The Case for a National Developmental Broadcast Policy

Posted on 25/11/2011

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Perhaps I should begin, by apologising for my selfish streak – most people know my passion for the media at large, and can accommodate my obvious penchant for issues that relate directly with radio and television; performance and management. If I’m not sounding like a bore already, here we go, again!
I have often talked about the importance of gate-keeping in the broadcast profession. We like to complain about the dwindling fortunes of the profession and the inept emergent class of ‘new age,’ yet unlearned, illiterate performers. It is indeed a sad legacy that many of the retiring class of broadcasters have little control over. How did it happen? Where did we loose it? Did we all go to sleep? The answers are right before us, and the reasons behind the grave lapse do still occur, continually. During a past stint, as a director at Radio Continental, I watched as lesser managers often attempted to sneak many an untrained, untested voice past me and straight into studio performance. Sometimes they succeeded,  but unfortunately for them, the minute I heard the untoward voice on air, those premature careers were immediately truncated. It has been said before on this page, and the repetition is for emphasis – broadcasting is an exclusive club of top class personnel, and not one for Tom, Dick, Harry, and Jane, or for every Amaka, Tunde or Mustapha with stars in their eyes – they should simply just keep on dreaming -it’s safer for the afflicted innocents. But if the debutante does show promise and is determined to succeed by honing his skills and improving her art, that dream can become reality. We build walls around us because we prize what lies hidden behind. We must break down those same walls only if we too value what is hidden! The gate-keepers – the managers, the producers, the senior presenters, must be willing, and able to throw away all emotional weaknesses and do the right things. They must simply be professional.
I have often canvassed for a developmental broadcast policy to be enacted by governments, after all we are still a developing economy, still very prone to various forms of alien cultural influences that could alter our traditional national value systems, for good, for better or for worse! Despite the enormous resources and huge earnings,  Nigeria is still very much in a comatose state. As a people, we are still relatively backward, highly primitive in ideas, thought and processes, in comparison to other demographics across the globe. Our educational system is retarded, or stillborn, perhaps ruptured, awareness is corrupted or diseased, development is rampantly non-existent all over the place. The people are becoming despondent, the youth are seemingly helpless and have resorted to seeking their own solutions – since as those whose responsibility is such – to create an enabling environment plus opportunity, have all but given up or acted indifferently. This is where the mass media networks can come to the rescue, especially radio, with it’s special strengths of reach and accessibility, to return us to the traditional values of informing, educating and enlightening the community. All this done on the plane of the fourth of possibilities – entertainment.
We have said enough already about the falling educational standards and the quality of our graduating students. It gets extremely embarrassing when you compare the awareness graphs of the average Nigerian youth with their international counterparts and there is need for the enactment of a strong policy of reorientation in the form of a sturdy, visionary national review of our current uses for the mass media. I believe that the time has been long overdue for our governments to enact a cultural statement that fully reflects the values we desire for our nation – values, which can only benefit our futures, and which can only be effectively espoused by the media tools we can control – radio, television and press…and the new media, the internet and the social networks!
We have not done the right things, and that is the essence of developmental radio – to take us back to the point where the mistakes had been made, and correct them. Every kid on every street knows the lyrics of every song, word for word, plus every ‘ye-ye-ye’ count of Whiz Kid’s mercurial ‘Super Star’ debut CD, and why not –  it’s the only thing playing on radio, morning, noon, night! On every station across the land! Nothing really wrong with that, and we can’t deny the young man his kudos, but a developmental broadcasting policy would restructure the approved day part scheduling of media stations – such that there is a time for music, and a time for sharing knowledge and education. It is an sad development that presently most Nigerian stations are fashioned after a model created in the best interest of the American people, and to suit uniquely American lifestyle  ideals – all music 24-7 stations, even genre differentiated (Beat, Cool, Rhythm, Classic, Smooth, Hot, Cold, etc.) Are we Americans? No wonder our kids openly assimilate Yankee cultures; the sagging, cursing and near nudity! We must forcibly regenerate the original Nigerian cultures of self belief, dignity in labour and respect for others. A mass media enlightenment policy is the easy way to achievement.
I am not really saying anything novel; these were the same thoughts of the founding fathers. I recently came by a very valuable literary compilation entitled ‘Making Broadcasting Useful: The African Experience.’ It is a treasure trove of various challenges and experiences from the early days of radio and television, across the African continent, penned by a compendium of authors – administrators, professor’s and practitioners all, with lucid, brilliant theses, and eloquently compiled by George Wedell of the European Institute for the Media. One particular essay caught my eye – it was the contribution by Chief Segun Olushola, who created the Village Headmaster’ series. With permission, an excerpt:
 “Long before development communications became the fashion in international circles, the founding fathers of Nigerian television made it known that Africa’s first television station was designed as a support for the government’s educational programmes. In societies where the broadcaster is properly related to decision makers, he becomes part of the decision making process, from problem spotting to problem solving. In this way the broadcaster can influence the process and execution of such development objectives. One of the first tasks that the television broadcasters did then was the popularisation of science to high school students and the general public. The need arose because of the neglect of the colonial education policy, the scarcity of science teachers, the comparatively high cost of establishing science laboratories, and the general impression prevailing, that science was a difficult subject to pass. With the aid of two outstanding teachers of science, the famous Oyewole brothers, a series of half hour programmes of Physics and Chemistry was designed and broadcast to schools in several parts of Western Nigeria in collaboration with educational authorities. At the same time, two different sets of programmes were being developed; one was a series on world current affairs – in which a teacher, and an analyst used film strips of world events and explained such events against a background of history and geography. Scheduled as a half hour weekly, ‘You and the News’ by Christopher Kolade helped to enlighten thousands of WNTV viewers. The other programme, ‘Spotlight,’ centred around the playwright, Wole Soyinka, who on his return to Nigeria in 1960 had founded ‘1960 Masks,’ a performing arts group. The aim of ‘Spotlight’ was to introduce the ordinary artistic manifestations of the period, probe their cultural origins through interviews with the artistes and present them intimately to viewers. Spotlight made significant contributions to the popularisation of the arts between 1961 and 1964.”
The forefathers definitely had the right idea. Governmental policy since then seems to have veered off the game plan. Despite the shenanigans of concurrent governments our developmental plans are stunted by a lack of sincerity, commitment and continuity; but we are lucky that the honourable Ambassador Olusola is well and with us still today, as are many of his aforementioned colleagues. One can only ponder, their impressions about what we made of their lofty ideals, dreams, and legacies. We could still make amends. We could attempt to take our country back, if we are not too late, already!
God’s guidance.
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