SUFFERING AND SMILING: Nigerian Radio Broadcasters Live In Professional Dysfunction

When I started my career in the broadcast media industry over a decade ago, it was with enthusiasm, bright eyed excitement and a conviction that I was finally on my destined path to greatness.

I’m still as enthusiastic as before and definitely convinced that I’m exactly where I need to be, but the bright eyes and naivety has been replaced with a shrewd gaze at every so called “opportunity” in the industry.

I am currently on a very necessary break from broadcasting and for the last few months, I’ve been trying to get my thoughts together to fully express my concerns about the cesspool of corruption, mismanagement and employee abuse that is Nigeria’s radio broadcast industry

The National Broadcasting Commission Act (the NBC Act) regulates the broadcasting sector in Nigeria. The NBC Act also established the commission, which is responsible for regulating the broadcasting industry.

The Broadcasting Code was made by the NBC under the NBC Act and represents the minimum standard for broadcasting in Nigeria.

A lot has been debated and talked about in the code; usually around licensing and content issues.

For example, Section 9(1) of the NBC Act sets out the criteria used by the NBC in the grant of a broadcast licence and these require the applicant to be a corporate body registered in Nigeria or a broadcasting station owned, established or operated by the federal, state or local government.

The NBC is also required to satisfy itself that the applicant is not applying on behalf of any foreign interest. If the NBC is satisfied with the application, it will make recommendation through the Minister of Information to the President for the grant of a license.

The NBC Act and the broadcasting code regulate the broadcasting of programmes and the minimum local and foreign programme content. The code also regulates advertising content, political messaging and other content related matters.

But where in the NBC act and the broadcasting code is the provision that guarantees the protection of the rights of broadcasters ? None. Zilch.

The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) has existed since 1955 and it is about the only recognized body that offers some form of protection for the rights of broadcast journalists. (At least on paper)

The NUJ agenda presented to the Nigerian Labour Congress in February 2009, states clearly that “the quality of working condition enjoyed by Journalists is a key factor in creating a democratic media culture. Without social justice and fairness at work, it is impossible to talk of editorial independence or press freedom.”

According to the NUJ, “not only do journalists need to win their freedom from governments, they also need to win their independence from media owners, the corporate media and their imposing regional and global structures.”

While all of these sound good on paper, how practical has it been?

Let’s start from the employment contracts of some radio stations that state in the fine print that employees cannot unionise

What this means, is that employees of such media organisations cannot speak with one voice or make collective demands for a redress when their rights are being trampled on.

Employee Contract Violations

I have seen a lot and signed a few employment contracts as a broadcaster and I can tell you that they all look the same.

Annual paid leave of 4 or 5 weeks

Provision for 5 or 6 day sick leave in a year

Health Insurance

Pension Plan

Leave allowances

Salary paid monthly (between 26th -last day of the month)

And that’s about it across board. (Give or take a few differences)

On the surface, it looks like an okay deal. Until you get in and realize a few things. Let me break it down for you:

 

  1. SALARY

Broadcasters are paid indiscriminately and without any laid down salary structure. Negotiations are at the whims of the media owners who sometimes decide to pay one broadcaster more than the other based on whatever parameters they choose.

Individuals with zero broadcast training or experience to speak of, have been offered salaries twice higher than others with the required qualifications and experience simply because they have the right last name or speak with a foreign accent and are considered “elite”.

Salaries don’t get reviewed ‘up’. Instead, they are delayed without explanations or owed and arrears paid so haphazardly, that broadcasters can no longer keep track of their payments.

What is the salary range for the average radio presenter in Lagos you may wonder?  After speaking to broadcasters across several stations, here are the numbers:

Entry Level: 60k – 100k a month

5 – 7 years: 150k – 200k

Senior/ management: 250k – 450k

*Privileged Senior: 500k – 600k

Who are privileged seniors?

These are usually broadcasters who have proven to be financially beneficial to the company either through their celebrity status or  the longevity and popularity of their programs.

The privilege here, is if such broadcasters work for an organisation that RECOGNIZE and REWARD their contributions to the station’s brand visibility.

