Published on International Journal of Social, Politics & Humanities
Publication Date: May 5, 2019
Edmund Chukwuma Onwuliri
Faculty of Arts, University of Abuja
Journal Full Text PDF: A Critique of Dulue Mbachu’s “Changing Technologies and the Media” (Nigerian Media).
This paper attempts a critical review of Dulue Mbachu’s “Changing Technologies and the Nigerian Media”, a contribution to “Issues in Nigerian Media History edited by two media scholars, Akinfeleye and Okoye in 2003. The critique highlights the author’s vivid documentation of the various evolutionary milestones that litter the path of the growth of what we may call the mass media today. From the invention of the movable type in 1440 in Germany which redefined printing and communication using printed materials, through the introduction of telegraph, film and television the method and speed of communication changed significantly, man’s ability to continue to conquer and rule his world. All of these milestones Mbachu, revealed in his contribution enhanced the way people shared information. With the invention and eventual proliferation of the internet globally, it is obvious that technology has always defined the scope, speed, style and impact the mass media has on human existence. Business, economy, science, sports, entertainment and indeed every other sphere of human endeavour thrives on their interface with the mass media. The impact of technology on the media landscape in Nigeria takes the same trajectory just like any other part of the world. Mbachu’s analysis of this evolution on the both on the global and Nigerian stage, also points the way in which the mass media in Nigeria is poised to go in the face of rapid adoption of technologies in the mass media space.
Keywords: Technology, Mass Media & Nigeria.
1. A Global Overview
Dulue Mbachu, in the above contribution to “Issues in Nigerian Media History” as edited by Akinfeleye and Okoye (2003) took a journey into the evolution of the technologies that have powered the development of the mass media the world over and Nigeria in particular. He seems to have provided the information needed to understand and appreciate the various epochs that the mass media have experienced or passed through most comprehensively.
Starting from the extraordinary steps taken in 1440 in Germany by Johann Gutenberg with the introduction of the movable type which catalysed the revolution in printing, he established the direct impact of that singular technological innovation on communication which was mainly the print media. The possibility to simultaneously reach a large number of people with printed materials was a significant step towards “a mass communication revolution” (Mbachu 2003 p.177). The various improvements in printing technology that followed Gutenberg’s efforts led to the establishment of several newspapers with significant circulation figures. Mbachu while citing Damarest (1995) stated that in 1814, the Times of London was being printed by the power press following a significant improvement introduced in 1796 through Lithography.
1.1 Technological Advancement
These technological advancements no doubt encouraged the printing business, the establishment of more vibrant and professionally run newspapers. It is safe to say that this gave journalism its professional touch both in Europe and North America. The industrial revolution of the 19th century introduced the expansion of cities and the demand for information to service the rapidly expanding world of business, science, local and international politics as well as foreign relations. Mbachu traced the emergence of News Agencies as the next epochal development in the journey to what can be called the mass communication world today. Having encouraged the establishment of newspapers and magazines, the need to gather and process information for prompt publication arose. According to him, James and Benjamin Franklin played a pioneering role in this direction, and many other news agencies sprang up to serve as news sources for the print media and other subscribers as they had reporters and correspondents in most places. The activities of the news agencies seemed to have boosted the newspaper business as some of them (News Agencies) over time floated newspapers and managed them professionally and successfully too.
The development of technology in the area of photography Mbachu said added another impetus to the mass media like newspapers and magazine leveraged on its introduction to improve on their publications. The need to add photographs to news stories, features and other items in newspapers and magazines enhanced their quality and acceptance. The Associated Press, for instance, is credited to have set up probably the first picture service which provided subscribers with publishable photographs. Further, the emergence of the telegraph technology and telephone also impacted the media world as they facilitated the exchange of information at a faster and more efficient rate.
