Revisiting Media Imperialism: A Review of the Nigerian Television Experience

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Revisiting Media Imperialism: A Review of the Nigerian Television Experience

Introduction
Although many scholars are wont to say that media imperialism is an
unfashionable area of research in a 21st century world media culture, it is
important to note that the issue is still very germane to Africans, particularly
Nigerians because there is limited research and academic writing coming
from scholars based in Nigeria (Africa) on it. It is in the realization of this
drawback that this paper revisits media imperialism with specific attention
on the Nigerian television (TV) experience, using historical approach to give a
picture of the dilemma faced by Nigerian TV broadcasters. Deregulated
broadcasting became a reality in Nigeria in 1992 with the establishment of
the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). The NBC’s functions include
the issuance of licenses to operators of TV and radio broadcasting, setting
standards as well as upholding the principles of fairness, objectivity and
balance in the broadcasting industry. The NBC was established through
Decree No 38 of 1992 (Now Act No 38), promulgated by the regime of General
Ibrahim Babangida. Thereafter, following applications by different
organizations and individuals, General Babangida presented the first
licenses for private broadcasting in June 1993. The establishment of the NBC
was thought by many scholars and media professionals to be the panacea for
the nagging problem of foreign broadcast of news and programmes that
pervade Nigerian TV screens. Apart from setting standards for the technical
areas, the NBC was expected to encourage TV stations to generate about 60%
of their programmes for broadcast locally (Okhakhu, 2001). Standards ought
to cover all facets of content as it affects socio-cultural development. But close
to two decades after the establishment of the NBC, the Nigerian TV has not
moved substantially away from the feature of programmes and news items
whose origin and content is basically foreign. This is even besides the
manufacture of media technologies which Nigeria is yet to find its feet in.
With regard to the general African situation, Omoera (2008) observes
that imperialistic strictures have compelled most growing democracies in
Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Burundi, Cameroun, among others) to tag
along established Western democracies in virtually all facets of human
endeavour. This portends a possible “arrested” development for most African
countries, if not frontally addressed. This, perhaps, also explains why the TV
as a form of media production in Nigeria has continued to grapple with the
hydra – headed phenomenon known as media imperialism. Media
imperialism discourse is particularly significant in Nigeria, the continent’s
biggest country in terms of population and also home to one of Africa’s most
vigorous media industries. Nigeria has also traditionally been exposed to
American or Western media more than many other nations in Africa, aside
South African, which in the context of this paper, is regarded as part and
parcel of the Western/imperialistic media.
Media imperialism as a notional framework has been subsumed under
the broader umbrella of cultural imperialism. According to White (2001),
cultural imperialism has been used as a framework by scholars of different
academic backgrounds and persuasions to explain phenomena in the areas of
international relations, anthropology, education, sciences, history, literature
and sports. He therefore reconsiders the concept of cultural imperialism
theory as it relates to communication discipline. White (2001) contends that a
review of the international communication literature will reveal different
terms such as “media imperialism” (Boyd-Barrett, 1977); “media are
American” (Tunstall, 1977); “structural imperialism” (Galtung, 1979);
“cultural synchronization” (Hamelink, 1983); “cultural dependency and
domination” (Link, 1984; Mohammadi, 1995); “electronic colonialism”
(McPhail, 1987); “communication imperialism” (Sui-Nam Lee, 1988)
“ideological imperialism” and “economic imperialism” (Mattleart, 1994) – all
relating to the same basic notion of cultural imperialism.
These concepts and positions have been refigured and reformulated in
the light of current debates on globalization, the public sphere, and the
potential of the internet for empowerment to the effect that new
communication technologies and the opening up of global markets are
transforming the world’s media and cultural industries (Boyd-Barret &
Thussu, 1993). While advocates of globalization contend that such change has
brought greater freedom, opportunity, choice and diversity (Cowen, 2002), it
is also clear that globalization has served the economic, political and cultural
interests of certain parties more than others, raising concerns about a new
era of American or Western imperialism and attendant cultural
homogenization or standardization (Jameson, 2000). Colonizing the
imagination of consumers worldwide, the virtual empires of the electronic age
have a profound effect on national media systems and cultural sovereignty.
