Thursday, April 9, 2009

The ban on radio review of newspapers in Nigeria: five months after

In December 2008, the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and the Nigeria Publishers Association (NPA) had a meeting during which they announced a ban on the review of newspapers by radio and television stations in Nigeria. Their reason was that the sale and readership of newspapers were being adversely affected by these reviews. They claimed that once people listened to the reviews, they no longer bought the papers; they felt they had heard everything the papers had to say from the reviews by radio and television.

That ban is five months old now and it may be premature to ask if it has increased the sale and readership of the papers. It is however not premature to ask if the broadcast stations are conforming to the ban. The answer is ‘no’. Rather than cancel newspapers review programmes, stations have found ways of reviewing the papers without calling it a review and running foul of the ban. The stations still review the papers but do not refer to their programmes by such names as they used to do. Names such as Today in the papers; What the papers are saying; Inside the papers and Koko inu iwe irohin have since disappeared. What we now have is Daybreak gist; Review; or Have you heard? Not only this, reviewers no longer mention the newspapers they are reviewing nor refer viewers and listeners to the pages from which stories have been picked. Every direct or remote reference to the newspapers is avoided. In addition to this, some reviews are now spiced with local gossips and reports.

This raises a number of issues. NPA and BON based their ban on the review programmes on emotional economics, not on facts and figures. There were no studies or statistics to show that readership and sales of the papers were related to radio and television review of the papers. In fact some have claimed that the reviews encouraged them to buy the papers.

Secondly, the laws, policies and promulgations in Nigeria are ‘an ass’. They are mute and lame in most cases. That is why it is easy for broadcasters to freely sidetrack the ban. That is why months after the National Assembly banned public ‘spraying’ of the naira, the practice still continues and is publicised on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in its weekly Newsline. In Nigeria, the law is an ass especially when the violator is rich, powerful and well connected. That is why the National Broadcasting Commission turns a blind eye on the excesses of some stations (such as Silverbird) and hammers others (such as AIT and Channels).

Third, broadcasting in Nigeria is really a business venture wholly in the hands of entrepreneurs. The newspaper review programmes are among the most heavily sponsored programmes. Most stations cannot immediately discontinue these programmes because sponsors have paid for the whole quarter. Even government-owned stations cannot run like public service stations because the government has asked them to become profit-oriented. It matters little whether or not a programme is injurious. What matters is the availability of sponsorship.

The ban on newspaper review programmes may have succeeded in bringing to play the Nigerian ingenuity when it comes to interpreting, manipulating and sidetracking a ban, a policy or law. It has also shown that broadcast stations would go to any extent to please sponsors. In addition to all of this, it has shown our total disregard for scientific research as a basis for individual and corporate decision-making. Just as they did not conduct any research before banning review programmes, BON and NPA will most likely not commission any research to find out if their ban has influenced newspaper readership and sales in any direction even five years after the ban. It is Nigeria.