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Interview

Journalists Must Multi-Task To Survive The New Age –Owolabi

With the mass media striving to sustain its core values of truth, accuracy, fairness and balance in the face of the onslaught by social media and other challenges that have affected the practice of journalism, the General Manager of Silverbird’s Rhythm 93.7, Port Harcourt, Pastor Segun Owolabi spoke with The Vortex Manasseh Paul-Worika

You are a pastor and also a journalist, how do you manage both responsibilities?

It’s grace. Personally, I’ve thought about this and how I’ve been able to manage this perfectly. I’m a Christian who’s a broadcaster, so when it comes to scale of priority, I am a Christian broadcaster, not a broadcaster who’s a Christian.

What can you say about governance in Rivers State?

I think Rivers State has come of age. I think people are being more conscious of the character of who becomes the governor of Rivers State. In the past, people look at your family tree, social and political class, but now, people don’t consider that again. People are looking at the pedigree; what are you made up of, what can you do for the society. I also think we are beginning to see a drift from politics to who this person is. Rivers State is generally known as a PDP state, but I foresee a change whereby a candidate is not chosen to be the governor because he belongs to the largest party. People are going to scrutinize the CV of who is going to be the governor.

Is the media living up to its expectation of holding government accountable to the state and country?

I think the media is beginning to assume that responsibility. I am not saying we have totally arrived compared to others states in the country who have been at it for a longer time.  I think in Rivers State, we are beginning to assume that responsibility. For the first time, we are seeing media houses taking a bold step to criticize government’s policies. In the past, it was not all like that; you see the media trying to submit to the government for fear. But right now, we are seeing journalists writing about the policies and even voicing their views on what they think is not right. I think the space is beginning to open because we have citizens’ journalism and participation in broadcasting now and that has even opened up the actions, working and the inactions of those in authority and has allowed for more criticisms and talks about government policies. But we need to take into context that criticism needs not be negative and that is what we need to get right. Criticism can be positive as well but whichever way it is, it should advance the course of society and help make the society a better place.

Is Rhythm 93.7 influenced by commercial pressures?

It is quite difficult particularly when you look at private and public broadcasting. I am a news man, and I tell people money does not make news, news is news. No matter how much you pay for news it is not the money that makes the program, it is the news in it. In as much as we know in private broadcasting we are there to make money, it is also important to note that people are consuming what we broadcast and once the people come to lose trust in you, you lose the people and the money. You must be able to draw the line and know which to give priority. Because at the end of the day, you exist for the people and this is the same market you want to reach. So if the people consider your market not accurate and trust worthy, there is a problem.

There are close to 20 radio stations in Rivers State. Is there a glut?

The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is responsible for the issuance of license. As a broadcaster, when you look at Lagos, the next place you want to talk about is Port Harcourt, in terms of volumes of adverts from agencies. But I think the NBC has not done a very good job. When you look at Lagos, there is a huge decentralization of commercialization and industrialization, but when you come to Rivers State, you talk about development being visible in Port Harcourt alone. So you find a situation where over 20 Radio stations are situated in Port Harcourt, non in Etche or Okrika. I think the NBC needs to take another look at how to spread it because Radio stations add to development. I think one of the things NBC needs to do is to ensure that professionals are issued licenses, not people whose interest is just to make money. There are many things we can do with a radio when it is handled by a professional. Radio, because of its transient and immediate nature addresses the need of the people faster than television or newspaper.

NBC needs to ask these questions; who are we giving this license? Where are they situated; and for what purpose?

Overseas, we have weather radio stations whose job is to tell you the weather, do the analysis of the weather, and tell you how to move each day. There is crime radio, etc; but here licenses are issued without asking the question, “What do you want to do”? There is so much we can do.

In what ways has Rhythm 93.7 contributed to Rivers sustainable development?

When we came to Rivers State, our focus was entertainment and we started with the slogan, “More music, less talk”. But we came to realize that the people need information and then we needed to change that entertainment bias to begin to meet the need of the people as such we needed to introduce some programs; Viewpoint, Talk of the town, etc because we understand the yearning of the people for news and news-related programs. If you listen to our news at 7am, we have a slogan, “Peace is priceless, terror is senseless, let us give peace a chance” and that has been on for a long time because we realized the peculiarity of Rivers State. We believe that in an atmosphere of peace, development thrives, so we need to reach the psyche of the people that peace is all that is needed. We have come up with different programs and slogans to help the state make progress.

If tuned into your station, what is the listener expected to get?

When you listen to Rhythm 93.7, we deliberately tailor our news to ensure that 70 percent of our news content is Rivers. Our priority and responsibility is Rivers. We understand that if the city thrives, we will thrive. And if the people are well informed, it will make our work easier. We are the first station that started 100 percent Port Harcourt. A music program that focus on talents from Port Harcourt.