The author further highlighted the impact of Marconi’s discovery in the wireless transmission which eventually led to the emergence of radio as a medium of mass communication. He stated that the breakthrough in radio communication was recorded in 1915 when AT&T in collaboration with Western Electric successfully transmitted from Arlington, Virginia across the Atlantic Ocean to Eiffel Tower in Paris. Radio broadcasting rushed as a result of this milestone. In eight years, the number of radio stations in America rose from 30 to556. Europe was also not left out of the radio revolution as the British Broadcasting Company which later became British Broadcasting Corporation was formed in 1922. The music industry also received a boost with the proliferation of radio stations. The stations spiced up their programming with recorded music while giving the artists and their works publicity as well as the recording companies.
1.2 Cinema and Television
Television and The next milestone in the development of mass communication was through the emergence of the television and cinematic technologies. The invention of the Kinetoscope in 1891 by Thomas Edison got the motion picture industry which is also an arm of the mass media going. By 1900, the commercial exhibition of motion picture had commenced in earnest. In the 1920s according to Mbachu, the invention that birthed the television technology was being perfected. By 1939, regular television programming was on in America.
2. The Nigerian Experience
2.1 Print Media
Mbachu’s journey on the development of technologies and mass communication began in Europe and North America but also brought him back to Nigeria. Just like in Europe and America, the Nigerian experience commenced with the establishment of Rev. Henry Townsend’s newspaper, Iwe Irohin in Abeokuta, Nigeria in1859. This development was informed by the movable type technology that was prevalent at that time. He stated that the level of technology available to the pioneers made it impossible to have daily newspapers in Nigeria until the 1920s. Therefore, the first turning point in the print media experience of Nigeria from his findings came in 1925 when Victor Bababoni set up the Lagos Daily News. The newspaper used a power press technique and could print photographs. However, it was acquired in 1926 by the Nigerian Printing and publishing Company owners of the Nigerian Daily Times.
This development triggered the establishment of modern newspapers in the country and also encouraged the setting up of newspaper chains such as Zik’s West African Pilot group in 1937 and the Tribune published by the Amalgamated Press etcetera. The second turning point in the Nigerian print media evolution came with the acquisition in 1959 of a Forster Rotary Press from Mirror Newspapers of London by the Daily Times group. This development Mbachu submitted replaced the manual hand-fed system of printing with almost an automated method. Notably, the New Nigerian had commenced the simultaneous printing of its newspaper from two different locations in Kaduna and Lagos thereby eliminating the burden of having two slightly different editions of one newspaper in one day.
He drew attention to the establishment of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) set up in 1978 to provide news covering both the urban and rural areas in the country to media organisations, institutions and other subscribers. He further observed that the advancement in technology had affected the way and manner newspapers operated in Nigeria concerning the quality of their work, distribution and coverage.
2.2 Electronic Media
In respect of the electronic media, he traced the entry point to 1932 with the introduction by the colonial government of the BBC relay station in Nigeria for BBC broadcasts. Through the Radio Distribution Service, the BBC broadcasts were relayed to homes using the “wired wireless” or rediffusion. The broadcast media developed from there to the establishment of NBS which became NBC in 1957 as well as the WNTV in 1959 which is the first television station in Africa. At independence, the other regions established their radio and television outfits for what has come to be popularly known as “for their own “regional interests”. After the civil war up to the second Republic, radio and television in Nigeria experienced a boom as most state governments began the establishment of state-owned radio and television stations which culminated in the deregulation of the broadcast media industry in 1992.
Mbachu, in his work, examined the global impact of the emergence of the internet which he said affected not just the mass media but every other sphere of human existence. The introduction of the internet has changed the mass media significantly and confounded as well as brought excitement to mass communication practitioners. He further stated that the internet initially seemed to have shocked the traditional media practitioners who perceived it as a threat to their trade especially the print media. On the other hand, others have embraced it to the extent that it has become an innovative platform for the furtherance of their business which has opened new horizons for expansion and growth.
