'Why state-owned media is open to oppositions in Kwara'

Date: 2015-01-18

All over the world, though more prevalent in Africa, the media parlance, "Who pays the piper dictates the tune" is an aphorism associated with media ownership and management. This enunciates the overbearing control and influence the owner of a media house has on his establishment. Whether individually-owned or the one founded and funded by government, the philosophy and the interest of the proprietor is often reflected in the running and operation of the media establishment.

While it is generally believed that privately-owned media house have some degree of editorials freedom and independence, that could not be said of the government-owned media, whose mission is to serve as the megaphone of the government. The organizations, in this classification, whether print or electronic media, have a duty to report activities, happenings and events of government of the day.

Besides, they are sometime used as platforms to muzzle and bully the opposition political parties and those who are tagged as enemies of government. This scenario often plays out during elections when the ruling party would be working to retain power, on one hand, and the opposition pulling all strings to capture power, on the other hand.

Less than one and half months to the February general elections, the scenarios are currently playing out in most states of the federation where state-owned media houses are shut out against opposition in a bid to give the ruling government maximum advantage during the elections.

However, checks by Sunday Trust in Kwara State revealed that the development where state-owned media houses are shut against the opposition is not playing out in the state. Ahead of the election, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have vowed to unseat each other during election. While the PDP vows that it would take over Government House in the forthcoming election, the APC insists there is no vacancy, even as it says the PDP does not have the power and capacity to dislodge it.

Notwithstanding the inherent rivalry between the ruling party and the opposition, the state-owned media houses have, to some extent, refused to be dragged into the fray, as they have strived to provide a level-playing field for all parties.

The state-owned media houses include the popular Herald Newspapers, the State Broadcasting Corporation (Radio Kwara) and Kwara Television (KWTV), all of which have been running both APC and PDP jingles, carrying their adverts, as well as news reports consistently.

A recent analysis of the content of the Herald Newspapers, for instance, revealed that many stories of the PDP were prominently captured on the front page while both sides have been reported in matters of controversy ahead of the election. For instance, The Herald recently captured a report attributed to the state PDP youth leader, Barrister Segun Olawoyin, to the effect that the party would shock APC in the next election, just as the broadcast media like Radio Kwara and KWTV have also made their platforms available for opposition parties to run their jingles and advertisements as long as they pay the stipulated commercial rate since both organisations are commercial entities. They not only charge for jingles, they have also commercialised their news reports.

Prior to the primary election, Radio Kwara, it would be recalled, held an aspirants' forum anchored by an ace broadcaster, Alhaji Tunde Akanbi where many PDP governorship aspirants, among others were featured to tell members of the public their programmes if elected into the various offices. Also, the state PDP chairman, Chief Iyiola Oyedepo had at several occasions featured on discussion programmes of both radio and television stations belonging to the state.

This provision of access may not have been possible if not for the kind of liberality demonstrated by the media houses at this critical election time. Speaking with our correspondent, the Deputy Publicity Secretary of PDP, Mr. Femi Yusuf, confirmed that the state-owned media houses have not been denying the party access to air their views and run their jingles as long as they pay the required charges.

He said, "The state broadcasting corporation and the Herald belong to the state and they are commercial enterprises, they are there to make money. So as long as we are going to pay our money, they have not denied us access but there is no any preferential treatment given to us. We don't know whether they also charge the ruling party or not but as far as we are concerned, whenever we have anything for them, we go with our money and pay our normal due".

The state Commissioner for Information, Prince Tunji Moronfoye, whose ministry superintends the state-owned media establishments stressed that every political party is free to make use of the stations. He said the charges in the media houses are not discriminatory as all political parties are charged the same amount.

He said, "They run their advertisements, they pay the normal charges we pay as well as a party. So there is no any issue. We believe our jobs would speak for us when the time is right next month. We have done the best we can given the circumstances we are in, given the finances we have. We have gone above and beyond what we even have.

"So it is okay by us, everybody can use the media so far their materials are not libellous. You remember about libel, if you accuse somebody of something he or she has never done, then he can go to court for that but for us, it is okay. They can come and challenge us, they can do whatever they want, it is okay by us, we don't stop anybody from using the state media".

The rivalry between the government and the opposition, therefore, usually puts managers of state-owned media on the line in striking a balance between professionalism and loyalty to government. Asked whether the opposition would continue to enjoy the freedom as the cloud of politicking thickens, the Commissioner for Information added, “Of course this is going to continue, we don't have any problem. But they should not start abusing people or attacking personalities and being very rude. Those are the things that the NBC (Nigeria Broadcasting Commission) has warned against. We expect issue-based campaigns."

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