The Media And Sensationalism

An interview with Mr. Ogechi Paul of NTA Port Harcourt on Media and sensationalism...

An encounter with Mr. Ogechi Paul, ace broadcaster and Acting News Manager of NTA Port Harcourt, Rivers State, leaves you amazed, intrigued, and in deep admiration and respect. Handsome, sophisticated, and with a deep resounding broadcaster's bass voice, Mr. Paul is an enchanting personality and one of the most charismatic media practitioners you will ever meet. He spoke to Lawrence Paul on issues on the controversial issue of media sensationalism. Excerpts...

Q: *Can we know who you are and a bit of your media experience?*

A: My name is Mr. Ogechi Paul. I am from Isiokpo in the Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State. I was trained in Political Science/Economics at the then Rivers State College of Education now called the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education. My experience in the media has spanned over two decades. I began my media journey by working as a Marketing Executive in a private cable company, Communication Trends Ltd, CTL in Port Harcourt. I proceeded to the NTA in 2000 at the time of the Administration of Former Senator Ben Murray Bruce. The job has taken me from NTA PH to NTA Yenegoa, Enugu, Calabar, and the NTA headquarters in Abuja where I cast news on the NTA Abuja Network service along with reportorial and editorial assignments. I have also been a regular voice on Grade A Live commentaries on the NTA Network service. I am presently the Acting News Manager at NTA Port Harcourt.

Q: *What is the role of the media in Nigeria?*

A: The media in Nigeria has played an active role primarily in instituting democratic structures since the inception of the nation and has continued to play active roles in nurturing and consolidating these structures. It is an indisputable fact that the media is the watchdog of any society. If the media does not inform the citizens thoroughly and impartially, then the opinions, decisions, choices, and actions of the people are severely limited. The media in Nigeria stimulates transparency, openness, and accountability and it is involved in an intricate nexus of relationships, cooperation, and complementary activities all geared at promoting individual and collective interests in the society.

In addition to this, the settled role of the media to inform, educate & entertain now has a fourth dimension, Agenda setting which demands that the media as society watchdog can influence government decisions, policies & programs. This is made possible through editorial pieces that canvass the needs & challenges of society.

Q: *What are the challenges faced by the media in Nigeria?*

A: The challenges of the media can best be understood alongside the aims and functions of the media which is primarily consolidating the unity of the nation. However, in preserving and consolidating this hard-earned tenet, the media has struggled and fought a plethora of encumbrances. The media is constantly pressured by the public, political parties, pressure groups, interest groups, and many more quarters. Despite the vibrancy of the Nigerian media, the differentiation of the press and its inclinations toward politics have continued to influence its functionality, perception, and disposition under the ownership of such medium of media, its control, and sympathy. It is also worthy to note that some media houses are not well equipped with modern communication equipment. Poor infrastructural facilities and antiquated gadgets are still being used to disseminate information by several media practitioners.

You must understand that the media in discharging its role is constantly faced with precarious circumstances some of which have taken lives. The media needs to be well remunerated and provided with life insurance & housing policies to detach it from sensationalism & other unethical practices. I have it on good authority that some private media establishments practice slave labor & compromise staff salaries. On Air, Media faces are treated with dignity in other climes.

Q: *What is sensationalism in the media?*

A: Sensationalism in media is a type of editorial tactic where events and topics in news stories are selected and worded to excite the greatest number of readers and viewers. This encourages biased impressions of events rather than neutrality and causes manipulation of the truth of a story. For many, consuming news has become an activity as unconscious as breathing. Every member of the press must note that it is especially important to consider the role and effect of the media in processing breaking stories, tragedies, scandals, and every news lead. The media has a responsibility to consider ethical approaches to news coverage. When people want answers they look to the news. Sensationalism goes beyond objective reporting but entails obsessive analysis that becomes unnecessary and unproductive. Journalistic ethics calls for journalists to take responsibility for the accuracy of reported pieces. Competition between news outlets or viewers encourages media organizations to sensationalize information. We have to ask if sacrificing away accuracy is worth the immediate coverage and misguided speculations. I think it is high time that guilty media practitioners should end this disillusionment in reporting and stick to the facts. The rest should be left to the public to interpret and understand the meaning rather than stuffing unnecessary details in the minds of the viewer, reader, or listener. Sensational news tarries more with print, private electronic media & recently social media with grave negative consequences on society. Sensational reportage often undermines national interest & right to privacy. Fake news can pass for sensational news and has proclivities for commotion in society.

Q: *What do you suggest as the way forward?*

A: I think that at the forefront of the way forward is the need to recognize the importance of demanding journalistic ethics as part of our work. We have to decide to make reforming news and improving media consumption a priority. If we don't stop to consider the ethics of sensationalizing news then the news will only continue to feed our entertainment desires rather than our information needs. As media practitioners, it remains on us to determine what we're going to do about our complicity in sensationalizing reports because this would surely and inevitably threaten our most basic values as a country which are unity and faith, peace, and progress. Also, all cases of unethical practices perpetrated by media practitioners should be squarely addressed by journalism regulating bodies like the Nigeria Press Council (NPC), the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). The ability of these regulatory bodies to sanction media practitioners who practice sensationalism, when done fairly, can moderate the centrifugal pull of media institutions with irredentist inclinations. When media men discharge their duties with a sense of responsibility to the Nigerian people and in the best professional manner, they will further strengthen and sustain the democracy they fought hard to achieve.

Sensational news is indeed bad news & must be checked by operators & regulators. The media in Nigeria should be treated fairly & in tandem with global standards. Special Media Salary Structure has been on the drawing board for decades. Like the University & Health institutions, the role of the media as the fourth estate demands a review of its retirement conditions. Media Practitioners can retire between 65 & 70yrs.

Q: *Does this mean that the public should retain confidence in the media in Nigeria?*

A: Oh definitely! The gallery in which the press and media sit has been established as the fourth estate of the realm in government and this presupposes that the media possesses certain very unique virtues which sets it distinctly apart to perform certain roles that other institutions are incapable of doing. The powers of the media are very wide and it continues to remain an invaluable and inevitable choice tool in nation-building.

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