For instance, about three decades after “Media are American”, Tunstall
(2008) posits in “Media were American” that the American era of media
dominance has passed. This is pretty much explained by the development of
national, transnational and regional media over the past quarter century in
China, Brazil, India, Iran, Australia and elsewhere. Similarly, Thussu’s
“Electronic Empires” X-rays the effects of large transnational media
corporations on national and regional media and one of the articles in the
book (contributed by Boyd-Barrett) admits that there is no questioning the
fact that there are emergent media “powers” in the ecology of media influence
in contemporary world (1998). The painful scenario is that Nigeria is in the
periphery of this emerging media “power” shift or expansion notwithstanding
the much vaulted flow pattern of contents especially in the new media era
and in particular the spread of Nigerian drama around African TV stations,
foreign-based Africa-focused satellite TV and in the form of videos/DVDs
among African diasporas.
Although so much redefinition has taken place, the dependency
syndrome which this paper is referent on presupposes that imperialism itself
implies a process of dominance and dependency between nations in which the
identification of the role of the media in extending or containing given
cultural orientations, conventions and influences is under focus. Perhaps that
is why Golding (1977) earlier contextualized cultural imperialism as a
problematic in the structural relations of dependence between advanced and
developing societies and submits that the phenomenon includes the results of
international media, educational and cultural systems. Consequently,
scholars agree that mass media in Africa, Latin America and Asia have
developed, almost invariably, as derivatives or appendages of those in the
advanced industrialized countries. In a relatively recent work, some scholars
sought to examine the interplay between cultural studies, media studies and
Caribbeanist anthropology and how this interface has impacted on the
consumption cultures of the Caribbean peoples. Pertierra and Horst (2009)
observe that although media consumption has become a factor of everyday
life in most regions around the world, there are several specific reasons why
the Caribbean makes a particularly interesting case study for examining the
cultural practices, relationships, micro-political encounters and identities
that surround the distribution and use of media systems and technologies.
In much the same way that John Sinclair (1999) has reported for the
region of Latin America, the history of Caribbean media is inevitably
entangled in a relationship of dependence on the economies and industries of
the United States, such that by the 1980s the Anglophone Caribbean was
measured as the world region most penetrated by foreign media (Brown,
1995). While countries in the Caribbean share some underlying features that
could shape the possibilities for how mediascapes develop through local
creation and appropriation of media content, the cheerless fact remains that
virtually the entire Caribbean mediascape is a footnote to the United States
of America’s and Britain’s media imperialistic hegemonies. In other words,
Caribbean media content tend to rely a great deal on programmes,
programming and information from the United States (and to lesser degrees
from Europe and Mexico). Thus, media consumers in the region are simply
passive recipients of the output of the global North (Dunn, 1995). For
example, Pertierra (2009) captures the Cuban scenario where media content
has not been particularly controversial, as the vast majority of citizens have
had relatively free access to the categories of capitalist-produced media
programming and programmes that they mostly desire, namely Hollywood
films, Latin American telenovelas, international sporting events and popular
music from around the world. Perhaps, this scenario has remained
unchallenged because local programmes and programming are trite and too
pedestrian for the growing Cuban population. Pertierra corroborated this
view when she affirmed that the residents included in her study, especially
younger people, did frequently complain that most Cuban television and
radio programming is boring.
Boyd–Barrett (1977) had previously pontificated that any academic
analysis of international media activities has two outstanding features of the
“influence process”. The first, according to him, is the unidirectional nature of
international media flow. He argued that whereas there is a heavy flow of
exported media products/technologies/content from the United States of
America to; say Asian, African and Caribbean countries, there is only a very
slight trickle of Asian, African and Caribbean media
products/technologies/content to the United States of America. Even where
there may appear to be a substantial return flow, as is sometimes the case in
news and Nigerian home video dramas, the apparent reciprocity only
disguises the fact that those who manage or handle this return flow are
primarily the agents of major Western media systems, whose criteria of
choice are determined first by their domestic market needs. The operations
and activities of Western media behemoths such as the British Broadcasting
Corporation (BBC World), Cable News Network (CNN), Sky News, Fox News,
Voice of America (VOA), among others, in relation to, and with other regions
of the world clearly exemplify the point being made. In the theorizing of
Volume 5, September 2010
The International Journal of Research and Review
© 2010 Time Taylor International  ISSN 2094-1420
Boyd–Barrett, the second outstanding feature of the influence process which
actually stems from the first is the very small number of “source” countries
accounting for a very large share of all international media influences around
the world. These countries are mainly the United States of America, then
Britain, France, Germany, Russia, followed by relatively emergent centres of
international media influence including Italy, India, China, Japan, Iran and
Brazil. Eregare and Afolabi (2009) argue further that if “sources” are
identified only by country of origin, however this obscures the fact that the
real sources are even more limited, located as they were, in a handful of giant
media conglomerates, then the rest of the world is under media iron-grip of
some sort.
