adult literacy not acceptable.

Monday, September 15, 2008

List of some of my publications--2006 and older

Ojebode, A (2006) “Nigerian Mass Media Representation of Women in Agriculture and Agribusiness: A Case of Status Misconferral” Journal of Communication Studies Vol. 5, No 1-2, pp 1-14. Click here for abstract.

Ojebode, A. (2005) “Tested, Trusted, Yet Frustrating: An Investigation into the Effectiveness of Environmental Radio Jingles in Oyo State Nigeria” Applied Environmental Communication and Education Volume 4; pp. 173-180. Click here for abstract.

Ojebode, A. & Sola Sonibare (2004) “A Little More than a strong Urge: An Investigation into the Influence of Radio Reading Programmes on Listeners’ Practice of reading” West African Journal of Education Vol. xxiv, Number 1; pp. 79-89. Click here for abstract.

Ojebode, A. (2004) “Media Globalisation and the responses of the Nigerian Broadcast Media: Implications for Democracy and Development” International Review of Politics and Development Vol. 2, No 2; pp. 40-53. Click here for abstract.

Ojebode, A. (2004) “Empathising in Cyberspace: A Study of Empathy among Members of an Internet Group” Multidisciplinary Journal of Research Development Vol. 3, No 1; pp. 87-95. Click here for abstract.

Akinleye, L. & Ojebode, A. (2004) “World Information Imbalance: the Domestic Dimension” Topical Issues in Communication Arts & Sciences Vol. 2 pp. 15-24. Click here for abstract.

Ever heard of a nude radio advert

Nigerians--are we ever tired of creating new things? A religious leader recently asked the federal government to ban all nude adverts on the Nigerian newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. I have been wondering how a radio advert can be nude. I assume my ears aren't working as well my eyes. That's why I see nudity but don't hear it.