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Digital Access And The Media Today

By Sonny Aragba-Akpore

For some of us who had the unfortunate accident of going to the University in the analogue days, research was a drudgery if not completely a nightmare. Yes, there were books to aid the research which many of us had to leaf through to fish out relevant information to support such work.

In so many cases, dust-caked books provided no solace or respite despite all the efforts ploughed in. Where some situations became insurmountable, students were left to their devices.

Having gone through the university system, coming to the newsroom was a bigger nightmare especially when we were plagued by the tyranny of deadlines especially when we needed background information on a new subject or a news break.

One such encounters was in 1991 when Ben Okri won the Booker Prize for Literature with his work “The Famished Road.“ Yes, there was information about Ben Okri but very little was available on the Booker Prize and so it took me ages to manually excavate what ever I could lay my hands on to background the story for publication.

Well, we tried. We were late in adopting technology this part of the world but we appear to be catching up fast in it’s good and bad parts.

I remember the sordid encounters we had at the Expo Centre, Nasrec,Venue of ITU Telecom ‘98, Johannesburg, South Africa. Of the nearly 2,000 journalists that covered the three-day global telecommunications event, only three of us came from Nigeria. And while we battled to send handwritten stories home via fax machines supported by officials of Telkom South Africa, many of our colleagues from other parts of the globe were riding with ease as they had access to the internet which was still news to us.

While they sent as many stories as possible home to their editors, the three from Nigeria managed a single story each per day, which was a shame.

But all that has changed, thanks to the internet access and improved technology. The internet is now ubiquitous and pervasive no matter the speed. Most people with smart devices, at home, on the streets, offices, internet is not far again. We can tell the story because we were there from the beginning of “store and forward” internet, where even the hosts resided elsewhere in the world.

But all that has given way to manageable points where we can have access even to our hosts locally. While Google appears to be the most popular search engine today, there are several other search engines that have made access to information materials possible on our finger tips. For students, their teachers, researchers, media and communications experts, these tools have become like Siamese twins with their users.

Only last week, in Lagos, experts including media chiefs, telecommunications companies and the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) met to take stock of how technology has boosted research and information dissemination, what it is now and how it was before now.
They spoke at a two-day International Conference of the Association of Media and Communication Researchers of Nigeria (AMCRON). The Conference, the second by the Association, was hosted to update and catch up with the trends.

Veteran communicator, Prof Ralph Akinfeleye and Chief host, Prof Eserinune Mcarthy Mojaye were on hand to throw more light on the conference while the keynote speaker was the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof Umar Danbatta.

Mojaye began by telling his audience that “The 21st Century is not only the information age, but it is also the era of the knowledge economy where human work is increasingly shifting towards two kinds of tasks. He listed the tasks as “solving problems for which standard operating procedures do not currently exist” and “ working with new information by acquiring it, making sense of it, and communicating it to others,” in that regard.

Mojaye further explained that since Individuals have moved online and are rapidly adopting new technologies and communication strategies that give them unlimited access to content generation and consumption, ”this is the time to X-ray the impact of unprecedented connection to individuals around the world.”

Danbatta took it up from there and spoke on the theme “Influence of Communication Policies on Digital Revolution in Nigeria.” Represented by NCC’s Director, Research and Development, Alhaji Ismail Adedigba, he said that communication policies are essentially blueprints and strategies, marked by plans for the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in a way that nudges people to harness opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) through the embrace of digital culture across sectors by individual, businesses and institutions.

“Through diligent implementation of telecommunication policies, which have triggered digital revolution, the media and entire field of mass communication have been impacted by innovations that have revolutionised production and consumption of mass communication contents, and that make communication easily accessible, more affordable and exchanges faster.”

Danbatta traced the trajectory of growth in the telecoms industry from 1960 till date, saying the past decades have witnessed formulation of various policies and laws for developing the industry but remarkable growth in the sector started after the sector’s liberalization in 2001.

“Since then, there has been diligent implementation of policies, vision plans and strategic regulatory frameworks by the NCC, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders in the industry, leading to increased access to digital services and the media industry is being shaped in terms of patterns of information dissemination through multiple platforms while digital revolution has revealed a new vista of research areas for scholars in the field of mass communication.”

He listed that the active telecom subscribers have grown significantly to 212.2 million from about 400,000 aggregate telephone lines in the country as at year 2000, on the eve of liberalisation.

This accounts for a teledensity of 111 per cent. Basic Internet subscriptions grew from zero ground to 152.7 million now, while broadband subscriptions stand at over 86 million, representing a 45.09 per cent penetration as of July 2022.

Digital access has also boosted the economy greatly, contributing 15 per cent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as at the second quarter of 2022, going by data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). In general terms, access to information has been made very possible by technology and while we consider this a great progress, the conference concluded that “it is work in progress.“

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