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Okon: media advocacy paradigms for desirable development change

 By Menidin Egbo

An attempt to procure a curative remedy for a perceived unhealthy condition of media practice in Nigeria has recently been made by Prof. Godwin Bassey Okon, a professor of development communication/media advocacy of Nigeria’s Rivers State University.

Prof. Godwin Bassey Okon

  Okon, in an Inaugural Lecture of the University (Series 70) on Wednesday, October 27, 2021, proposed four strategic measures for enhancing the performance of media advocacy in shoring up development processes in the country.

In his lecture, titled: “Advocacy Paradigms: Unbundling the Albatross of Journalistic Inertia in Nigeria”, Okon made recommendations for improving the performance of the media.

 His lecture’s prescribed strategies for media improvement may be taken as inadvertent call for more research work on addressing in-exhaustive considerations for combating the plethora of ills militating against media best practice in Nigeria.

“Media advocacy, Prof. Okon posited, attempts to use different available media platforms, from physical conversation to mediated means, in concert with human resources to inform, enlighten, influence, and change the course of actions and behaviours for public good”. He described media advocacy as a “significant force for influencing public debate and putting pressure on policy makers”.

Okon also saw the advocacy power of the media as capable of raising the voice of demand for social change; that is, by increasing visibility of cherished values (or socially contrary) salient issues.

In his treatment of the subject of media advocacy, Okon emphasized the requirement of media identification of social issues, and a related goal of procuring “accompanying initiative” or drive to address applicable risks, challenges and threats or dangers”. On this score, he asserted that such media advocacy effort must remain “pervasive and collaborative” –stretching the call for all to be involved in a concerted effort that is targeted at driving for change in behaviour and policy.

Okon was particular in pushing for this thrust to provide for the improvement of welfare (such as health conditions), or even leading to “proactive or reactive” stance for “reducing social disorders”.

Prof. Okon also made the attempt to delineate a media advocacy role distinctively. He identified media-based advocacy models, which he referred to as “paradigms” that serve social change intervention purposes. These models of media performance include “editorial paradigm”, “features paradigm”, “advertorial paradigm” and “interpersonal paradigm”. Okon opined that all these could be properly marshaled out and put into effective use to serve as veritable social change strategic tools.

The relevance of a concerted application of these “paradigm” or tools under diversified milieu of strategies, Okon noted, is a “cascading of …discourse across demographics”, perhaps, with a likely build-up of a change momentum over salient issues under spotlight. He therefore went further to hinge the success of media advocacy by application of these tools to achieve effective role performance by journalists –a role which he thinks is paramount; Okon, regrettably, saw media practitioners in Nigeria as falling far short of media advocacy success, pointing out that Nigerian journalists are rather bogged down by what he called, “journalistic inertia”.

According to Okon, “journalistic inertia refers to a state of passivity, where journalists walk a beaten path without any sense of creativity or innovativeness”. For him, the term “journalistic inertia” also means: “being stereo-typical and status-quo passionate”. He illustrated that meaning further by appealing to everyday parlance of saying: “doing the same thing over and over” or “doing the same thing again and again”. He further illuminated this reality as a classic situation, which he painted figuratively as one of merely achieving “motion without movement”.

Okon concluded that the result of “journalistic inertia” in present day Nigeria is one that can be typified as “retrogression”. He was particularly pensive about this seemingly backward reality in media practice, comparing it to the media performance of Nigeria’s pre-independence nationalists’ era which “may be typified as “progression”, or even that of the post-independent Nigeria in the 1960s (largely) tagged as ethnically divisive (perhaps, with seemingly negative or anti-development stance).

Prof Okon also saw the reality of “journalistic inertia” as underpinned by unprogressive media performance attitude in Nigeria. Expressing pain by the vexing inertia-static (or regressive) situation of Nigeria’s media practice, he doled out series of focal research-supported observations across his chosen paradigmatic strategies of formal media advocacy streams –the editorial paradigm, features paradigm, advertorial paradigm and interpersonal paradigm. He therefore deployed his research result in supporting his drawn conclusion of a failing journalistic role in marshaling out the models (or paradigms) of media advocacy to propel national development.

His bothered ilk over “journalistic inertia” was unmistakably conspicuous throughout the presentation of his Inaugural Lecture, and Okon was thus unhesitant to make far-reaching recommendations for effective performance of journalists in the use of media advocacy as a tool to achieve social change for the public good. His recommendations include: “mainstreaming editorial policies”, “deconstructing negative cognitive contraptions”, “anchoring media ownership on excellence without compromise”, and filling the mentorship void”. Earlier in his lecture, he dwelt on the molds of encumbrances limiting vibrant progressive media output in Nigeria, and described them as constituting “albatross” that hinders the cherished journalistic function.

According to Okon, editorial policies should be standardized or adopted to enthrone professionalism based on best practice such as would serve the course for achieving the great ideals envisioned by constitutional, legal and social mandates; that is, for media practice to fulfill public interest purpose, and do so above personal interest. He particularly stretched the potency of standard editorial policy for media organizations by citing current examples as portrayed by high performance of organizations such as British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

In deconstructing negative cognitive contraptions, Okon posited that journalists must rise above practice-related threats and “land mines” with a show of bravery under the warmth of public support. He expressed disapproval for media men who easily fall into the temptation of creating limiting self-censorship over imagined threats and practice-related risks. He rather encouraged media boldness for fulfilling a universal role of trust, honour and integrity for an ‘organic society’.

Okon addressed the issue of “anchoring media ownership on excellence without compromise” on the need for owners of mass media outfits to be passionate journalists who, at all times, demonstrate a sense of purpose and professional commitment above “self-aggrandizement” or personal gain.

Okon expressed sadness over the fact that many of mass media outfits owners in Nigeria today are people whose aim is anything order that public good promotion; he therefore urged that committed media practitioners who are inspired with the goal of the dignified profession should aspire to set up and run media organizations to dethrone the felt evils of “compromise” and lacking commitment to excellence.

By way of promoting professionalism in journalism practice through merit-rewards to build inspiration for future practitioners, Okon recommended that “filling the mentorship void” can provided for strengthening performance. He felt that accomplished journalists may be looked upon for emulation to more perfect practice by the up-coming generations. Citing Dele Giwa for blazing the path for emulation in boldness and commitment to truth in media practice, he proclaimed that many others like Giwa are needed as mentors or heroes to sow the germ of better media practice that would help Nigeria overcome the “albatross of Journalistic inertia”.

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