However, the concern here is not whether the idea of media
imperialism in world media culture is desirable or has advantages or
disadvantages. Rather, emphasis is on the historical development of the
phenomenon, reasons for its prevalence as well as the obvious but regrettable
fact that it will continue to be part of the African media arrangement,
specifically the television system in Nigeria for some time to come. A good
way to proceed further in this discourse is to examine the issue from the
three perspectives enunciated by Fejes (1981). According to him, media
imperialism should be analyzed with reference to:
(i) the role of the media in maintaining or changing a nation’s power
structure and how it is tied to the international system of domination and
dependence.
(ii) as a historical phenomenon; and (iii) under culture. The phenomenon is
thus analyzed from these three perspectives. The different modes exhibited
by the phenomenon are situated within them.
Perspectives and Dialectics of Media Imperialism
The term “media imperialism” connotes a situation whereby the media
system of a particular area of focus is subjected to the dictates of the media
system of another area. A concise definition of media imperialism is provided
by Boyd–Barrett, however dated. According to him, it is the process whereby
ownership, structure, distribution, or content of the media in any one country
are singly or together subject to substantial external pressure from the media
interests of any other country or countries without proportionate
reciprocation of influence by the country so affected (1977). The pertinent
issue here is culture. From the concept enunciated by Boyd – Barrett, it is
obvious that the result of the pressure is acculturation. Ordinarily, the
hardware of media systems (that is, the technology), which Nigeria is used to,
is Western. The hardware is intended for use in aid of development. But
when the hardware comes with all its cultural appurtenances, then whatever
development it would bring would be Western–tainted, if not a complete
implantation of Western culture.
It must be noted that the country or countries that initiate this
imperialism do so either inadvertently or as a deliberate or intentional policy
or commercial strategy. On the other hand, the country so affected accepts or
adopts the influence resulting from the invasion as a deliberate commercial
or political strategy. It may otherwise absorb it, ignorant of its consequences.
It is equally true that the country so invaded may just be powerless and is
unable to resist the invasion even if it had wanted to do so. Several factors
are responsible for the inability to resist, chief amongst which is poverty in
all its ramifications, which may prevent an invaded country from evolving its
own media system that is strong enough to resist imperialism. In this regard,
Eregare and Afolabi (2009) rightly note that media imperialism is a critical
theory regarding the perceived effects of globalization on world’s media.
They contend that when a single company or corporation controls all the
media in a country or countries, standardizing and commercializing products
of one culture for the media consumption of another, media imperialism is in
operation. For instance, the influence of the American media content only
intensifies consumption values instead of production values in many
countries which are compelled to depend and view the world through the
prism of Western values, ideas and civilization. It is probably this
dependency syndrome Boyd – Barrett (1977) envisaged when he identified
four modes of media imperialism. These are: (i) the shape of the
communication vehicle; (ii) a set of individual arrangement for the
continuation of media production; (iii) the body of values about ideal
practice; and (iv) specific media content.
To this could be added, language as distinct from the shape of the
communication vehicle and specific content. A little explanation of these
modes is germane to this discourse. The shape of the communication vehicle
refers to the communication technology. The early advance of the developed
nations of the West (France, United States of America, Britain and Germany)
has given them the leverage to equally develop communication systems to
link great distances just to enhance their business interests.
However, this has impacted quite negatively on the media systems of
the developing countries as it ensures the perpetuation of the world
information order that has consigned the developing world to a position of
mere consumers of information, even when the information originates in
their own environment. Ultimately, then, the early technological advance of
these countries compels other countries in quest of the development of their
media systems to follow the examples set by these countries. In Nigeria,
emphasis is on transmission facilities just to keep pace with international
broadcast standards as dictated by the global north and rural integration and
development is paid lip service. Yet rural integration and grassroots
development ought to be the paramount focus of media operation in a
developing nation like Nigeria (Ibagere, 2002; Omoera, 2006).
