by Uche Briggs
In June 2009, Nigeria’s amazon, Chimamanda Adichie, a gifted storyteller, cut from the same literary isi-agwu as the venerable Chinua Achebe, delivered a speech in Oxford that would change my life and impact on my study of media effects.
In the famous speech titled ‘The Danger of a Single Story’, the award-winning author brilliantly draws from a vast repository of personal experiences to show how damaging it can be to mine conclusions from a single frame of reference.
“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Just recently, the FG, and by extension Nigeria, became a victim of this malaise and the person behind this was the veteran CNN journalist: Christiane Amanpour. Her vox pop video following the blackout at the SuperBowl went off the rails in a bid to feed the world with poverty porn. I cringed as I watched the video, not just because of the contrived accent of the lady interviewed, but for a script I knew all too well.
One gathered that the original vox pop video had more people with different views about the state of power supply in Nigeria but for some reason, Amanpour decides to select certain people and twitter stories that paint a single side of the story. Of course, the popular face is strategically injected with her “I have four generators” claim. Due to the superior epistemology of western media, we are left at the mercy of morally compromised journalists who deliver half-truths without a care in the world of how it affects people.
Does this have any effect? Certainly. In 1976, Sandra Ball Rokeach and Melvin de Fleur, two renowned media academics, propounded what is known today as the ‘Dependency Theory’ of the media.
A major proposition of the theory is that individuals would come to depend on media which they believe can meet their needs and that in a time of crisis, dependence on these media platforms would increase. So yes, when many have come to view CNN as the credible media platform for news, they stand a higher risk of consuming these single frames and forming perceptions from them and expressing them as actions.
Away with the citations from these people with strange sounding names, what exactly is the reality on ground? Many have experienced an increase in electricity supply. There has been an increased drive in the FG’s plan to deliver power supply. It is understandable that certain communities would be yet to experience this given the befuddling labyrinth that the power sector is. While we may have recorded an increase in power generation, which is incontestable, some areas may have a problem with transmission. Let’s be clear on some points: 1. Many have experienced it, not all. 2. It has improved not become constant.
In fairness, Amanpour is not the only person guilty of the crime of the single story. Our FG is guilty of it with the mediocrity that characterizes the NTA and their coverage.
Just two weeks ago, GEJ granted a speech on CNN and it was vintage GEJ: dismal! However, one couldn’t miss the sense of arrogance he displayed when they asked him about the power issue. He blatantly prompted Amanpour to ask around on the streets of the progress his administration had made. And it is the same arrogance that permeates the chatter of the king’s men online. It would have been better for the president to establish the progress made in context of the decay in the power system in the last years and the efforts that had been deployed and the success rate thus far. Instead he assumed the role of every Nigerian and scored his government a pass mark. What an ‘assumptionist’!
In light of this unfortunate episode, and another rather unfortunate incident (the joint verbal attack of Oby Ezekwesili), one thing this entire episode has shown us is that: a major challenge that the FG faces is creating an information structure that aids the structured dissemination and management of perceptions in the media space. This is just impossible to achieve when career journalists who have plied their trade in Nigeria are left in the helm of affairs of PR for the presidency.
Abati is poised to fight the enemies of the president (real and perceived) with the wealth of his literary arsenal. As for Doyin Okupe: now words. Reno’s nuisance level attains astronomical heights every day with his constant bickering, nagging and attack of those he believes are behind the downfall of Nigeria. Reno reflects the character of the presidency, one that is not focused on fixing issues but on waging political wars. President GEJ has displayed this several times with utterances that blame ‘disgruntled elements’ and ‘smear campaigns’ for things that are evidently his problem. I have often wondered how Reno’s daily ‘To Do List’ will look. I’m certain it reads such:
- Attack Buhari
- Demystify El-Rufai
- Put Ezekwesili in her place
It is a sad sight, one that guarantees the little that government is doing, would get caught up in the acerbic exchange of backhand slap. There has to be another strategy different and more beneficial from what is in effect now. Anyone who knows the King’s men should kindly tell them to hearken to the voice of reason. Deal with the messages and not the messengers. Plan better on how you can ‘manufacture consent’ instead of fighting off every one who criticizes government.
The journey is yet long.