Edited by: (saint mienpamo, blessing oyanimigha)
BAYELSA NEW MEDIA TEAM: THE TASK AHEAD
BY COMRADE ROBINSON EREBI, AMIM
The atmosphere was electrified with music from a new sound track “great Bayelsa, so many things and so many people, Governor Seriake Dickson, new Bayelsa” produced for the occasion by the new media team, blaring through the air as participants walked into the Banquet Hall of the Government House, Yenagoa on Saturday, July 7, after a thorough security check at the gates. Once inside, they were promptly registered and given inaugural materials packed in a bag by friendly people on the information desk. The office of the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Social Media and Research,
in their bid to extend a hand of friendship and embrace all major players in the social media, had expected well over 400 persons to attend the gathering, but not all came, not because they didn’t want to attend, but they were skeptical of the genuine intentions Comrade John Idumange, who they believe is doing more than a Commissioner. The cynics were proved wrong as events turned out later. For the participants, it was a thrilling experience and a day of honour as far as social media and the government of Bayelsa are concerned.
At about 11.05am comedian MC Aproko’s exhilarating jokes gave way to an electrifying ovation as Prof. Idumange welcomed His Excellency, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (Rtd), Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, who ably represented His Excellency, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, to formally inaugurate the Bayelsa New Media Team made up of seasoned social media operators. The inauguration of the Bayelsa New Media Team supervised by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Social Media and Research marks a significant development in the inter-relationship between government and the governed through conscious use of the new media technology. Although the social media had been recognized by previous administrations, the commitment and enthusiasm demonstrated by the Dickson Administration is unprecedented. The recognition of social media practitioners has not only bridged the gap between government and the people in terms of communication, but it has also encouraged employment through standard and effective use of new media technologies such as facebook, twitter, 2go, You Tube, Google, etc. Governor Dickson and his deputy are captains in their respective industries. Both men are aware that Governments all over the world today, use the New Media Technology to advance its course.
The Deputy Governor who formally inaugurated the Bayelsa New Media Team on behalf of the Governor left the occasion after presenting certificates to Executive members of the team, to attend to other matters of state, but that was just the beginning. The crescendo of activities rose with the second performance of comedian MC Aproko who made rib-cracking jokes out the occasion. There was also live rendition of the new Bayelsa music performed by a son of the soil, Ebiaino.
Apart from the presentation of Certificate of Merit to honour Social Media Practitioners, the high point of the occasion came with the presentation of lectures by two renowned scholars of Mass Communication and Social Media who gave insights to the need for standardization of the social media and use it as a tool for promoting good governance in Bayelsa State.
In his paper titled The New Media as a Tool for Promoting Good Governance in Bayelsa State, Mass Communications professional, Ibituru Iwowari Pepple said that in the last few years, governance the world over has witnessed fundamental changes with the emergence of New Media Technologies to the extent that today, government, employees, students and companies have embraced the use of new media technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, You-Tube, Badoo, 2go, Black Berry Messenger, etc, to their own advantages daily to disseminate information and receive immediate and unhampered feed backs, which make the New Media Unique and distinct from the old and conventional media – Radio, Television, Books, Magazines and newspapers. According to Pepple, New Media is a broad term in media studies that emerged in the later part of the 20th century that refers to real-time generation of new, unregulated content as well as the important promise of the democratization of the creation, publishing, distribution and consumption of media content. He was in agreement with Neuman cited in Croteau and Hoynes (2003:322) that New Media will among other things, (1) alter the meaning of geographic distance (2) allow for a huge increase in the volume of communication (3) provide the possibility of increasing the speed of communication (4) provide opportunities for interactive communication and (5) allow forms of communication that were previously separate to overlap and interconnect. Therefore, Pepple says it is true that New Media and particularly the internet provide the potential for a democratic postmodern public sphere, in which citizens can participate in well informed, non-hierarchical debate pertaining to their social structures.
This is crucial to sustainable development because for any government to succeed, the governed must have a sense of belonging in the polity, which means the ability to participate actively in the affairs of the state, and the most critical tool to use is the New Media Technology, e.g. Facebook as its popularly used in Bayelsa State. Ibituru Iwowari Pepple is of the opinion that “for the government of Bayelsa State to be rated amongst the world best leading states, adaptation to the dictates of the new media technology will be appropriate. For Bayelsa State to thrive, the establishment of an enabling technology driven environment with free access by all and sundry will be a panacea for effective governance”. Against this background, he concludes that “the decision of the Bayelsa State Government to take advantage of these new media technologies, is indeed a very welcome development which is worth commending and worthy of emulation by other state governments. It is also a cause of joy for members of the newly inaugurated Bayelsa New Media Team. See full text of the lecture at the website http://www.bayelsanewmediateam.wordpress.com.
Also speaking in another lecture on “Social Media Practice: Ethical Issues”, the host and Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Social Media and Research, Comrade John Idumange told participants that with the signing into law of the Freedom of Information Act, by Mr. President on 28th May, 2011 in Nigeria, “we are now faced with the challenge of deploying the new media platform for effective management and dissemination of information.” According to Idumange, the emergence of the New Media with its uses and abuses is one of the challenges of his office. More so because, “unlike the conventional print and electronic media, the Social Media is interactive and user driven. The user rather than the editor determines the content of what is published. And this poses a trinity of problems namely: violation of privacy, disdain for media law and ethics” He says that Bayelsa State is perhaps the most researched discussssed and criticized State in Nigeria. This according to the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Social Media and Research is due largely to the interplay between politics and development. For instance, the State has sweeping reforms to redefine the architecture of governance. The administration has also resolved to shape public opinions and communicate her policies through the conventional and the New Media.
