• Friday, July 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

President Jonathan in ‘mediatised’ society

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We live in a ‘mediatised’ world where the mass media, with its ability to reach millions of people at once through printed pages and electronic forms, is able to control the minds of the majority, for good and at times, for bad.

Certain individuals have climbed to positions of authority on the understanding of the concept and the appropriate use of the media. Adams Oshiomhole, Edo State governor, rose through the ranks to become the president of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) between 1999 and 2007. During his tenure, he spoke vehemently and passionately on socio-economic issues.

His outbursts against what he termed ‘suppression of workers’ attracted him more to the media. His media profile continued to accelerate as Oshiomhole applied tact – knowing when to speak, how and where on certain issues.

His authoritative outbursts and struggles for workers, amplified by the media, attracted the down trodden labour force to him. In 2007, Oshiomhole contested the governorship election in Edo State, under the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and he won. He could have also won under any party.

Similarly, in 2007, Albert Arnold ‘Al’ Gore, who was the US vice president under Bill Clinton between 1993 and 2001, jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize with Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

Maarten Hajer said in his book ‘Authoritative Governance’ that “it seems that it is not what Gore said that explains his new status. It has more to do with other factors, such as how he said it, where and when he said it and to whom.” After all, it was not only Al Gore that talked about climate change to qualify him for the honour.

Back home, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its communication machinery appear to understand this ‘mediatised’ society. It has so far ’employed’ the media (the powerful and influential South West media) to listen to it. Some of the politicians within the party are accessible to journalists.

For instance, Akinwunmi Ambode, the Lagos State APC gubernatorial candidate, has attracted media attention, not because he is in Lagos where the large size of the media is domiciled, but he has employed strategies to curry in their favour. After his endorsement, Ambode met with some journalists in Lagos to “rub mind with the media and for an on-the-spot assessment of the man that wants to rule Lagos.”

After the meeting, some reports described him as “simple, urbane with the typical swagger of a Lagos boy. Ambode came across as another intelligent and bold individual who understands the terrain that is Lagos,” a report said. Since then, Ambode has been enjoying attention on the pages of newspapers. Though his agenda, just like his party, does not enjoy the same amount of publicity like the man himself, but the publications have further brought him to public attention, which could influence some votes.

Equally, Muhammadu Buhari, the APC presidential candidate, is also stepping up his media weave, leveraging the party’s communication machinery and the party’s influence over some media in the South West. The little attention Buhari, who once caged the media, has gained is through coordinated media attention.

On the other hand, the communication strategy of President Goodluck Jonathan who is seeking re-election in next month’s presidential election is not broad and clear. Performance and authority and the need for continuity that are supposed to be his forte in political campaigns are instead tersely employed.

Jonathan’s communication machinery has allowed the vociferous opposition to label his government with different negative tags, some of which are unfounded but are believed by the public because the criticism is consistent and forceful.

One of the strategies employed by Jonathan, which he believes will appeal to masses, is humility and calmness. He apparently believes that the civil society will sit down to assess him based on his performance, criticise him constructively for the nation to move forward instead of the ‘motor park tout’ method employed by certain individuals.

He has forgotten that Nigeria is coming from the over 35 years of military era when almost every action was by fiat and military decrees. The military style has so much become part of the psyche of Nigerians that such comments like “election will be do or die” in a democratic system are taken as normal. This mentality has created a warped perception in the minds of most Nigerians, and has led to a situation where any other person or president who does not live up to that action of a “do-or-die” election is considered weak.

However, Olusegun Obasanjo’s dramaturgical and melodrama actions created some sort of excitement for Nigerians and his seeming display of authority in his speeches. His much publicised ‘I de kampe’ quip was one of such dramaturgical displays that created an image of authority in the minds of most Nigerians.

Jonathan, in his simple and quiet character, may not have that dramaturgical disposition that will ‘excite’ people, but constant communication of what to say, how and when to say it is important and will also create the necessary excitement.

Jonathan has constantly allowed room for the ‘pull down’ attack on his administration as his media machinery was only reactive most of the time, and perhaps may not have found the need to step up his media spotlight, said a media practitioner in Lagos.

Recently, some media practitioners expressed worry on the weak communication of the PR machinery of the president, suggesting a massive overhaul of government communication apparatus. Assessing the competence of the government communication machinery recently, Nnaemeka Maduegbuna, CEO, C and F Porter Novelli, told BusinessDay that “the ways in which government communication process is managed in this country leaves much to be desired.”

The skill set required to manage communication goes beyond the ability to just be a good reporter, he said.

“What has happened is that government has over the time used a lot of people to manage communication that their skills set are suspect for the job. Most of them are not well equipped to do the job,” Maduegbuna, who managed Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), said.

The public relations expert, who believes that practitioners need to make sure that their capability is at a certain level so that they can perform, said that as a strategic and professional communicator “you will be able to advise your principal on actions within the context of objective because you don’t set objectives for the client.”

Also, the Presidency’s constant reactive stance of denying accusations from Nigerians, including the opposition group, caught the attention of Nigerian media experts who described such arrangement as faulty media strategy.

The Presidency is always in the news defending itself against attacks in the media, a development Lai Oso, the dean of school of communication, Lagos State University, said “portends faulty management strategy. It appears the Presidency cannot foresee what the issue is and try to set agenda with effective communication.”

He believed that the government should be on top of situations, advance reasons for actions instead of coming from the rear to defend itself, Oso advised recently.

Akonte Ekine, a communication strategist, who in a report earlier assessed the situation differently, said “government should not necessarily deny or reply opposition comments if it is heavily involved in its direction and projects. If you are focused you should not spend time talking to everybody. When you mind your focus what everybody says should not matter to you.”

Apart from equalling APC in media attention, the citizens need constant information, especially from the president, on the administration of the country in the face of dwindling oil price in the international market, Boko Haram menace and the management of the economy under these situations.

We are in a ‘mediatised’ society where information should flow freely, and when this does not happen, rumour and accusations fill the vacuum. The Presidency needs to understand the power of the media as an agenda setter and opinion moulder. Ignoring this will create a heavy burden on the presidency, particularly on issues of competence, weakness and corruption, especially when the opposition is vociferous.