Role of the Media in National Development


Isa Muhammad Inuwa

B.A., M.A. (Lang) BUK, Dip (Jour.), Dip (Frnch.)



A paper presented at a workshop on the event of 27th Youth Leadership Programme Organized by LEAP Africa, on Tuesday July 24, 2007 (2:45 - 4:15), at the British Council, Kano, Nigeria.


INTRODUCTION I'm most glad and honoured to be invited by LEAP Africa to present a paper  titled "Role of media in National Development" in one of its programme of Events with the basic objective to chart a course towards grooming and initiating tomorrow's good and viable leaders in African Continent and Nigeria in particular. The main objective of Leadership, Effectiveness Accountability and Professionalism (LEAP) geared at coaching the younger generation about the glorious art of good leadership with a view to replace the current status quos in African leadership, as well, to inject the monetary discipline of budget management in leadership, is not only a high time reasoning but also an obligation on the present generation of the youth to embark upon.


I share the line of thinking of LEAP Africa of imparting skills and vision of leadership, effectiveness and accountability to the youths who are future leaders, for the fact that the required moral norms of effective leadership have to be acquired and learnt over time, they are not just to bump in spontaneously into the leader. That is to say it is very hard if not impossible to see a leader exercising justice, fairness, accountability and transparency over nightly, unless and except he was taught, bred and trained morally to exert these ideals in his personal as well as official interactions. The good ideal of morality, loyalty, sincerity, selflessness and patriotism and discipline have to be seriously taught and practically demonstrated to the up coming leaders of Africa before the continent could rise from its slumber and progress.    


It is time we break from the myth that certain people alone were born leaders by virtue of their family background, blood or root. Leadership is attainable by everybody and its art can be acquired through training, experience and practice but the cherished and required type of leadership is the charitable one, the one full of feeling and sensitivity for the people and full of moral guidance and spirit of accountability. It is also time that African youths began to look inwardly and source leaders from among themselves and relieve the elderly statesmen of the burden of leadership, as most of them have repeated leadership over and over, some have succeeded themselves for several times, some have gone round all the cadres and departments, reviewing down their retirement age and seem not yet ready to abdicate, while millions of young graduates stay idle in waiting for positions to occupy, (when the elders might die).


While charting our path to a viable leadership by the youth generation in Africa, we ought to reflect upon and borrow a leaf from such past patriotic African leaders as Mr. Nelson Mandela of South Africa, General Murtala Ramat Muhammad of Nigeria, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, to serve as our torch-bearers and role models.    Luckily, all the key watchwords of LEAP Africa-Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability and Professionalism is similitude of the basic ethics of media practice as well as reflect upon the role of media as an exemplary organ of shaping societal norms and values as this paper would discuss further.


THE MEDIA – The media has been variously defined by scholars of mass communication among which media is referred to as a collective means of communication by which general public or populace is kept informed about the day to day happenings in the society. The media is also said to be an aggregation of all communication channels that use techniques of making a lot of direct personal communication between the communicator and the public. While talking of mass media however, the word “mass” means a large number of people or a collection and “media” means organs or channels. Hence mass media is a collection of organs of communication and information dissemination that reaches out a large number of people. The information circulation is not only confined within members of the public but the media also serves to coordinate the information flow between government and the public and vice versa, in our own case, between leaders and the led and vice versa.  More importantly, the media is also referred to, as “The Fourth Realm of the Estate”, i.e.  The fourth pillar  in support of the essential tripod of government; the Executive, the Legislative and the judiciary.      The two broad categories of media –

(a) the Print media comprises of Newspapers, Magazines, Journals and periodicals and

(b) the Electronic media includes the Radio, Television and all related modern means of communication such as the computer and the Internet.


The term “Press” is also used to refer to both category of the media, the print and the electronic media.


MEDIA IN DEVELOPMENT – Development refers to a change process geared at improving or making better, the life and environment of man. Dudley Sears (1985), posited that development involves the creation of opportunities for the realization of human potentialities. Where the media comes in development process is through what is called “development communication”. This is the type of communication which is consciously packaged by the sender such that the message content or the information sent could persuade, encourage or convince the receiver or target audience to adopt an attitude and participate in actualizing a development plan or goal. At certain instances, the message sent aims at making the target audience adopt a positive attitudinal change towards a development purpose.