The industrial arrangement for the continuation of media production is
linked to financial facilities which the media utilize for stability. Western
countries have established a solid foundation that enables their media
systems to be financially independent. This ensures their continuous
production of content which they can dispose of to developing countries
cheaply. The structure of Hollywood, for example, gives it an unassailable
advantage that enhances the invasion of Third World cinema and television
by American film and television products. The strong foundation of
Hollywood is a development which was encouraged by the American
government in various ways including the formation of the Motion Picture
Export Association of America (MPEAA) in 1946 (Ekwuazi, 1991). This body
was formed to regulate film making as well as deal with the exploration of
films and garner whatever advantage was needed abroad. This ensured that
America maintained the lead while others followed. Thus, Hollywood has
been able to consolidate and intensify its grip on global distribution and
exhibition of motion picture as a result of neo-liberalism on trade practices
and terms (Hjort & Petrie, 2007).
The body of values about ideal practice refers to the codes or ethics of
the profession of broadcasting. The compendium of ethics of broadcasting
was first evolved by the developed countries. Because of this pioneering
position, the code of ethics or its derivatives tend to ape their developed
societies. Thus, it is what is conceived to be good television fare that must be
the standard. It is what constitutes “good news” in the Western sense that
should also hold for the rest, especially in Nigeria and other countries in the
south of the Sahara. Moreover, in quest of attaining the appropriate
professional standards set by the West, many African stations procure foreign
programmes to fill their air time which local programmes cannot fill because
of the prohibitive cost of production. Golding (1977) earlier made this point
when he observed that the factors which have forced television into this
situation include the demands of a largely elite population having
cosmopolitan tastes and interests as well as the high cost of local production.
The reference to tastes and demands of the elite are equally relevant in
the discussion of content as a crucial element of media imperialism affecting
television broadcasting in Africa particularly in Nigeria. In the area of news,
most television organizations depend on foreign news agencies such as
Reuters, Associated Press, United Press, BBC World, to mention a few. And
because these agencies view the world with their home country imperialist
socio-political and cultural biases, Africans become inundated with news that
is skewed in favour of stereotypes which Western nations have stamped
Africa with. Correspondingly, when a news item about Africa gets into the
broadcast circuits of these agencies, it is more or less carried to validate such
stereotypes or it is about war, violent crisis or some uncanny event.
Language as an element of media imperialism in Nigerian television is
quite significant. The major language of broadcasting is English. It is only in
special programmes that indigenous languages are used. Most of the time
indigenous languages are used for news translations. But the time allotted
for such translations is not more than a few minutes per language. Thus, not
more than one item of news is broadcast in the news translations. The
inclusion of such translation, is therefore, not for any purpose of integration
or grassroots development through communication, but merely to show that
no language area is marginalized in a political sense. It must equally be
noted that the use of English to broadcast news and other programmes has
communication problems of its own, especially as regards the influence and
integration of the rural and illiterate populace who may not understand the
English language adequately.
From the foregoing, it is clear that, in concept, imperialism pervades
the critical sectors of the Nigerian television. To further clarify the
phenomenon, it is, perhaps necessary to show, in concrete terms, its
pervasive extent.
Imperialism in the Nigerian Television Broadcasting
All the enumerated modes of imperialism exist in the Nigerian
television broadcasting. The situation has become even more acute since the
deregulation of broadcasting in the early 1990s. A careful look at the daily
offerings of many of the TV stations would reveal the pervasive nature of the
phenomenon. In terms of technology, Nigerian TV broadcasters are far
behind their Western counterparts as lean finances incapacitate most of them
in their bid to acquire up to speed equipment and technology needed by the
medium. Stations’ broadcasts do not extend beyond a few kilometres. In
other words, the area of signification of a majority of the stations is far less
than what is expected. For instance, the broadcast signals of Edo
broadcasting service (EBS) TV, a state owned TV in Nigeria is only received
in the state capital, Benin City and a few areas not too far away. The
implication of this is that a larger proportion of the people living in the state
do not get EBS TV signals, needless to say those outside the state. This is the
scenario in most of the federating states of Nigeria. This ultimately limits the
options available to viewers. Needless to say that it also reduces the size of
the audience as well as advertising range because the TV stations cannot
boast of large areas of signification or coverage. Consequently, advertising
patronage may not yield the fund needed for such stations’ expansion in
terms of technology acquisition, transmission and area of news coverage.