Negotiating your salary as a radio presenter can be one of the most humiliating experiences you’ll have as a broadcaster in this city.  The job interview process is usually easy enough; especially if you’re not a newbie. But when it’s time to talk about wages? Then it’s time to watch your prospective employer dismiss your years of qualification, experience, intelligence, ideas and everything else you may bring to the table. It then becomes a power play where you either stick to what works for you and probably not get hired or take what you’re offered because you’re hungry.

Broadcasters in Nigeria have over the years become so traumatized by this continuous undervalue, that so many go into those job interview meetings ready to under price themselves. It is sad to watch.

 

  1. OWNERSHIP

For the average Nigerian broadcast media owner, once you’ve been hired and on the payroll, you are now private property. You’ve been owned. And the terms of your ownership? Some are there in the fine print of your employment contract and some exist in the head of your owner and he’ll let you know whenever he deems it fit.

Imagine getting a private MC gig and you have to pay 30% of whatever you’re paid on that PRIVATE gig to your radio station employer. If this isn’t extortion, I don’t know what is.

When a radio station hires you in Lagos, they essentially own your content and whatever idea you bring there. So if you work at Lagbaja FM for example, every content you create and put on air while working there becomes the property of Lagbaja FM and when the station fires you, that content can keep airing with a different presenter and you can’t do anything about it.

Another unspoken term of ownership is your personal brand. There are media owners who cannot stand their broadcasters having any kind of fame, recognition or visibility on any platform.

Around the time when media organisations started taking social media seriously,  I remember a media owner instructing presenters to include the radio stations name in their usernames. In fact it was mandatory.  That instruction came when he noticed that some presenters had thriving personal social media accounts and were beginning to establish themselves in that space.

Some media owners wouldn’t let their presenters appear on Television programmes or take TV hosting gigs.

 

Until they actively rebelled. When these media owners saw that the outside gigs and brand endorsements paid better and they were about to lose their best hands and biggest names, they quickly got with the program and some even found ways to leverage on the growing social media  popularity of their presenters.

But not all.

Some still harbour deep rooted resentments, so much so that a media owner once lashed out at a presenter during a general meeting saying “I gave you a platform and you want to be bigger than the platform”

What could have triggered that?

Simple; The presenter in question “dared” to say goodbye to his fans on social media because he was being taken off his wildly popular evening show.

 

  1. STAFF DEVELOPMENT

Staff training and development isn’t just important, it is vital if any organisation will evolve and ensure that knowledge is enhanced and productivity is at optimum value.

Unfortunately, media owners do not care about your professional development; at least, not enough to invest in it.

Despite the fact that some employment contracts make provisions for staff training and capacity development, the reality is that it never happens.

This is where there’s a difference between broadcasters who started their careers at Federal Radio Corporation (FRCN) because they train you there.  But for private owned broadcast organisations, the story is very different.

The organisation will not pay for any kind of training; In-House or otherwise. You will not be sponsored to attend any kind of career development course and if you apply for a study leave, you will most likely be told to resign if you must be away for 3 months or more with no guarantee of getting your job back when you’re done.  (No jokes. This was my reality)

So how do broadcasters develop themselves professionally?

  1. Free online courses
  2. Independent training programs the presenters have to pay for, from their own pockets
  3. BBC Media action partnerships (with radio stations that are open to it)
  4. VOA BBG partnerships (with radio stations that are open to it)
  5. Scholarships to media training schools

The bottom line here is that broadcasters are individually responsible for their own professional development and cannot rely on the organisations they work for, for support.

 

  1. OWED ENTITLEMENTS

 

The National Health Insurance Scheme Act requires that an employer who has a minimum of 10 (ten employees) must register them to contribute to the scheme.

In Nigeria, the Pension Reform Act 2014 makes it mandatory for employers with more than 15 employees to contribute minimum percentages of the employees’ salary to the scheme every month.  That contribution is put into your retirement savings account until the employee is 50 years old and can withdraw according to the guidelines

This is where corruption and abuse kicks in.

You see, these deductions are worked into the salary breakdown and employees trust that the deductions every month mean that they have health insurance when needed and their retirement savings are being taken care of.

