Imagine a tool that liberates humans from every form of confusion and uncertainty and in the end brings a sustainable direction towards growth and eternal freedom for an entire generation. Your thoughts are telling you it is a high-tech gadget, a computer, or a time travelling machine - but what you are actually looking for is both specific to - and far beyond - them all: Information!
When it comes to accessing this powerful tool, every being, organization, community, or nation at large relies mostly on the media or its resources for their day-to-day digest of happenings both near and far. Best still is its malleability: while this tool may have saved lives in one family, it might also have educated someone about a disaster they would have been susceptible to or an opportunity that was open for them, which can in turn be shared far beyond their immediate situation.
One such testimony came from a welder who was living close to my house. During our conversation, he said to me, in a combination of English and pigeon English, "That una health programme about immunization helped me, oh! Na for there I hear, say newborn pikin suppose collect follow up injections after the first day, una do well!"
Directly translated, this means, "The health program I listened to on your radio station really enlightened me on routine immunization. I never would have known its importance - you guys did well!"
This testimony gave me a little thrill of gratitude, and inspired me in another way: I knew for sure that at least one listener out there was receiving the message I was putting out into the world via the airwaves of my station. This just goes to show how impactful appropriate information-sharing can be, and how lives can be better if people simply pay attention to the information being transmitted via radio, television, advertisements and in print.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seek to redress inequity, inequality, and suffering around the world through empowerment, education, and the creation of opportunity and infrastructure. Their objectives carry a lot of messages, even beyond the most pressing issues that affect our families, friends, colleagues and communities at large. This is because their purpose is not to prescribe change, but to support the generation and retention of information that makes self-directed change possible.
On a daily basis, most media organizations seem to have one program, campaign or the other which covers some of the issues being highlighted in the 17 SDGs. These can take the form of jingles, special features, or educational talk programs. They usually involve a stakeholder, activist or government representative placing themselves in the hot seat to discuss what measures they have been taking to ensure a more sustainable future for their community. Examples might include the establishment of better health care facilities or services, details of what new processes are being put in place to ensure that more women are employed or more girls are enrolled in schools, or how individuals can contribute to creating an environment with emphasis on reasoning, solutions, and actions.
Once, a protest was organized by concerned citizens in my state due to the poor mode of power distribution happening there. This protest got the attention of the state government specifically because it became the focal discussion of the day on most media platforms around the state and beyond. Suddenly, things that seemed like they might never improve began to change in just a few days.
On a different - and darker - occasion, the power of people working in tandem with the media was pivotal in a tragic situation where a child was raped and did not receive the justice they deserved. The media took up the story with fervour until the Governor called for the trial to be re-opened again, at which time the child was able to receive justice.
These stories reflect the power of the media in attaining a sustainable society, and it cannot be over-emphasized. If 2030 is going to be marked as a successful year for the SDGs, the media has to be carried along - all the way, and freely.
Even though the media seems to be playing a positive role in seeing to the success of the SDGs, there are some key challenges hindering developmental efforts:
1. Unprofessional reportage
This happens when journalists tell stories they are being paid to promote rather than the story the community relies on them to tell. This lack of professional neutrality creates a level of confusion due to the distortion of information being passed along – often for the benefit of corrupt individuals or organizations.
2. Ineffective partnership
Lack of adequate multilevel partnership between government agencies, civil society groups, donor agencies and the media organizations creates a big communication gap when it comes to media engagement. If there is a lack of clarity and transparency in development, it becomes borderline impossible to monitor impact, record data, or capture the stories involved... all of which are necessary if the media is to report on the successes and needs of the sector.
3. Lack of Funding
Limited or prescriptive funding is a major challenge to the ability to translate ideas into action. It is one which most organizations face, and especially in areas which involve the dissemination of information to the mass public in either advocacy or communications contexts. Sometimes, producers and editors will come up with great ideas of promoting the SDGs but when the relevant agencies are invited to support the initiative, they either fail to either harness or enhance momentum, demur on making a commitment, or ultimately hold fire on funding the initiative until the idea dies off.
These are some of the key challenges being faced by most media agencies currently working to promote the SDGs. I believe that using the media to showcase the level of growth and challenges being experienced by government agencies while implementing the SDGs is of utmost importance. This will, if done correctly, bring about the proper dissemination of adequate information to the public that is required to create a multi-sectoral movement towards the 2030 Agenda. Closing communication gaps in spaces between the public, government agencies, donor agencies, civil societies groups and the media will go a long way in seeing that Nigeria is successful in achieving the implementation of the SDGs.
Uzy Hamman is a practicing radio journalist with seven years of experience in media broadcast management. A producer, voice-over artist, trained program creator and a graduate of Industrial and Technology Education from the Federal University of Technology Minna of Nigeria, Uzy has extensive knowledge about media programming, advertising, and campaign co-ordination in the field of maternal and child health advocacy. He has been involved in various advocacy programs as a panelist, an interviewee, and an implementer on the subjects of governance, youth engagement, and the prevention of hate speech for the NBC, UNC, and the BBC Media Action, respectively.