THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS:

A NEW OPPORTUNITY FOR THE MEDIA IN MARYLAND -USA AND ONDO STATE – NIGERIA, SISTER-STATES PROGRAMME

Being a Text of a Guest Lecture Delivered on Sunday 18th  November, 2012 at the Business Network Session of Maryland-USA and Ondo State- Nigeria Sister-States Programme in Akure, Ondo State.

Introduction

I consider it an honour and a privilege to be invited to give this lecture. I am informed that this is part of the programmes lined up for hosting the top functionaries of Maryland State in the United States of America (USA) who are here to firm up the Sister-States Programme with Ondo State, Nigeria.

 

Also, let me use this forum to formally congratulate the governor and the good people of Ondo State on the just concluded gubernatorial election. The sustainability and deepening of democracy in Nigeria require the collective responsibility of all citizens. The last election in the state was a model; it was adjudged credible, free and fair.

The organizers of this event asked me to speak on the topic: “The Role of Media in International Relations: A New Opportunity for the Media in Maryland, USA and Ondo State Nigeria Sister-States Programme.”    I have decided not to tamper with the topic as it is, even though there is a need for some preliminary conceptual clarification. It should be borne in mind as we drill down the topic that the actors in consideration here are not states, that is, national actors, but sub-national actors. More properly, we should be talking of transnational relations, that is, relations across national boundaries between non-national actors, but not relations between nations.

 

Having noted that, it is necessary, before examining the role of the media, to profile the actors and the nature of the budding relationship, which is the focus of attention and context of our conversation in this gathering.

 

 

The Actors in the Maryland, USA Sister-State Programme

The actors, as everyone here now knows, are Maryland State, USA, and Ondo State, Nigeria.

 

Maryland State is one of the 50 states of the United States of America. Fondly called The Queen State, the state was named after Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles of England. Located behind the State of Delaware in the eastern coast of the USA, Maryland is dominated by one of the world’s great estuaries, Chesapeake Bay, which divides it into two parts. The bay is navigable, and offers a rich habitat for abundant populations of fish and wildlife. The bay and its harbors provide the right environment for migratory waterfowl, and for harvesting crabs, oysters, and clams. Apart from these natural resources, Maryland has a rich history behind it, as the origin of its name confirms. There the “Star Spangled Banner,” the American national anthem, was authored. It is also blessed with legendary people and great institutions of learning.

Created in 1976 with the capital at Akure, Ondo State has a population of 3, 442, 000 disaggregated into 1,761,263 males and 1,679,761 females, resident in 18 local government areas over 14,788.723 km2 in the south-west of Nigeria.  The state has over 880 primary schools, 190 secondary schools and five universities, one polytechnic and one college of education. It is richly endowed in forest and agricultural resources, tourism and culture and abundant human resources, with a people who are lovers of arts, music and literature. Its major economic products include cocoa, coffee, timber, food crops and arts and craft such as carvings, woven textile, mats, etc. Ondo State is also one of the Nigeria’s oil producing states. Its tourist attractions are ancient palaces, museum of antiquities, inland lakes, picturesque hills and mountains, complimented by a highly developed hospitality industry.

Blessed with a democratic government, the state under the able leadership of Dr Olusegun Mimiko seems to be a perfect fit for the sister-state strategic partnership. The 12-point developmental programme of the government as encapsulated in the acronym A CARING HEART provides the fulcrum and a solid foundation for the partnership.  Spelt out, the acronym stands for the key pillars of the state’s transformation agenda, namely: agriculture and food security; community-driven city and coastal region renewal and general development initiatives; aggressive capitalization of land resource; roads and Infrastructure; industrialization; no-to-poverty programme; gender equality and women empowerment; health care and housing; education and capacity building; artisanship development and empowerment programme; rural development; and tourism, sports and youth development. This agenda is driven by the vision to make the state the best-administered state in Nigeria, the cynosure of all eyes, the pride of all its citizens, and a state where equity, justice, and fairness is the basis of all governmental action.

