The broadcast media and sustenance of democracy in Nigeria: issues and challenges

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The broadcast media and sustenance of democracy in Nigeria: issues and challenges ; A study of cross river broadcasting corporation

Introduction

It has been established that there is a very strong relationship between media performance and the conduct and vibrancy of politics and political activities in democracies. It is often said that in democracies, “the media have a complex relationship with sources of power and the political system” (McQuail, 2005). Both politics and the media have the singular aim of promoting the individual and collective interests of the general society.

Thus, while politics serves as a route and means of uplifting the society through good governance, protection and advancement of people’s rights, and the creation of an enabling environment for democracy to thrive; the media on their part operate within the prevailing environment to engage in the public sphere thereby expanding the frontiers of freedom and enabling the citizens to have access to quality information that will influence their judgments and decisions for sustainable democracy. Stated differently, the media in a democratic context “distribute entitlements to speak and to be heard”, even if unevenly (Keane, 1993).

From the foregoing, it is clear that the existence of a vibrant media system is quite fundamental to the enthronement and sustenance of a credible democratic process in a setting like Nigeria. As one scholar had argued:

A responsible nationwide democratic system requires a media system which is coterminous with it and which can generate discussion of issues of public concern in a way which does not favour partisan interests; whether these be the interests of particular political parties, the interests of media bosses or media professionals (Boyd Barrett, 2001).

In Nigeria, the performance of the mass media in the democratic process at various phases of our history has been well documented (Omu, 1978; Ogbondah, 1994; Yusuf, 2001 and Nwosu, 2003). Arguably, the mass media have remained in the forefront in the struggle to promote the rights of our people through a credible democratization process. After all, the media too find it quite difficult to operate in a non democratic environment. However, this is not to suggest that the media have been perfect in all circumstances. They have been severely criticized for complicity in truncating and subverting the democratic process at various times. For instance, Enahoro once observed that “whoever and whatever ruined the first republic did so with the active connivance and collaboration of the greater part of the Nigerian press”. Similarly, James (1984) had decried the high degree of professional rascality exhibited by the media during the second republic as manifested through “character assassination, false accusations, blackmail and misrepresentation of facts ….. to the extent that facts were muzzled and whole media organs became megaphones and machineries of propaganda to political parties and vested interests to the extent that the unity of this country was shaken to its very foundation”. Several other writers and scholars have expressed similar opinions (Pate, 2003; and Akinfeleye, 2004).

However, irrespective of such hard assessments, the basis of our argument is that the media are part as well as facilitators of the public sphere described as the “distinctive discursive space within which individuals combine to assume the role of a politically powerful force “(Ernst, 1998). It is our contention in this paper that the Nigerian media, particularly the broadcasting channels with their advantages of reach, cost, timeliness, and acceptability have played and will continue to perform critical functions in the promotion of a sustainable democratic system in the country. Thus, in this presentation, we shall examine the issues involved, some of the challenges and the way forward in the relationship between the broadcast media and the strengthening of a viable democracy in Nigeria.

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