Adeseye (1991) notes that at inception, television broadcast time was
about 75% foreign programmes. Though the NBC is trying to change the
situation by requiring that stations broadcast 60% local content in their daily
transmission, it has not augured well for the industry as the small turnover
of most of the TV outfits does not allow for the production of programmes
that can meet international standards. In fact, private stations are now
involved in the broadcast of sponsored programmes which do not serve the
interest of integration/rural/grassroots communication in Nigeria where over
70 percent of the people are rural dwellers (Omoera, 2006). Religious
programmes take up the largest percentage of weekly broadcasts in the name
of local content. Even when some other Nigerian stations, including HiTv
pride themselves for bringing innovative solutions in television content and
programming, it appears that they do so in crass ignorance, insensitivity and
short-sightedness because many of the programmes ape foreign media
without regard to the socio-cultural sensitivity and sensibility of Nigerians. A
clear case is “Kokomansion” currently on HiTv which shamelessly copies the
America’s “Playboy Mansion” with all its moral failings in the light of the
Nigerian cultural mores, sense of decency and respect for motherhood and
womanhood all in the name of commercial fortune and what Tony Subair of
HiTv and other organizers of the reality show calls innovation and creativity.
In fact, Ojo (2009) hits the nail on its head when he noted that the quest for
fame, money and material pursuit drives Kokomansion.
Inadequate funding is another sore point that makes Nigerian
television stations hook on to foreign stations to bring international events to
viewers. Many stations even use such attachment to source for advertising
from patrons because such events, especially sporting activities easily attract
sponsors. A case in point is the European Football Champions’ league final
played between Barcelona Football Club of Spain and Arsenal Football Club
of England on Wednesday, May 17, 2006. The Nigerian Breweries sponsored
the analysis of the match on Nigerian Television Authority’s (NTA’s)
“Newsline”. But an important football match like the Nigerian Football
Federation final is rarely aired. Notable is the finals of the African Women’s
Football Championship, hosted by Nigeria and which Nigeria won for a
record fifth time on November 11, 2006. It was only the local television
station – the Delta Rainbow Television (DRTV) that aired the match and it is
probably because it was the state (Delta State) that hosted the championship
on behalf of the country. Other stations chose to broadcast the English
Premier League matches played that weekend. About four years down the
road the situation is now even direr as many conglomerates, including
Guinness, Heineken now bankroll the broadcast of league matches from
Europe to the dereliction of Nigerian league matches. Overtime, this and
other programming activities of most Nigerian TV stations seem to have
accumulatively influenced the attitude and behaviour of Nigerians, especially
the youths. Today, it is rife to see Nigerian youths wearing T-shirts, rubber
bracelets and caps with inscriptions such as “Chelsea FC”, “Arsenal FC”, “
Man U for Life”, “New York Lakers”, to mention a few (Okhakhu & Ate,
2008). In fact, the average Nigerian football fan knows more about football
players and their activities in the Spanish League (La Liga), German League
(Bundesliga), Italian League (Serie A), French League (Ligue 1), among
others, than the Nigerian sporting scene. The point being made is that
gradually but certainly the Nigerian television is being trapped in the web of
subtle conditioning of the minds of the people to imbibe values which make
their desire for foreign goods, services or ideas to increase (Udeze, 2005). And
there is a strong connection between this consumptive social attitude and the
globalisation agenda which continuously buoys up the economy of the
producing nation and slows down the economic, industrial and technological
growth of the consuming nation (Boyd-Barrett & Thussu, 1993).
Perhaps the most significant but regrettable development in
encouraging media imperialism tendencies in the Nigerian media ecology is
the gleeful announcement by the Federal Government of Nigeria of
negotiations between the NBC and the English Football Federation (which
holds the broadcast rights of the Premier League) on the broadcast of premier
league matches by Nigerian stations. “Following the discussion between the
NBC and the FA premier league as well as the follow-up by the Honourable
Minister of Information and Communications, Nigeria has been set aside as a
broadcast territory for the acquisition of FA premier league rights” (Aihe,
2006). This trend can only perpetuate media imperialism as is the case today
where, there are now fans of notable English clubs like Manchester United,
Arsenal and Chelsea going for thanksgiving in churches all over the country
for their “success” while Nigerian clubs play to empty terraces in different
stadiums with their matches not featured on television.