Sadly, this isn’t the case with quite a lot of fraudulent media owners. While they deduct the payments every month, they do not remit the deductions to the appropriate channels.

The implications? Well broadcasters get sick and find out that their health insurance haven’t been paid when they get to the hospital.

Then they find out when their quarterly RSA account update comes and the numbers are not growing.

To say this in plain language? This is fraud.

 

SUFFERING AND SMILING

So why are radio presenters so happy? Just go through social media and the timelines are flooded with radio presenters seemingly ‘living da vida loca’, showing up their latest looks, hobnobbing with celebrities etc

On one hand, I understand it. I have been there and done the same. You have to keep living your life and enjoying your job because you actually do enjoy what you do. But on the other hand, the silence is killing us slowly.

There are also quite a number of broadcasters who do not particularly care about these things because they have found a way to work around the dysfunctional system. Salary not enough and inconsistent? Quick short cut = Payola, MC gigs, Social Media Influencing and whatever else.

The question is, these options are not available for everyone and it can never be a replacement for the proper overhauling the system needs

Media employers are taking advantage of the fact that broadcasters seem to be satisfied with the status quo and the terms and conditions are getting worse.

Entry level broadcasters are being offered as low as N60,000 with no job security and others are being owed their wages with zero accountability.

Some have tried to voice their grievances and have been terminated and threatened.

New radio stations are popping up all over the place like mushrooms and their management are already following the footsteps of the existing overlords by offering abysmal wages and poor terms while expecting top talent delivery.

There is a culture of silence in the radio industry that should be broken immediately. Broadcasters need to start TALKING TO EACH OTHER. So far, the divide and rule tactics of media owners have worked because we have allowed the ego of our own so called ‘personal brands’ take over our common sense. There is no reason why presenters across different and even competing radio stations cannot be friends, see each other as professional colleagues and relate with each other as such.

Important conversations like wages, working conditions and professional growth should be talked about freely.

The question of the role of the NUJ here is very important. I am a member of the Union because I am a multimedia journalist with my work intersecting broadcast, print and digital media. Unfortunately very few broadcasters are card carrying members of the NUJ. Why?

Perhaps the present corps of broadcasters do not see themselves as Journalists; rather they see themselves as ‘media and entertainment personalities’ (whatever that means) instead.

There is also the question of ‘what has the Union done to fight for the rights of radio broadcasters’ so far?

That is why I strongly believe that radio broadcasters need a seperate body where we can speak with one voice about issues that are unique to us and in a language that our industry stakeholders understand.

If we are to get rid of employee abuse and assert ourselves, it is time to stop suffering and smiling and start fighting for what we deserve.

5 Comments

  • Anonymous

    FolaI agree with every bit of information on this platform. This is only limited to radio broadcasters alone. New Anchors also suffer the same casualty. In my nine years in the industry in both Radio and TV gigs. i have never been more confused with the pride that comes with treating your staff with less concerns about how they survive outside their meagre salary. When i was on radio, my employer will never allow you leave for Lagos even at the worst news you might have heard about your family. Now as a TV news anchor, you become more disappointed that people who learnt the rudiment of this job now as Media owners are not different from those who own media outlets because they have the money. But passion, will passion pay the bills. NO

  • Anonymous

    Thanks very much for this Fola, I doubt if there is any profession in this country that is corruption free. Hopefully your voice will wake others to speak against the injustice. i have missed #Dearartiste

  • Jacklyne Lumbasi Nake

    Thanks for this well written piece Fola, seems to be the case around the world. Even the most developed nations with vibrant and we’ll organised media fraternity the discrepancy is glaring. I hope for a better future and a time when people will not be reminded of the ‘platform’ they’ve been given hence the bad treatment.

  • Opeyemi

    amortisation in most broadcast stations is abysmal and by Leveraging new technologies and modes of operation, revenue generation will improve. There is also the case of the “old guard” who will never see the benefits and the need to make much needed decisions to acquire and fully implement these tech.

  • Anonymous

    Enjoyed reading this, very informative. I might rethink my stance on creating content for radio and bursting my head to get a paid job there.

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