DEVELOPMENT MEDIA THEORY – Development media theory began from the agenda –setting theory espoused by Mc. Combs and Shaw (1972), which stated that the media tells us not what to think but what to think about. In other words, the amount of attention given to an issue in the press affects the level of importance assigned to that issue by the mass media audience. The main thrust of Agenda Setting theory is that though media may not completely change ones point of view on particular issue, it tends to change his perception of what is good. That is to say in simple terms, the fact about the inherent influencing power of media, makes it to be seen and applied as important instrument in developmental policies.


NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT ROLE OF MEDIA – Basically, the media are described as performing three functions or roles of information, education and entertainment.


These are the conventional social functions the media render to the public, but which is equally applicable in broader sense in national development pursuit. It could be said that through educating, informing and entertaining, the media thereby make the society, society members or the nation as well as the leadership of the very society, aware of the importance and need to undertake certain process or processes of national development.   Also attached to these three basic roles of media is another role of persuasion, where media are seen as virile tools of applying persuasive efforts to influence people’s actions towards a particular direction. The mass media are therefore seen for their role in furnishing the public with necessary information to achieve development or change goals.


These roles of media in national development lie in their capacity and capability to teach, manipulate, sensitize and mobilize people through information dissemination – (Ucheanya 2003, as cited by Chinenye Nwabueze). The media also chart a course for the public in line with the agenda setting theory, thereby creating in the minds of the people, issues that should be viewed  as priority issues including development programmes and policies  - (Nwabueze, 2005). Instances of this role being presently played by media in Nigeria is the general millennium goal pursuit towards the year 2015, as proposed by the United Nations and incorporated as national policy by governments of member countries around the world.


Policies of the millennium goal touch on different aspects of health, education, children and women and the likes. The programme could also be said to be part of the globalization pursuit to which any nation left out in its pursuance and implementation stands the possibility of being alienated in the comity of nations. Though not free of some propagandist motives, health issues such as the HIV/AIDS, Polio Immunization and The H5N1 Bird Flu Virus issue became the leading stories disseminated by the media. Other related issues include wars, famine, women and children health and rights as well as democratization activities receive prominence and greater attention from the media.   Another instance of developmental role by Nigerian media was the recent killing of the unconstitutional move to install a third term government by the recent past President Olusegun Obasanjo, as well as the contribution by the media towards making Nigerians to come out and vote during the Aril 2007 general elections, in order to enable a successful transition from civilian to another civilian rule, the first time in history of the country. Although there were crisis of election rigging and malpractices along the transitional course, yet the media remained dutiful by avoiding actions that could have derailed the entire motive of the transition.


Other roles of media in national development include –  


1)    The media leads to formation of attitude through establishing of values for the society or nation and thereby building a climate of change in the society or nation. According to Alade Odunewu as cited by Yakasai A.S. 1996, this involves the dissemination of news and information in response to a basic human need, which is the “right to know”.  


2)    Protection of Social Justice is another role of media in national development, in that the media are not only expected to record, compose or report account of events and stories just as the historians do, but the media are also expected to analyze issues and facts contained in the news, in line with the need and interest of Social Justice. Dr. Stanley Machebu pointed here that the press “are subordinate to a far higher goal: the goal of ensuring that public and private conduct is directed towards the greatest possible measure of justice, in society”.


3)    In order to ensure a peaceful national coexistence and progress, the media have before them the task of discouraging such negative issues as ethnicity, dictatorship in leadership like the military rule and of course discourage embezzlement of public funds, as it is the disturbing trend presently indulged by politicians occupying positions of responsibilities and related public officers in Nigeria. Perhaps if the media in Nigeria were carrying out or were allowed to ideally carry out their function of investigating facts and announcing them to the public, the recent scenario whereby some ex-governors which include Saminu Turaki of Jigawa state, Orji Uzo Kalu of Abia, Joshua Dariye of Plateau and Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu and the likes who were arrested by the anti graft commission, the EFCC for alleged money laundering and embezzlement might not have happened.


Machebu S. as cited by Yakasai A.S. 1996, stated – “The press in Nigeria can never properly claim to be discharging any significant responsibility if it fails to consistently describe if not denounce, the countless ways in which the pursuit of wealth corrupts the polity and Compromises our future”.


4)    The responsibility of informing people about development projects and programmes is another major role of media to national development. Such programmes designed and proposed by policy makers could be entirely new to the people at whom they need to be enlightened, educated and mobilized by the media.

Instances of such programmes are the Universal Basic Education (U.B.E.), the Nomadic Education, Girl-Child Education, Adult Education, Fighting Drug Addiction and Trafficking and for instance, a nationwide campaign towards boosting agriculture and food production.