How has your station encouraged citizen journalism?    

One of the ways we have encouraged that is by developing situations like the Eye-witness report, which gives opportunity to people to report happenings around them. But again, not all reports are published until they are verified. We give out our telephone and Whatsapp lines to ensure that people participate. And during elections, we are the only radio station in Rivers State that gives you a blow by blow account of elections in Rivers State. We have encouraged a lot of people to participate and they have had the trust in us that when they send reports to us and they are verified, they will be published.

What do you make of the invasion by Social media?

The advent of social media is not a death sentence for the traditional media. Social media has actually come to enhance the traditional media. Practitioners of the traditional media must understand that it is only a disruption and take advantage of the disruption or they will sink. Journalists should begin to think about personal blogs, podcasts, smart phones, etc. The presence of social media has not come to kill traditional media, but traditional journalists must ride on the crest of the social media. We are the ones trained, we understand news and what it is. As trained professionals, we give better analyses of news and how it is presented. I think journalists should take advantage of social media and not box themselves into a small corner.

What is the issue with training for staff?

Thank God for the internet which has helped us to train and retrain ourselves. Most courses are free online. In Rhythm, we have our own training times when senior journalists train junior journalists. We have classes for the younger journalists and even senior journalists update themselves. But the internet does it all. There are free sites that offer quality lessons. A man that wants to grow will always find a way to grow himself. Any journalist that wants to improve himself will find a way to improve himself.

How is your station a part of the #OurstateOurResponsiblity campaign by the Rivers State Ministry of Information?

I quite agree with the campaign and I think it is a very good policy. We owe it to our state. If we de-market our state then we will suffer for it. Even in the US, there are issues you don’t report. I am not saying tell a lie, but I am saying report so as not put the state down. If all I do every day is report violence and killings in Port Harcourt, that shows I don’t have an idea of how to report my story. There is a better way of reporting the story than making it appear terrifying. If you look at the security index report, Lagos State has more crime committed than Rivers State. But how come a lot of people don’t express the fear of going to Lagos but express fear coming to Port Harcourt it’s because we have not done our jobs very well as journalists in Rivers State. I am not saying don’t do your job as journalists, but there is a better way to go about it. Saying the truth but also being productive. I also think coming up with this slogan is not enough, government needs to deliberately train people on how to support the campaign. For some journalists, it is not because they want to report the bad news, it is because they don’t know how to report news and they need to be trained. Journalism is a developmental project.

How can you assess the Port Harcourt Press?

Port Harcourt press has come of age but I think Port Harcourt press is not cashing-in on what is has. When you look at the NUJ in Lagos, they recognize the veterans; there is a place for them. We don’t have a place for veterans here. Where is the place for people who have left an indelible mark in the profession? When you don’t have people to mentor young people, they tend to misbehave. But when they have mentors who they see as role models, they conform. Today in Rivers State, Journalists go for press conferences and chase brown envelopes. This has made the press lose its relevance. NUJ should have an archive of journalists in Port Harcourt who have done very well. Let people see them. Even Alhaji Lateef Jakande was recently honored in Lagos. It encourages the young journalists to do well.

What can you say about the local print industry?

I think there is need for sanitation in that sector, because anybody can just put up anything today and call it a newspaper and that is not suppose to be so. It is good to educate people but the motive for coming up with a newspaper is another thing. Even some prints considered local tabloids in Lagos are coming to take over Port Harcourt and our people are patronizing them more than the ones that tell our own story. That is perhaps because the people don’t have trust in us.

Journalists are treated as scapegoats by government and security agencies. What is your view?

This is a perception and I think we need to change this perception. No one will change this perception for us but journalists themselves. We should go above the begging mentality and know that we are professionals and members of the fourth estate of the realm. Everything starts with mentality. When the mentality is wrong, everything is wrong.

How do you contend with different perspectives in your newsroom and on the airwaves?

In the Newsroom we have the beat system which is working and we try to bring in some young people to handle some very key areas of reporting. Because we understand that our station is listened to by more young people, we want to begin to write the way the young people love. In that regards, we are training a lot of young people to assume that role. And we also have more of females in our newsroom because to me, ladies are more analytic in their writings.

How would you assess the press in the next 10 years?

I see many radio stations closing down, many newspapers winding up and many TV stations shutting down. There is going to be massive technology disruption, massive disruption from the social media. I see a situation where radio stations will start employing less because we have artificial intelligence coming up. I see a situation whereby a journalist who thinks all he’ll do is go to the field and come back to report may not fit in again. A journalist must be able to multitask. A broadcaster should be a reporter, a presenter, an editor, a content creator. In the next 10 years I see where a reporter comes back from the field, edit the story, present the story and produce it himself. We need to be up and doing.

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