 

The Programme

Maryland Sister States Programme was established in 1980 with a mission to provide a forum for the promotion of international cooperation and understanding. The Programme offers countless opportunities to develop partnership around the world in  areas of art, culture, transportation, film, women’s issues, business, education, health care, professional development, sports, law, and more. The Programme oversees an array of international exchanges, promoting a balance of business, educational and cultural interests. At inception, the stated mission of the programme was:

To deliver this mission, programme maintains diplomatic relations with the sister-states; match-makes between Marylanders and the sister- states; works with Marylanders and the sister- states to develop and maintain business, cultural and educational exchanges; hosts and co-sponsors networking and informational events; and serves as a clearinghouse for information and contacts related to the Sister States.

The Programme is established to provide citizens and businesses a unique opportunity to build relationships in other parts of the world. Each Sister State relationship is strategically chosen to enhance the economic, cultural, and educational interests of the people of Maryland. The Sister States Programme provides a forum for economic development, international trade, and increased global understanding. Additionally, the programme promotes cultural understanding through high school, college, and university exchanges, and a variety of cultural and athletic exchanges.

The Media and International Relations

Let us now turn our attention to the role of the media in the sister-state relations between the Maryland and Ondo States of America and Nigeria respectively.

In his book The Fourth Estate, Jeffrey Archer lends us some insights. He recalls that:

In May 1789, Louis XVI summoned to Versailles a full meeting of the ‘Estates General’. The First Estate consisted of three hundred nobles. The Second Estate, three hundred clergy. The Third Estate, six hundred commoners. Some years later, after the French revolution, Edmund Burke, looking up at the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, said, ‘Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.’

 

As it was in the 19th century, so it has been, and so it is today. The difference, however, is that the press of that period was without television (TV), radio, the internet and social media; it was print only and technology was crude. Today, when we speak of the media, we are talking of the panoply of networks of private, public, municipal, local, national, international electronic and print media, as well as the Internet with its awesome possibilities for seamless social interaction. The media of today are also driven by rapid-fire changes in technology and in socio-economic, political and environmental developments. Information and communication technology (ICT) is so sophisticated that almost all communication is now instant: there is instant photography; instant (live) TV and radio coverage across the globe; e-this; e-that.

 

This strategic partnership is expected to benefit significantly from these media appurtenances. In other words, the media as now constituted have all got roles to play in the launch, development, evolution, monitoring, projection, promotion and evaluation of the Maryland-Ondo sister state programme. They are not likely going to re-invent the wheel in the process, but they must creatively adapt themselves and their offerings to the purpose of the strategic partnership. This is to say that while performing their traditional roles, they must appreciate and be guided by the special development needs of the stakeholders, the partners and the programme. What is required of the media in this regard is to be development-focused because this is the principal means by which they could support the success of the sister-state relations, as they perform their time-tested functions and roles of surveillance, cultural transmission, status conferral, agenda setting, interpretation, analysis, etc.

 

As they function as “communication channels through which news, entertainment, education, data or promotional messages are disseminated” (Business Dictionary.com), the media (electronic, print – newspapers, magazines, journals – and the Internet) are expected to inform and educate the people about all aspects of the programme, using both official and open sources to generate information. Where it gets difficult to get information, they are expected to investigate, which is why surveillance is part of their most important roles. It will be their duty to educate the people on the nature, modus operandi, opportunities, benefits and challenges of the programme. Involved essentially in this is a liaison role mirroring and putting in the public domain the goings-on in the operations of the programme and feeding the operators back with the people’s perception of it.

