Fashioning a new trajectory: opportunities for sustainability

Recapitalisation

The question of how indigenous language newspapers can be sustained in the face of a plethora of challenges, including declining sales, poor funding and competition from traditional and new media, has elicited suggestions from several quarters. Prominent among the proposals is the need for recapitalisation. Many stakeholders believe fresh capital from new investors or injections of additional capital by current owners could help deepen the capital base of indigenous language newspapers and position them well to invest in the recruitment of skilled and well-trained staff and to procure requisite technologies. This will lead to diversification of ownership from the current sole proprietorship pattern, which largely characterises the ownership structure of most indigenous newspapers.

Partnership

Currently, indigenous language press across Africa operate according to two organisational models - the ‘mainstream’ or independent model, in which an indigenous language newspaper is owned and operated by an individual, family or corporate concern, and the ‘subsidiary’ model, where an indigenous newspaper exists as the subsidiary of an established traditional newspaper publishing in a second or colonial language (Salawu 2015). Those who support the subsidiary management approach argue that the model is amenable to resource sharing. The weakness of the subsidiary model is that the secondary product often does not receive the same amount of attention or priority in the allocation of resources. For instance, when the media organisation faces financial challenges, the local language newspaper may be temporarily shuttered (Salawu 2013).

Additionally, in the event that the main product encounters turbulent times and eventually stops publishing, the subsidiary product is likely to cease to exist. For instance, the Yoruba language newspaper, Gboungboun, published by Daily Sketch Press Ltd, closed when its parent company folded. The same scenario played out with regards to Isokan, Amana and Udoka, which collapsed when their parent company, Concord, ceased to operate. As Salawu (2015) has noted, both models have not been favourable to the indigenous language press. Financial reengineering that sees an uplift of the capital base through the pooling of resources would be beneficial to both the mainstream and subsidiary types of indigenous language newspapers. For instance, the cooperative vehicle that was used to revive Iwe Irohin may be an approach that groups or societies may adopt to revive or revitalise moribund indigenous language newspapers.

Government subsidies

The survival of Gaskiyn Tai Kwabo over the years is due largely to subsidies and occasional injections of fresh capital from the northern establishment. Given the low readership of indigenous newspapers and the struggle for funds, local and state governments may consider extending subsidies to local language publications. A grant from the national or regional government could be an avenue to not only shore up operations of these indigenous language newspapers but also ensure their sustainability. This is even more important because the newspapers play a significant role in enhancing literacy in indigenous languages. While virtually all the state governments in Nigeria operate television and radio stations that broadcast in local languages, there exist few or no state-sponsored local language newspapers.

The bulk of indigenous language newspapers are promoted by private individuals and they receive no financial assistance of any form. Independent or publicly owned indigenous language newspapers should be treated as public trusts. A special purpose vehicle, like the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) in South Africa, could be created by the government to grant a subsidy to an independent indigenous publishing outfit. The MDDA was established by an act of parliament to foster skills development and capacity building. The agency provides grants for deserving media houses ostensibly to promote publishing and broadcasting of the country’s diverse indigenous languages. The South African model has proven to be a very pragmatic and actionable strategy and could be adopted by the various governments in Nigeria to provide financial support for local language newspapers.

Crowdfunding

The funding deficiency of indigenous language newspapers can also be mitigated by crowdfunding. The strategy has been tested and has proven to be effective. Crowdfunding is a means of fundraising in which a media organisation appeals to the general public to donate to its operations. Premium Times and The Cable are examples of media organisations leveraging on public support. The two outlets regularly solicit funds from the public to support investigative enterprises. Many in Nigerian society would be willing to support calls for donations to indigenous language newspapers, especially as the papers are language- and culture-centric. Collaboration with local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) interested in and committed to language development and preservation could be another way of revitalising and sustaining the indigenous language press.

Institutionalised arena for subordinate voices

What will aid indigenous language newspapers in surviving is their ability to provide a voice to subordinate groups. Indigenous language newspapers provide space for marginalised groups - those who cannot communicate in the dominant language - to participate in discursive interactions in the public sphere in a language in which they have linguistic competence to express themselves.

If these newspapers become overly commercialised like the mainstream media, they are likely to become beholden to the bourgeoisie. Although privately owned media outlets provide a voice for a variety of publics, subaltern groups are often shut out and unable to participate in deliberations about their common affairs. Because their mediation of discourses is in mother tongues, indigenous language newspapers not only facilitate grassroots participation but also afford ordinary people the leeway to articulate their ideas in ways that best reflect their opinions and experiences (Chibita and Salawu 2016).

 
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