Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta state on Wednesday came out clear on his stand for the state printing and publishing company, publishers of THE POINTER Newspapers.
The governor explained that beyond the payment of salaries, which is the major burden in every organization, the management should deploy other avenues to move the media house forward.
Governor Okowa spoke during a quarterly media briefing held at the state government house where he gathered journalists from all over Delta state for a regular media parley.
Okowa made the comments while responding to questions on the need for the state government to provide conducive working environment, recruit more staff and help build a befitting structure for the state media organization.
The question arose from the fact that the media outfit is operating from a rented apartment said to be owned by Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the early 90s when the party won the 1993 presidential election by Moshood Kashimawo Abiola.
Beside the structural challenge of the company, the media house has no staff to carry out its operations which are majorly providing publicity for the activities of the Delta state government, covering all its agencies and parastatals.
THE POINTER is the public relations organ of the state government, hence editors and staff depend essentially on the funding from the state government to effectively carry out its activities and promote government programmes, most of which the national dailies cannot do.
But the governor explained that most media houses are run privately, making reference to Vanguard, Daily Independent, Sun and others, insisting that if those media houses with staff all over the nation could make money to pay their staff, have structures in places, run their services, THE POINTER should not be less different.
“These newspapers generate funds from adverts and sales. They are able to pay their staff, run their services. But here at the level of the state, we pay the staff of POINTER, they retain their sales, I’m just wondering what exactly is the problem? We must take some things away from government.
“To say this is a state government outfit, therefore we should provide everything, it doesn’t just come like that. Are we not commercially oriented? I’m not blaming them, they may have their difficulties, but we must develop a mindset that is different from the past. Until we develop that mindset, we will continue to run things in such a manner and it does not work.
“We must find ways of becoming a little more competitive. You may not be like the Vanguard, Daily Independent or the Daily Sun, but we must strive to see what we can do. In the first instance, government takes up the salaries, if the state government is taking up the salaries, it means what you get should be able to help you do a lot of things.”
Governor Okowa said the company management should not expect him “to come up and say I will give you a big building for THE POINTER Newspaper, I will be lying. But if you are growing big and we can see the effort you are making, yes, I will say POINTER is doing well in terms of the kind of things I see.
“But you can’t suddenly become big with big buildings. You can’t suddenly become big by having plenty vehicles. If from what you generate, you want to buy vehicles I won’t oppose it. Possibly, you may not buy brand new vehicles, you may buy second hand vehicles, I will not oppose it because we are not taking any money from what you generate.”
The governor dwelt on the fact that the greatest burden of the company which is salary payment has been removed, hence the company should go commercialized and render services that could provide money for the day to day running and upkeep of the firm.
He frowned at the management’s decision of giving out copies of the newspaper free to government offices, describing it as not good for the growth of the firm.
“Every day I hear POINTER distributing round the offices free and I keep on asking them why. Even the one they supply to my house, I have asked the commissioner questions why do they have to give it free to us? I buy other newspapers, so why can’t they buy THE POINTER?
“If you are giving newspapers free, it should be at the beginning when you want to sell yourself to the people, but as at now you still distribute round commissioners, round government offices free of charge, that is a wrong mentality.
“You must have a business mentality. You must develop the right mentality to move on. I want to see that now what we are seeing in POINTER, they are being competitive enough in terms of content, but the question is they must realize that papers are sold and from what they make from the adverts, they can sustain themselves. So, let us sit back and think and see how we can drive that paper in a right direction.”
He also said he does not believe in big buildings, noting that the newspaper house can survive where it is now but the management should go commercial so as to make money for the organization.
While the governor may not be wrong in the commercialization of the firm so as to drive more revenue, it must be noted that it is difficult for the company to go the way the governor wants it to go.
The facts are that the media outfit is owned by the government and it is established to service the objective and promote the policies and programmes of government.
To this end, one may not be wrong to say THE POINTER is the propaganda machine of the state government through the state ministry of information.
Therefore comparing it with Vanguard, PUNCH, Daily Sun and Guardian may not be perfectly okay. The fact remains that THE POINTER is being censored by the state ministry of information, it cannot publish certain stories which, though quite okay, but not in the taste of the government.
The hands of the editors in the firm are tied partly by the senior management of the firm and the supervisory ministry. There are stories which could sell the paper but the editors cannot publish them.
Many newspaper editors, not necessarily THE POINTER, have been fired and lost their jobs because they bite the tongues that feed them. These are some of the editorial constraints of the media house. The freedom Vanguard and others enjoy, THE POINTER does not enjoy it, hence going in the way of the governor may be a herculean task.
Investigations by Emeraldng.com revealed that THE POINTER newspaper commenced publishing in Delta when the state was created in 1991 when the defunct Bendel state was fragmented into Edo and Delta states.
It was gathered that the indigenes of Delta were then moved from Edo state to begin their production in Asaba, the newly created state capital.
Then in the military era, the paper was published black and white until 2010 in the administration of former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan when the newspaper went coloured in July 2010.
Then, it was produced in Lagos through the SportsDay publishing firm owned by Solomon Ogba, the sports enthusiasts.
At the production of the paper in Lagos, it would be flown to Benin airport from where the company’s drivers would pick them up and drive to Asaba. It was learnt that huge sums of money was then paid for the SportsDay media that did the publication.
At the opening of Vanguard publishing office in Asaba, the state government moved the paper production to Asaba and has been undergoing production at the Vanguard press.
Huge sums have been spent which could have procured the long desired printing press and even constructed a befitting structure for the organization.
In the administration of former Governor Uduaghan, his information commissioner, Chike Ogeah, made series of promises to the management, even insisting that the printing machines had been bought and they are on the way coming but all through his days in office for four years, the machines were not seen, until he left office, though Ogeah is being judged as the best information commissioner in Delta state.
The media house has lost more than two-third of its staff strength leaving it with few struggling on daily basis to put the paper on the newsstand. Great writers had left the company following the near-unwillingness of successive governments to revamp the firm, recruit enough staff to do good reports and carry out investigations for the firm.
Many have also died and passed on to glory while a good number of others have changed jobs, transferring their services to other ministries, departments and agencies. This is even as some are presently enjoying appointments and serving with different government appointees in the state.
The entire company, as learnt, has only two photographers with few editors but no reporters as almost all the remaining staff are editors. Many freelancers, who were receiving peanuts but with big titles and doing great jobs, had left the company for good.
One thing must be stated and that is while the state government downplays its role towards revamping the state media houses including the broadcasting outfits, the government spends millions of naira servicing Vanguard, Channels Television and African Independent Television (AIT).
While Uduaghan was in power, he paid huge sums for Tell magazine where the government could sponsor an entire edition of Tell with huge millions of naira while the state media houses are being given promises which are never fulfilled.
Even the present government, on weekends, directs Deltans to state sponsored programmes on Channels and AIT where Delta programmes are showcased but not so for the state media organizations.
As it is now, Governor Okowa has pushed the funding of whatever to the management of THE POINTER, the onus now lies on the management to put on the thinking cap and drive the company to the desired goal if the company must survive and remain in the media industry.