The increasing influence of media ownership is becoming a threat to press freedom in Nigeria, according to a section of journalists. The most affected are media houses owned by government and private individuals, according to reports.
According to a source that provided information on condition that he should remain unidentified because attached to one of the private media entities, it is hectic working for such a media house because you have to work in respect to the whims and demands of the people that are employing you.
"It is a hard task working for the private media houses because they have got a lot of demands that you must meet, and if you fail to obey, you even risk losing your job. For example, the station l work for is owned by one of the prominent political figures and during the time of elections, we were not allowed to host opposition candidates in the station. This of course goes against the principles of the profession but there was nothing that we could do about it," he says.
Another journalist who works for a privately-owned online newspaper and only chose to identify herself as Angela, believes that it all comes down to the values of the media house and determine how the journalists will be influenced in their reporting.
"Every media house has got its in-house policy and this is the framework which guides the work of the journalists. If the media owners demand for sensational content, then that is exactly what they will offer; and if the media ownership demands for factual reporting, that is what the journalists are expected to do," she says.
Steve Aborishade, a media owner, however, believes that media ownership plays both an active and passive role in regards to influencing the operationalizing of the newsroom. This, he asserts, stems from the unquestionable power that the media owners wield. "The structure of media ownership in Nigeria impacts the role of media reporting and development journalism. Some stories are under-reported because of interests of media owners," he says.
Private ownership of media in Nigeria has made the industry very competitive with so many stations offering quality content to audience members in Nigeria and beyond. With the popularity of the Internet, many private media houses have online presence that has expanded their audience base to every corner of the world. Online newspapers such as Premium Times and The Cable are among the leading media establishments in Nigeria, with many internet radio and television stations also making impressive impact in the industry. Unfortunately, the lack of regulation of ownership can be counter-productive, especially when owners have an influence on editorial content.
The 2011 African Media Barometer (AMB) describes Nigeria's press as very vibrant "with government-run and privately-owned media outlets vigorously trying to outrun each other for audience and advertising revenue."