On the codes and principles of social media practice, Idumange talked on issues of objectivity as one of the features of journalism practice. And that every social media practitioner should be trained to acquire investigation capabilities, research skills, technology of the media and a fairly good knowledge of how governmental institutions work. Social media actors should also be able to define the purpose of posting a story or a report, or publishing news/opinion. Ethical considerations that give reason for social media practitioners to avoid the use vulgar language and dissemination of obscene materials as well as the need for social media practitioners to be acquainted with media law and ethics, plagiarism, genuineness of communications, rumours and unconfirmed reports, ethics of images etc were also extensively discussed.
Idumange also used the lecture to highlight some gains of his boss. According to him, the Restoration Administration under Governor Henry Seriake Dickson has already taken measures to strengthen existing institutions and created new ones, namely, the Bayelsa State Income and Expenditure Transparency Bill 2012, Reorganization of the bureaucracy, legislating laws to curb cultism to create an investment friendly atmosphere and inculcating the habit of saving into the public consciousness. There is also “Bayelsa State Fiscal Responsibility (Amendment) Bill 2012; Bayelsa State Government and local Government Compulsory Savings Bills 2012 among others. The Dickson Administration has also embarked on a huge range of policies designed to promote transparency, public participation and institutional consolidation. He concludes with optimism that with the caliber of people in the Central Coordinating Committee the Bayelsa New Media Team will open a new vista of social media practice and partner the Restoration Administration in promoting transparency, accountability and good governance. Idumange is also hoping that the Restoration Administration will invest in ICT infrastructure and train social media practitioners to practice the art in line with the policy thrust of government. To demonstrate the effect of the social media, these activities where edited and posted to facebook by a select team of the Bayelsa New Media and broadcast in real time to a world audience via our website.
After all these said and done, what many are asking now is “where do we go from here?” The Bayelsa New Media Team is expected to gather and disseminate information on government policies and programmes and also react in some cases, to issues arising from political comments for or against the present administration. To carry out this function effectively, members of the team who are all internet based, require modern new media equipment as well as partnership with professional bodies like the Nigeria Union of Journalists, the Institute of Mass Communication and Information Management, Nigeria Institute of Management, etc to galvanize support for the promotion of the Restoration Agenda
No doubt, that the Bayelsa New Media Team has a Herculean task ahead as the government of Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson commences implementation of major projects. And try as he may, there are people who would never see things the good way and there is no other place to express such malice than the market place called facebookwhere images and stories are easily manipulated to suit the fancies of the forces of opposition. That’s where most political wars thrive. That’s where President Goodluck Jonathan started his campaigns. That’s where former governor of Bayelsa State is still called “His Excellency”. That’s where some organizations are gauging achievements of the present administration. That’s where a group is already campaigning for HSD and Goodluck Jonathan 2015 even though its morning yet for the Restoration Agenda.. Social media postings linger as online archives, always there, permanent. That’s where the New Media Team has work to do.
This writer is aware that the office of the Senior Special Assistant has appointed a total of eight members of the team to keep in touch with the Ministries on weekly basis, to know and provide an update of government activities on the social media. This move is aimed at complementing the functions of the Ministry of Information and orientation in disseminating the activities of government, using the social media as a bridge between government and the people, but it is not enough! For a start, Comrade Idumange should increase the number of online reporters to twelve persons with each person covering two Ministries, while others are encouraged to follow-up such reports and contribute accordingly in the pages on the social media.
Statistics have it that over seven million Nigerians Worldwide are on facebook, 2 million internet users, and 100 million active mobile phone line users which have actually made the sharing of information very easy, which is essential to the development of any state, including Bayelsa State. It is for this reason that I wish to call on Governor Henry Seriake Dickson to equip the Bayelsa New Media Team so inaugurated with adequate training to build their capacity for the task ahead. It is also incumbent on him to ensure that the necessary multi-media devices and electronic gadgets, such as iPads, Black Berry smart phones and laptop computers are donated to them to enhance their performance in advancing the cause of the Restoration Agenda in social media network.
The Executive Governor should also provide adequate funds to the office of Senior Special Assistant on Social Media and Research as a matter of policy, to enable him take care of the needs of social media practitioners who are working independently for the administration. Some of them are Co-ordinators of political campaign groups with members on the ground, mobilizing support for His Excellency. Therefore, it should not be out of place to request that honorariums should be granted to them for maintenance of their electronic gadgets/computers and internet connectivity. The office of the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Social Media and Research should be adequately empowered to organize seminars and workshop to enable Bayelsans appreciate computer literacy and effective use of the internet for economic self-reliance, and propagation of the socio-political ideals of the Transformation programmes of President Goodluck Jonathan as well as Restoration Initiatives of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson.
Comrade Robinson Erebi is an Associate Member of the Institute of Mass Communication and Information Management (IMIM) and Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Bayelsa State, respectively.