 

And as the fourth estate of the realm, the surveillance functions of the media include the famed watchdog role whereby they monitor, scrutinize and report the activities of the other realms, and in particular the three arms of government – namely the executive, legislature and judiciary.  By so doing, they constantly put fire to the toes of those in authority and even key players in civil society at large. The media are expected to perform this role in respect of the sister-state partnership between Maryland and Ondo States. This is the way for the media to contribute to the execution of the programme in an accountable and transparent manner, in addition to promoting good governance. In doing this, media activities should straddle the operations of both the local and offshore partners. After all, there is no better manifestation of today’s global-village idea than the realm of the media, which have made happenings in any corner of the world an open book. The corollary of such media activism and leveraging is the sharing of information, developments and best practices across borders, with implication for the two countries vicariously involved, that is the USA and Nigeria. This will be in line with the media’s traditional role of promoting good governance, freedom, development, peace and effective interaction among nation-states. And, in an increasingly interdependent world, the media more than other realm have got much to do in fostering understanding and promoting human development across borders.  All nations, no matter their economic, military, political, social, or technological status, must as a matter of necessity embrace interrelatedness of states on the basis of mutual benefits. This is so, in that, no nation has monopoly of natural endowments and economic fortunes. Therefore, nations must relate and interact with one another mainly for the promotion of world peace and for overall development of humanity. It is the prerogative of the media to provide the necessary information, explanations, analyses and checks in the conduct of nations and sub-national actors alike as they pursue world peace and other goal-oriented interests, particularly the top-priority concerns of survival and the highest standards of living possible for their citizens, for whose welfare they exist in the first place.

 

As international actors also seek prestige goals, there is great reliance on the media to promote and project the interests globally. There is no doubt that the success of the sister-state relations between Maryland in the USA and Ondo in Nigeria will rub off not only on their prestige but also the international standing of their respective countries. It is common knowledge that prestige and respect goes with a high profile international status, which is why nations want to be seen as powerful, resourceful and big. A nation that is perceived as such is always accorded due respect in international system. Masby (1970), lends credence to this where he notes that “Prestige is normally the consequence of the possession of power of whatever dimension, political economic, military, and its presence is very likely to enhance the influence of the state possessing it”. But how does the world get to know about the success, power and prestige of international actors? It is through the ubiquitous power of the media. Ronald Reagan, a former president of the USA, attests to this in his autobiography An American Life thus: “If the press does not tell us, who will?”

 

Before leaving this section it is necessary to examine the Nigerian press. In Nigeria’s chequered history, the press has come a long way since the colonial period. Indeed, it has served as a vanguard for nationalism during the colonial era, agent of national cohesion, unity and oneness during the Nigerian civil war, national conscience during military rule and sustainer of democracy under civil rule. In other words, the Nigerian press is always available at every turn in the nation’s history. In fact, it is safe to say that it has exemplified the best in our sense of nationalism and patriotism in carrying out its roles. However, the Nigerian press has been subjected to all manner of harassment, particularly under military rule. This has always been done in different guises such as closure of publishing houses, seizure and banning of publications, detention and, in extreme cases, outright assassination of journalists.

 

All these have made journalist’s work highly risky. Yet, journalists must be determined and courageous in spite of intimidation because journalism is a noble profession whose practitioners must not compromise standards and their integrity. Still, the Nigerian media must brace themselves up in this matter of Maryland-Ondo sister-state relations to set agenda, act as the people’s advocate, watch, and even project themselves as bona fide stakeholders. In this context, they must bear in mind that society, with its politics, is created, sustained and modified through communication, which is why Hague and Harrop noted that “Without a continuous exchange of information, attitudes and values neither society nor politics would be possible. That certainly is an onerous media responsibility.

 

In the context of the programme, the media must perform its major role of agenda setting conscientiously, raising issues for stakeholders to think about, debate and take action upon in deliberate pursuit of the partnership’s interests as well as the benefits of the citizenry of the two states. It should be noted that the majority of the people depend on the media for information and insights in taking many of their day –to-day economic, political and social decisions. Since the partnership will cut across all sectors, it is incumbent on the media to assist the people in contributing to fashioning out the best agenda for the programme. As important stakeholders in the new strategic partnership between the two states, the media should make themselves relevant in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of the programme’s policies. This should be done through effective information dissemination to the people to keep them informed of the programmes and policies of government concerning the partnership. And as the unfailing watchdogs, ensuring that the partnership is beneficial to the two parties, the media must always critically examine the terms of the agreement, analyze its implementation and uncover any buried skeletons for the people’s scrutiny. The media’s role as the people’s advocate is as equally important to ensure that the goal of the partnership is realized. Because the people are generally weak in developing countries in challenging the excesses of government, the media are expected to come to the rescue to see to it that both parties are kept to the terms of agreement, using objective critiques, editorials, features, special reports, interviews, debates, opinion surveys, etc. to promote general public interest.