In the area of news, a majority of the Nigerian television broadcast
outfits cull a large chunk of their broadcast materials from foreign news
agencies. There are a plethora cases where international TV broadcasters
such as the Cable News Network (CNN), Aljazeera, BBC World, South
African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), to mention a few, had to report
events on important national issues in and around Nigeria before Nigerian
TV broadcasters would scurry to pick them as news items. For instance, it
was Aljazeera that alerted the world, including Nigerians about the 2010
pogrom in Jos Plateau, north central Nigeria. It would also be recalled that
some years back, while most of the Nigerian stations were busying playing
pirated musicals, CNN was busying streaming the Lissa Plane Crash in
south western Nigeria. Perhaps, the most embarrassing moment for Nigerian
TV broadcasters was when the Nigerian president, Alhaji Umaru Musa
Yar’Adua who had been incommunicado with Nigerians for several months,
over health related issues, address Nigerians via the BBC Radio, a foreign
media concern. Apart from leaving the country rudderless, the incendiary
nature of the president’s continued stay in Saudi Arabia without letting
Nigerians know what was wrong with him was palpably felt across the world.
It probably would have been a different scenario if the president that went
away without official leave (AWOL) addressed the nation via the Nigerian
Television Authority (NTA) or the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria
(FRCN) and other TV or radio networks across the world hooked up to them
for the reportage of that news item. This incident tells much about the
information management system that obtains in Nigeria, which hamstrings
the average Nigerian broadcast outfit and reduces it to a position where its
Hobson’s choice is to tag along Western media behemoths due to some ethnopolitical
and economic behests within the country. Needless to say that many
of the TV stations continue to feature video clips of foreign TV stations
anytime they broadcast international news under the demeaning rubric of
“this was culled from CNN, BBC, SABC and so on”. At times it is even the
complete audio-visual footage of the particular news item that is culled from
the foreign TV station. Ibagere and Edosa (2006) earlier noted that Nigerian
television at the turn of the new millennium, “resorted to acquiring culturally
foreign programmes from TV Africa and other pay TV cable outfits with
whom many stations seem to have signed a contract”. Imperialism then,
seems to wear a new look. Rather than accuse Western nations (particularly
America) of invading Nigerian screens with elements of their culture, the
focus should now be on South Africa with its robust broadcasting through
which Western culture continues to invade Nigerian culture, as signified by
the programmes of such satellite stations as Channel O, E Entertainment,
MNET and others.
As regards the code of practice for media operations, it is sad to note
that Nigerian television appears not to have standards that are indigenous to
it. To worsen the matter, viewers seem to have acquired Western tastes
without commensurate financial power to satisfy such tastes. Also, the
Nigerian television system does not possess the capacity to provide such fare
comparable with Western standards. This is why satellite television has
become more popular even though it is quite expensive. According to Anibeze
(2006) while the cable TV stations broadcasting the world cup in Germany
was charging 9.9 Euros (1,800 naira) per month, people were paying 9,000
naira for DSTV monthly in Nigeria, with additional 500 naira if one was
paying through an agent. Despite this high cost, Nigerian viewers continue to
yearn for foreign programmes. Thus, the economics of scale does not favour
the average Nigerian TV broadcaster as it fights tooth and nail to keep hope
alive in a hostile business environment where it is compelled to become a
dependant of others because of the consumptive attitude of its people.
Attempt to allow viewers a peep into international events either
results in a dismal imitation or outright replay of foreign stations’ broadcasts.
One of such unsuccessful imitations is the introduction of the information
bar which drifts from one end of the screen to the other during programmes.
This was introduced by the NTA in 2006. The crudity of the imitation is
glaring in the inadequate information thereby obscuring the meaning of the
message. Again some messages are absurd and without relevance to viewers.
For example, on December 6, 2006 on the news bar during the NTA telecast
of the daily programme, “AM Express”, there were, among others, the
following: “Clooney mourns death of his pig”, “McCartney vies for Icon title”,
and “Mary J. Blige wins big on billboard”. These news items are to say the
least culturally irrelevant to the average Nigerian. Apart from Mary J. Blige
who may be known to a handful of viewers by virtue of her musical
popularity in the US, the other two characters are probably unknown to the
viewers in Nigeria. The foregoing obviously point to media content that is
inherently foreign. The fact of this is revealed in the emergence of
programmes having no cultural relevance to Nigeria.
Yet specific media content betrays a worse scenario.