The examination of the impact of changes in technology and the media in Nigeria is very much like what has happened elsewhere in North America and Europe. From the facts thrown up by the author, it is evident that for each time technology improved or introduced or better still invented a new way of doing things, the mass media would key into same and apply it to its advancement or benefit. From printing to telegraph to telephone, radio, cinema, television and most recently the internet, the mass media have leveraged on all of them to move forward and impact the society positively. Put in another way; one could safely say that technology has been the most significant impetus to mass media development and attendant impact or influence the world over. It is unimaginable what the world would have been like without newspapers and magazines, radio and television, and of course, the internet.
However, the fact that Nigeria and other developing countries rely entirely on the technologies from the developed world to drive their mass media, the attendant challenges of this reality point to the fact that they will always play catch-up to the rest of the developed world. The rate at which technologies are changing especially the type used by the mass media, Nigeria may never be able to have the type of mass media that can run on its domestic initiatives. Mbachu gave an in-depth analysis of how the developed has leveraged the internet to push its mass media forward and through innovative ideas have held onto and indeed determine the flow of global information.
His analysis as at 2003 appeared a bit prophetic about the impact of the internet. One could say that he foresaw the current trend in the mass media concerning the internet. The social media currently seems to be booming with new platforms, devices and applications coming up every day. As at 2003, Facebook was just in the works, and Twitter had not come on stream as well as many other social media applications. Today, Mbachu’s analysis of the benefits of the internet to the mass media is entirely unfolding before the whole world. However, his efforts did not seem to have a solution as to how Nigeria can make an impact or take advantage of the technologies available currently to claim a place of honour among the rest of the world through the mass media in a technologically savvy age.
His submission even though “prophetic” failed to envisage the dangers the internet is currently exposing Nigeria to through “citizen’s journalism” as seen in the fake news. The capacity of the internet to open up the journalistic space for almost all and sundry to participate in is encouraging the spread of fake news, hate speeches and many other unconventional mass media practices. The absolute lack of the gate-keeping function as practised in the traditional media is a threat to national security and cohesion.
Mabachu’s position that technological innovations have single headedly driven the development of the mass media globally failed to consider the role of the prevailing socio-economic and political environment in any society and their direct impact on the mass media. Some societies provide a more enabling environment for the flourishing of the mass media practice. For instance, the discovery of the technology that produced the radio as a broadcast medium took place in Italy. However, Marconi found London a more fertile ground for the advancement of his invention.
Subsequently, the Americans took over from the British after they initiated public broadcasting. The initiator of Reuters New Agency being a German had to move his office to London for the furtherance of his dreams as a journalist. The seeming favourable political and economic environment in America due to the industrial revolution and democracy assisted the rapid growth of the mass media in the country. This essential factor was left out by Mbachu in his study.
Critics of the social media often base their misgivings about social media on security concerns inherent with it. They argue that the introduction of the internet saw the emergence of the internet or cyber-criminals commonly known as internet hackers and scammers (Onah, & Nche, 2014). They posit further that whereas internet hacking is the act of breaking codes and passwords to gain unauthorised access to computer system, scamming is an intelligent and dishonest way of making money. These twin criminal acts are fondly known in Nigeria as “yahoo-yahoo” which literary means consistent surfing of yahoo-chatting platform in an endless search for victims or “mugus”. The “mystery” of how one can be at a particular place and commit a crime thousands of miles away appears to be attractive to the cybercriminals. Nevertheless, the phenomenon of social media has further aggravated the situation with the availability of social networking sites where people exchange all forms of information and could be exposed to high-level scams. The absence of a regulatory framework and any known regulatory body for social media activities seem to equally embolden the criminals and make the platforms perfect tools for cyber-criminal activities.
Mbachu’s efforts in the work under consideration are very commendable, and no doubt has placed in the hands of media practitioners, watchers and scholars alike a valuable resource for understanding how technology has so far influenced the mass media not just in Nigeria but globally. He has been able to establish that media organisations have skilfully deployed technology to the advancement of the mass media practice thereby impacting society positively.