In just over two decades, the private Nigerian broadcaster Channels TV has grown from a small, 15-person newsroom to a media powerhouse with over 400 staff members. It is now the market leader in independent television news in Nigeria .
The story of Channels TV is one that co-founder and CEO John Momoh recounts with pride. He was there from the beginning, having read the first news bulletin the station ever broadcasted.
Ahead of the International Press Institute's (IPI) 2018 World Congress in Abuja, Nigeria, Channels TV has joined IPI as a corporate member, something both Momoh and IPI are delighted to announce.
"I personally believe we should have joined IPI already years ago", Momoh said in a recent interview. "Together with IPI we can improve the ways we work without fear or favour. I am very, very proud to be associated with IPI."
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Building on trust
Channels TV began broadcasting in 1995, when Nigeria was still under military rule. From the very beginning, the broadcaster wanted to give people an alternative to government-controlled media, one that followed journalistic ethics and could perform a watchdog role. Its mission was to democratize Nigerians' access to information and inform them about the actions of their government.
This mission continues today: Channels TV continues to provide people a way to express their stories and issues and give them information on how government decisions affect their everyday lives.
"We try to challenge the curiosity of our viewers, let them know how they are governed and make sure that the government is living up to people's expectations", Momoh explained.
For Momoh, the secret to Channels TV's success lies in the truth. The station makes sure its employees are highly-trained professionals who check facts and adhere to the ideals of journalism, thereby helping to keep Channels TV balanced, reliable and accurate.
"Every day we look for ways to improve, to make sure we are independent, truthful and don't take sides", Momoh said.
When it comes to news and current affairs in Nigeria, Channels TV today serves as a reference point for all other media.
Momoh left no doubt as to the formula for earning people's trust.
"It is always good to report first, but it is no good if it is wrong", he said. "We want to make sure facts are accurate, so that people respect us. Trust is very important for us."
Challenges and possibilities
Keeping up with the challenges and possibilities digital disruption brings to journalism is of utmost importance to Channels TV. It was the first media organization in sub-Saharan Africa to broadcast live news and programming 24 hours a day and the first Nigerian TV station to integrate Twitter in its broadcast workflow.
One new way Channels TV engages with its audience is via its eyeWitness feature, which encourages viewers to send images or videos of local happenings to be featured in news bulletins. This feature allows the station to cover topics in a wider area and, according to Momoh, keep government accountable in a more effective way.
Channels TV's work is not without risk, however. Journalist safety remains a key concern. In 2012, a Channels TV journalist was killed by Boko Haram, a terrorist group that has targeted several journalists in recent years. In general, attacks on journalists in Nigeria are committed with complete impunity.
To a large extent, the Nigerian media are free to report, Momoh said. However, from time to time the government tries to interfere in the journalistic process. Getting the right information is also a challenge: Government institutions regularly deny information and interviews despite the existence of an access-to-information law.
"There are questions that need to be answered, but we don't get the answers", Momoh said. "This situation needs to be improved, and it is a work in progress."
Road to Abuja
Channels TV is expanding internationally, already boasting fruitful relationships with such outlets as Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and the BBC.
"Our objective is to be the voice of the people, sharing African stories and news", Momoh said.
Becoming an IPI corporate member reflects the priorities of Channels TV's journalists, he noted.
"IPI is the very organization that protects the interests of journalists around the world, so it is the best thing to align and join this organization."
Momoh will join other media leaders in Africa on the panel session "Africa's Looking to the Future: So Is Its Journalism", as part of IPI's Africa Media Forum, held on June 22 as part of the IPI World Congress.
"Our country has its ups and downs, but there are a lot of opportunities to be tapped, and business-wise Nigeria is the next big frontier", Momoh said. "It is also a beautiful place to hold the Congress. Nigeria is a place to be explored."