With regard to specific media content, it is obvious that Nigerian screens
continue to be buffeted with foreign media content. The so-called Digital
Satellite Television (DSTV) continues to attract attention from Nigerian
viewers despite the fact that they pay more for signals than anywhere in the
world (Anibeze, 2006). This, probably, necessitated the need to break the
monopoly of Multi-choice, the sole company with DSTV rights in Nigeria.
This deregulation commenced with the rights to football matches of the
English Premier League which are no longer the exclusive preserve of Multichoice
but now open for bids from other networks (Aihe, 2007). While
subscribers are jubilant over the break of the Multi-choice monopoly because
it has reduced subscription price, it is clear that imperialism is assuming a
wider dimension. There has been a constant complaint of lopsidedness of
broadcasting in particular and the world information order in general. While
it is only a few stations such as the NTA and African Independent Television
(AIT), among others, that engage in satellite broadcasting in Nigeria,
Nigerians know so much about South African stations like SABC, Channel O,
MTV Base and so on. It must be noted that imperialism is not only a feature
of globalization it is a detrimental development that supplants indigenous
media culture with the foreign one. The manifestation of this can be gleaned
from the adoption of Western practice as could be seen in the content
displayed in Big Brother Africa (BBA) show which was aired for the first time
in 2007. This was an imitation of Big Brother America. Tagged as a reality
show, BBA featured obscene scenes of inmates having their baths as well as
amoral interactions. The Nigerian representative, Ofunneka was first,
thought to be the most morally decent. She, however, incurred the wrath of
viewers when footages of the show revealed that she was involved in an act
with the eventual winner, Richard who was shown fingering her.
Commenting on this development, Miebi Senge (2007) says:
information is gotten faster on the Net now than from your next door
neighbours and would actually put “amebo” to shame. (Amebo is a Pidgin
English slang meaning, gossip). But that is the stuff that Nigerians are yet
to come to terms with. In fact, it appears that anything goes on the airwaves
in Nigeria in the name of TV programming.
According to Senge, there were already 4,584 clicks on the video of
Richard fingering Ofunneka (2007). MNET (which transmitted the
programme) had earlier apologized to the Nigerian government over the
sexually offensive video clips on the BBA reality show. It can therefore be
seen that imperialism continues either through direct screening of
programmes from foreign stations or by imitation as could be seen in the
BBA which had a Nigerian equivalent (Big Brother Nigeria) in 2008. Some
other Western programmes that have been shamelessly aped by Nigerian TV
broadcasters are “Don’t Forget the Lyrics”, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”,
“Project Fame”, to mention a few.
From whatever perspective then, media imperialism continues to be a
feature of Nigerian television broadcasting to the extent that the involvement
in international affairs such as the carnage in the Dafur region of Sudan
where Nigeria is an active participant in the search for peace can only be
accessed through information from such international media organizations
such as CNN, BBC, Fox News, Sky News and so on. A number of reasons
account for the continued imperialism, and they are hereby stated.
Reasons for the Prevailing Imperialism
The first factor that accounts for imperialism is finance. The economy
of the country is not in a good shape due to mismanagement and outright
corruption. The financial crunch resulting from the bad economy acts like an
incubus on television especially with regard to such programmes that involve
huge financial stakes. Mid January, 2006, ten (10) broadcasting
organizations (including some television stations) were closed down by the
NBC for failure to fulfil their financial obligations to the commission, to
enable the renewal of their broadcast licenses. According to Silas Yisa (then
Director General of the Commission) “after a mutually agreed decision in
which the affected broadcasters were to pay half of the amount owed, most of
them still refused to pay their debt, some as old as the day the stations
commenced operations” (personal communication, January 19, 2006). In a
situation like this, television stations may find it impossible to do their own
programmes. They make do with foreign programmes which are cheaper to
obtain. They may also find it difficult, if not impossible to send
correspondents to places to get news. It is no surprise then that the likes of
CNN and BBC will continue to be the imperial sources of news for Nigerian
television organizations. The fact of the paucity of funds to make
programmes was acknowledged by Ben Murray – Bruce (then Director
General of the NTA and now Chairman Silverbird TV) at the South African
organized Sithengi Film and Broadcast Festival in 2000. In a remark to the
Nigerian delegation to the festival, he said: But more importantly, let us see
how we can work together to produce a full feature film, how we can produce
programmes. You don’t have any problem with scripts and artistes. Your
problems are in funding and equipment (Cited in Aihe, 2000).