 

It is necessary at this juncture to note that the media may be unable to perform all these roles for the evolving strategic partnership if it is not independent and free. I must say that the Mimiko-led government in Ondo State is media-friendly. Therefore, all the identified roles of the media can be performed unhindered in the state. This will be highly beneficial to the partnership.

 

I wish to add that there are some basic attributes expected of media practitioners to be able to play the expected roles effectively and efficiency. I shall identify five of them. One is education. A person who wants to give a good report of an event, situation or organization must be knowledgeable about his/her subject. It is axiomatic that a purveyor of information must himself be well informed. Journalists and other media men, as a matter of necessity, must have both formal and informal education. Self-development represents an informal education but this can come through personal will and willingness to learn, devoid of a know-it-all attitude and cover-up of ignorance.

Courage is another imperative. This is required for objective, fair and fearless reportage of issues and events. Specifically, on the evolving strategic partnership between the two states, media men must see it as a partnership between two equal states regardless of the differing economic, social, political and technological standing of each state. Cognizant that their profession is a risky one, they should be prepared for blackmail and even physical attacks if blackmail fails. The purpose is to frustrate them from following a particular line of action that may lead to hidden facts. Objectivity is also of the essence. This calls for self-confidence, transparent personal integrity, and uncommon independence of mind when reporting issues and events. It is incumbent on such media practitioner to divorce himself from issues, events and personalities when they are the subjects of his professional assignments. He must be above board and must not compromise his position. He must be factual, balanced and detailed in his reportage of issues and events. The report must be unbiased, devoid of sensationalism and praise singing. A good dose of diplomacy will always serve him well in today’s complex society and its oddity of issues. Owing to this, media men need political correctness, emotional intelligence and diplomatic astuteness to meaningfully make a success of the assignments.

 

Conclusion

What we have done in this conversation is to amplify the relevance of media to international relations, with particular reference to the budding sister-state relations between Maryland State of the USA and Ondo State of Nigeria. It is noted that the media are crucial, in today’s world, to all kinds of relations among nations, sub-national entities and all actors in the international or transnational scene, for the mutual benefits of all stakeholders and world peace at large. It has been articulated that media work, particularly the journalism aspect, is noble, but highly risky. For this reason, only the courageous and bold dabble into it. But this is a programme that is expected to accelerate the economic development of Ondo State, promote its culture, improve on the health sector and advance the knowledge of the people. Because of the accruable benefits from the Maryland Sister-State Programme, media men have been encouraged to lend their full support with consummate professionalism, knowing that their commitment will be reciprocated with a free environment guaranteed by government. On that note, I will leave the media, including citizen journalists a la social media, with this caveat also from Ronald Reagan in the same book referred to earlier:

A free press is as vital to America as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. A probing, responsible press not only keeps the public informed about what is going on in government, it can keep a watchful eye to uncover corruption, waste and mismanagement. A free and aggressive press corps is essential to the core of our democracy. …But with this freedom comes a special responsibility to be accurate and fair.

 

Prepared by FEMI OMOTOSO PhD Associate Professor,

Department of Political Science, Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria

Cell: +234 8033721755, E-mail : femot79@yahoo.co.uk

Post by Tunde Fajimbola and Olusiji Balogun

Comments

  1. This is indeed a good research academic work that realy expand knowlegde on the role of media in development programme.Thanks for publishing this paper on site.Dr Femi Omotoso is a great scholar.

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