This article examines the Nigerian mass media from a functional perspective. One of the basic functions of the mass media according to Lasswell, Wright and Mc Quail, is the watchdog or surveillance function were the media is viewed as a defender and protector of the public interest.
Bringing this to the day to day operation of the media with and within the Nigerian state; can we say the Nigerian mass media can defend democracy? To what extent, can they defend democracy in Nigeria? Do they have an environment that encourages the defence of democracy? Are they equipped and properly positioned for this national duty? If they are would they be successful in this cause?
In answering these questions one needs to take a critical outlook on the current state of the Nigerian mass media; the factors that shape the Nigerian mass media environment, the direct or indirect influence of this environment on the media either externally or internally; the overall effect of this on the media’s basic function as it applies to socio-political development of the nation.
Explicitly beginning on a pessimistic outlook, the authors disguise no truth as they lay the contextual basis on which one can rightly assert that the media is capable of defending its national integrity and democracy. Such media must be willing, enlightened, equipped, and capable. They must be faithful brokers of the nation’s trust and loyal stewards of social justice.
However where does the Nigeria mass media stand. Are they even “standing”? A critical review of the condition and environment of the Nigerian mass media will definitely show that they are not strong enough to defend the crumbling walls of an already weak democracy. It seems we have standing on our watch feeble defenders, unarmed and unfortified for the imminent “war”.
To properly dissect the Nigerian mass media against the back drop of its role in democracy, we have to understand what it means to “defend democracy” what exactly does it mean to defend democracy? Where does democracy begin and where do we draw the lines? Do we even have democracy in Nigeria? Do we expect the Nigerian mass media to defend what does not exist or what it is incapable of protecting?
To defend democracy entails the agents of democracy ‘taking measures that cancel the effect(s) of the aggressive actions taken by the agents of anti-democracy”. It is to battle with and triumph over the enemies of democracy.
The basic assumption of democracy is that everyone has equal rights and so opens up the greatest possible liberty. Anti-democracy however, is not founded on these political liberties that constitute democracy.
This being said are needs to identify and examine it external (and internal) environment-including the resources needed by the mass media in defending democracy-if at all it exists. That is, which aspects of Nigerian media’s environment and resources are supporting democracy as well as relishing and ending anti-democracy.
The average media houses are unprofitable and have weak economy-largely depending on foreign media to deliver. According to Utomi (1999:25) “This means that many newspapers are vulnerable… The vulnerability of these newspapers to small disruptions in the economy sometimes leads their publishers to accept special projects from government through various agencies, not excluding the security agencies …” This reflects the quality of new generated from our news houses- which are largely “second-hand”.
If at all the media attempt to defend democracy, what are their chances of survival or success? The dominant image portrayed in this article is that of a weak and disadvantaged media. They are “poor, polarized, urban-based, technologically unsophisticated and uninsured against attack”.
The Nigeria democratic profile is also a seemingly feeble shadow of a nation we long for but do not belong to. After threats to national democracy, after independence in 1960, Nigeria regained her “democratic” state in 1999. But this disguised freedom only enmeshes her in a state of continual dependence on foreign democracies and local anti-democratic powers.
The democracy as it is now is disguised, because from a distance one could assume that the Nigerian mass media is defending democracy, but upon a closer look, it’s the other way round. The forces of anti-democracy in Nigeria have more far-reaching effects than we anticipate; it has been entrenched deep into the Nigerian society. To expect them, as they are to defend democracy therefore, is to assume first a total liberation whether by themselves or other agents of the media from the grip of anti-democracy. Without this the media remains fettered and enmeshed in the blind resistance of a system it belongs to.
The Authors concluded by proffering solutions that can make the mass media robust defenders of democracy, key amongst them is the reengineering of the media environment which will involve mass education on principles and procedures of democracy as well as upgrading of communication, telecommunications, and transportation infrastructure.