5)    Offering solutions to problems is another developmental role of the media, in that they are not only expected criticize government officials and condemn their actions, but also as watchdogs of the society, they should review, analyze, appraise or criticize, as the case may be, activities of government agencies and programmes such as the Re-capitalization of banks and the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), with a view to offering solutions in the areas where they are failing or lacking and suggest ways to their rectification.


The media in Nigeria ought to use this function of offering solution to encourage leaders to always stick to budgetary provisions and avoid indulging in extra budgetary spending, which leads to embezzlement of public funds.   In connection to this, Bajuwade D. 1987, as cited by Yakasai A.S. 1996,reasoned – “This day and age demands pungent writing that does not stop at picking up all the peccadilloes and mote in other peoples’ eyes, but in addition, offers its own alternatives, put forward its own ideas and submits well considered solutions to problems it highlights”.


PROBLEMS RESTRICTING DEVELOPMENTAL ROLE OF MEDIA Few among the numerous obstacles to objective media reporting and progressive functions of the media are: -


1)    Restrictions from the so-called “state security” laws and decrees tend to prevent full rights of expression and writing or broadcasting the facts as they are – by “calling a spade a spade”.


2)    Lack of adequate remuneration and protection for media practitioners by the media managers often lead to suppressing of facts and succumbing to collection of gratification (the notorious brown envelope syndrome) in order for the reporters to have their ends met or pay for transportation and facilities for sending their stories.


3)    Crossing the interests of media owners or proprietors is another problem whereby executives of government owned media prefer to have their lead story carrying big portrait of the governor or president on the TV screen or front page of Newspaper in order to maintain their position in office. On the other hand, private media owners often have governors, ministers and commissioners friends, at which the helpless reporter willing to report facts or expose an act of dishonesty committed by any of these people could not have his story published or aired because it crosses their (media owners) personal interests. As regards to this, Oduyela S. 1996, pointed out – “Ogbeni Lanre had recently approached an editor of one of the new generation Newspapers in Lagos on his article on Mr. Gbenga Daniel, governor of Ogun state; the editor out rightly told Ogeni Lanre that he would not publish the article because Gbenga Daniel is his friend” Odulaye went further thus – “Journalism in Nigeria has now shifted from its position as the watchdog to collaborator in killing of a nation through misinformation and covering up for dishonest public office holders. It is no more a news that editors and publishers call ministers and governors to inform them of stories about them and the possibility of killing it”.


4)    Lack of self censorship is also a problem militating against objective and developmental output by Nigerian media. The media are seen as good in criticizing others but scarcely do they criticize themselves in terns of observing the code of ethics of the profession. While a section of the media engages in bitter criticism and harassment of those in position of power to earn their recognition, others stoop down to paying cheap lip service to the authorities that be with a view to gain gratifications. It could be said that while the former case could fetch charges of defamation in the court of law, the later could expose the practitioner to ridicule and debasement.


CONCLUSION It should be understood the relevance of media in almost all spheres of human endeavour cannot be overemphasized, more so in the area of National Development, as equally reasoned by organizers of this discussion forum, LEAP Africa. Also the exigent need for good governance, responsible and accountable leadership goes hand in hand with the need for active role of strong and equally disciplined media towards enlightening, mobilizing and sensitizing both the public and the stakeholders in this concern. It should also be understood the impossibility of having totally unbiased media, because even in the developed European countries, media were seen for conducting opinion polls or making comments  that favour certain political parties or candidates. However, the conscience of the media itself needs reorientation to shed off characteristics of the ravaging societal malaise which in some ways, affect the media themselves.

In relation to this, Sogolo G. 1995 pointed out “The role of information in our National Development is no longer a matter of dispute. And as we have argued, information is useful if only it is properly disseminated” Sogolo further stated – “In a plural and diverse society such as Nigeria, we need an information order built on cordial relationship between the state and the media, between leadership and follower ship, between the elite and the people at the grassroots level. In all this, the media have an important role to play, always taking into consideration the socio cultural conditions under which they operate, but without loosing sight of the universal commitments of the profession.


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ODULAYE S. 2005 - The Media in Nigeria 11 (An Article Number4000/NEWS 54984.htm, printed from "Gamji" Website on September 2, 2005).


SOGOLO G. 1995 - Imperative of a New National Information Order (A paper presented at a seminar on Moral Image of Nigeria, jointly organized by Nigerian Television Authority, New Nigeria Newspapers and Kaduna State Government, in Kaduna.


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YAKASAI A.S. 1996 - Duty of The Press (A Tutorial Handout of the International Institute of Journalism Course, held in Kano).