This factor, noted in 2000, is still a significant factor in 2010. Another
factor mentioned by Murray – Bruce is equipment. Virtually all foreign
stations of note have adopted satellite broadcasting. Among the
organizations (NTA, HiTv and AIT) involved in satellite broadcasting in
Nigeria, AIT remains the most vibrant. Locally, signals from most stations
cannot be received more than fifty kilometres from their transmitters. So
they cannot even send correspondents to far places to gather news. And
when they do, such news cannot be broadcast instantly. To obviate the
problem of broadcasting stale news, resort has to be made to foreign stations
whose news items are relayed without editing.
The above factor is closely connected with the quality of programmes
which is far from the standards of the ones from foreign stations. The lack of
funds compels stations to rely on obsolete equipment which may not enhance
the production of good programmes capable of sustaining viewers’ attention.
So, cheap programmes are purchased from foreign stations to fill their air
time and most viewers, especially the urban dwellers rue this and respond by
acquiring DSTV equipment to watch quality programmes. For example, the
African Cup of Nations (Football Championship) hosted by Ghana in 2008
was seen by DSTV subscribers on Super Sports rather than any of the local
stations in Nigeria. And as the financial crunch continues to restrict
broadcasting to only urban areas, it makes it worthwhile for those in the
rural areas who can afford the DSTV to acquire it for commercial use. It is
now a common feature for advertising hoardings to be placed at strategic
places advertising upcoming premier league matches to be viewed for a fee.
This is a new dimension that may eventually render Nigerian local stations
irrelevant, if not redressed.
The situation equally leads to indolence on the part of broadcasters
who now hide under the façade of lack of funds to remain uncreative. Many
of the stations lack the funds to train staff. So, the professionals become
abjectly ignorant of current trends or latest equipment as a result. Training
amounts to a few in-house workshops and seminars which are not adequate
for the onerous job they perform.
Prognosis
From the foregoing, it is obvious that media imperialism will continue
to be part of the Nigerian television system for some time. Although the NTA
has tried to reduce the feature of foreign programmes on its broadcast menu,
a horde of other TV broadcasters in Nigerian still depend on foreign TV
stations for their operations. Apart from discussion programmes which seem
to express personal opinions, the NTA does not seem to have adequate
replacement for foreign programmes that have been yanked off the screen.
Again, the Federal Government has evolved a policy which tacitly
encourages the proliferation of foreign satellite television systems. In 2007,
the Minister of Information and Communication came up with a government
decision granting more licenses to organizations to commence retransmission
of DSTV signals. This means there would be more options for willing
subscribers. More subscribers will also emerge as the price of acquiring the
facility will become cheaper due to competition, as well as the fee for monthly
subscription. This is one of the effects of globalization as it encourages the
uprooting of values and media systems of one place and supplants them with
that of another. The effect in the circumstance is that while there is the
increase in the number of subscribers to DSTV, a converse decrease in the
number of viewers of local stations would result. Then to generate more
interest and sustain subscription, satellite retransmission organizations will
begin to focus on the Nigerian environment for new business fields. For
instance, DSTV now has satellite channels dedicated to Yoruba and Hausa
video films and the process of enlisting more indigenous Nigerian language
movies on its broadcast menu is underway. This may eventually put paid to
any modicum of interest in local stations as even advertisers would now use
these foreign/satellite stations to pursue their ends. Ultimately Nigerians
would begin to see themselves from foreign eyes and would become what
foreign nations want them to be.
Conclusion
This paper has looked at the issue of media imperialism as it affects
television broadcasting in Nigeria. It historically examined the various
trajectories of the phenomenon in world media culture and traced the
Nigerian experience to the evolution of television itself in the country. The
paper further posited that as a phenomenon, the issue will continue to recur
since an enabling atmosphere needed for its displacement by local
broadcasting is yet faltering. Therefore, it suggested that it is high time
stakeholders in the Nigerian television media made genuine and conscious
effort to change the situation. Such effort should include better funding,
serious investment in the development of home-grown media technologies,
investment in high level manpower development, innovative programmes
and more specialized programming with indigenous flavours by both the
public and private television outfits operating in the country. These
measures, this paper believes, would go a long way in reducing the media
dependency syndrome that currently pervades the Nigerian television
broadcasting space.

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