Thursday, August 13, 2009

The nation as a challenge

‘The Nation is a challenge to other papers’
The Yerima of Auchi Kingdom, and former Information and Culture Minister, Prince Tony Momoh has affirmed the strength of The Nation as the newest challenge to other papers barely three years of its operation. In this interview with Assistant Editor Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME, Momoh described the simultaneous printing of The Nation, its local contents and production package as ground breaking efforts that make the paper stands out.

There was a recent independent research conducted by three leading advertising agencies, which places The Nation second to Punch in sales for the month of March and April this year. What is your reaction to this research?

“I don’t know the status of the ranker. The fact is that I have my own opinion on The Nation. As a matter of fact, I am so impressed with what The Nation has been doing that I now subscribe to it. The Nation is breaking grounds in a lot of areas, especially in the area of education with the CDs they have been sending out and the volume of materials that is there. The average journalist will now know that to be an enlightener, you have to be enlightened and what The Nation has been doing in focusing on educational aspects, not only on the people but on the journalist, I think that area is highly commendable. I don’t know what those who did it considered, but I am telling you my personal impression that The Nation is a very good paper, it is innovative, it has high level writers, I am expressed with the columnists, it is one of the best produced, and that you even go round two or three points to print simultaneously is a big plus. The Nation is a challenge to all other newspapers and other all media owners to proliferate as much as much as possible in Nigeria terrain. As minister of information, I discovered that speaking in Lagos was of no use to someone in Anambra state. For four years I was minister of Information and Culture, I toured every state three times, and I had no time to go abroad because I knew my work was here.
I was speaking in 13 locations in every state (all parastatals, radio stations, television stations, newspapers houses). Everywhere I went to people asked the same questions, as if I did not answer them. But the truth of the matter was that I had not answered them to the communities where the question is asked. So, when you have simultaneously printing, you must move in the direction of the local content of the area where you are producing. If you don’t, then you will be addressing Lagos to other regions.
I always tell people when I was teaching journalism at the Times Journalism Institute (TJI), that if you go to Tinubu Square in Lagos find out the papers they were buying. If they buy Herald, Chronicle, Observer and Standard you will discover that the buyers are either from those areas or have interest in those areas.
So, the next challenge of the Nigerian newspapers is local content. Television and radio are already doing it. With the simultaneous printing in different areas, I think there should be a team of editorial staff that should attend to local contents of the areas and emphasise them.

The focus of the research is the actual sale per paper (not print run) during the months of March and April this year. Are these figures realistic?
As a matter of fact, circulation is a function of patronage. If you are circulating, it is either you are producing a very good product that is acceptable and or you have means of reaching out to the readers. The problem with newspapering today is one of distribution. But if you invest in vehicles and the content is attractive, obviously you will circulate.
I am looking at The Nation less from the angle of circulation than the angle of expertise in production, because if you want to talk of circulation, which is very good, I commend that. In Daily Times Group in those days, Daily Times was distributing 350,000 copies a day and Sunday Times was distributing between 400,000 to 500,000 copies. Lagos Weekend was distributing about 500,000 copies a week. And we were in all the regions.

Specifically, the ranking scored Punch first with 34,264 sales while The Nation got 30,578 copies. What do you make of this research?
I am not going to comment on what anybody got in the ranking. When it comes to ranking I don’t want to take part in it. If one asked me about each paper, I know what to say. However, I have been into development of media for many years. But I have told you The Nation has done marvelously well. Don’t let me comment on what others have done about ranking.

Can any of the Nigerian dailies of today meet such target?
First of all, the cost of newspaper: the cost of producing and unless you want to make money outside of sales, unless advertising comes to your aid there comes a time when circulation will not help you. Those days, we were using 72 tonnes of newsprint a day because we have 14 titles. The truth of the matter is that today, there are newspapers that use one realm a day.
I don’t know of what is the current situation with the coming of newspapers like The Nation, Sun, Kompass and Daily Independent. But until now the total print runs of all the newspapers in Nigeria, about 12 years ago, was not up to the production of Daily Times in a day. That means the total print runs of Nigerian newspapers was not up to 500,000 copies. The most serious one is that there is no newspaper on daily basis that reaches beyond a local government area in many states. We are fortunate that the Mass Media Commission did not come into effect, which was in the 1999 draft constitution. The commission would have made a newspaper to circulate only in the state in which it is printed except if publicly owned.

Was that provision perceived as gagging the press?
They thought it would regulate the press and regularize the operation of the press. If we had had the Nigerian Media Commission in the constitution, newspapers would only circulate in areas where they are printing like in Lagos, you must circulate only in Lagos state. Then the board of the paper must reflect national character.
Can we relate this to the on-going legal tussle between Daily Times and the Nigerian Union of Journalists in the area optimal use?
The fact is that we should not go to that aspect. The law is not there and Nigeria is better off for it. Restrictive laws are always a hindrance in a growing democracy. Fortunately, the commission was removed. Another thing was the provision for a court which was in the newspaper decree. Newspapers were to register and re-register and the body to oversee it was not a journalism body.

In other climes, cover prices of papers are sometimes slashed. Can we do that in Nigeria?
Why not? But if you drop your cover price, it means you have enough adverts to absorb the shock. If you don’t have advert back up for cover price, you cannot drop cover price. But if you want to make profit, you need money from advert and or circulation. But newspapers get subsidies from the owners.

Will such assistance not amount to control?
Newspaper control mechanism is through ownership, patronage, or policies which are the laws that regulate the operation of newspapers. So, there are lots of laws restricting the newspapering.
But owners may want his paper to be a shot in the arm for his political ambition. It might be economic too.
Ownership is either government or private, but the ascendancy of private ownership of newspaper today is good for the industry. But what a newspaper does will point the direction of what the owner wants. If the owner wants his businesses to be enhanced, you will see that it will tilt towards economy. If it is for political clout, the paper will move towards politics. So, there is a lot of reflection of the person and his interests. Ownership of media is guaranteed in the (Section 39 sub-section 2) of 1999 Constitution not freedom of the media. On the side note is the freedom of expression and the press. But there is freedom to establish and own a medium. And section 22 of the Constitution says the press must monitor governance for the masses, which is why the press is referred to as the fourth estate of the realm. The journalist must do the monitoring professionally. If the owner says he pays the piper and therefore will dedicate the tune, then the song must be offered by a philharmonic orchestra. The media owners are moving in the direction of self discipline and are trying to get respect for the press and not being feared.

What is your reaction to the recent publication of nude photograph of a legislator on the front page of a daily? Is that professionally right?
Obviously, it is against the moral ethics of the profession. Section 45 of the constitution is clear on such and it says you cannot exercise your right to undermine others, especially the moral health of the country. Under moral health is obscene publication, which includes anything (like corpses, nude pictures etc) that will disturb your breakfast at a table are not morally acceptable.
There are papers that are involved in organizing awards and concerts. Does this amount to unethical practice?
Newspaper is a business and its owner is a businessman. It is the reader that decides the patronage and the journalist is not a businessman. The newspaper owner can go to federal government for oil lifting contract because he is a businessman. And the newspaper is an asset he can use. However, there are gatekeepers that are always mindful of what goes into the paper in line with the house policy.

How can newspapers close up the gap between print run and sales figures?
Newspapers’ Proprietors Association has been discussing it over the years. Sales will be increased when cost is lowered, especially distribution cost. Some newspapers distribute by air while others do it by printing simultaneously like The Nation. Early arrival to the readers affects sales a great deal.
If I were a businessman into newspapering, I will not distribute my paper to many parts of the North. The request for reprint by Mushin alone is more than what some papers send to many parts of the North. Unfortunately, many papers claim they are national.
What we should be having is community newspaper like the way the Concord Press of Nigeria did before the collapse of the company.

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