With the inauguration of the President and governors across the country, some journalists will soon be named as Special Advisers, Special Assistants (Media and Publicity) and Chief Press Secretaries.
The media aide job is usually among the first set of appointments because of the important role the spokesmen and women are expected to play in providing necessary information about especially the new administrations. The appointment of sometimes top journalists as media aides has however been a cause for concern regarding what is so special about the jobs to warrant the appointees abandoning the newsrooms for government houses.
The debate over the issue dates back to when Chief Duro Onabule, former editor of the defunct National Concord was named the spokesman for former President Ibrahim Babangida to as recent as that of Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of Sun Newspapers, Femi Adesina as Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Indeed, the President, Governors and other office holders need excellent professionals to be their media aides, but the media should also be able to keep its good hands, especially when they are known names in the industry, whose careers and reputation could be ruined by their role in government. The point of this piece is not to in any way suggest that media aide jobs are not special, rather, it is to stress the need for spokespersons to be allowed to perform their special tasks professionally as the go-between their principals, the media and the general public.
There is no point appointing accomplished journalists as special media ‘whatever’ and not giving them the necessary enabling environment to perform their duties. The job of the media aides, particularly those designated as Special Advisers, is supposed to be a top-level function that requires that they are part of the inner cabinet team decision and policy-making process where they would be able to offer expert opinion on the implications of any decision taken by the government or on any other issue of public interest. Media advisers should be confidants of their bosses, even more than some other appointees considering the sensitive role they play in managing public perception and their advice should be taken seriously.
It should not be that the damage has been done, as it is in many cases and the media adviser is called in like a fire-fighter when he or she could have prevented the fire based on strategic plans. If the media aides are indeed special as they should be, they should usually have unhindered access to necessary information on any issue of public interest to be able to adequately respond to media enquiries and issue official statements.
For the avoidance of doubt, the appointment of a media aide from a media house is not a guarantee against unfavourable publications and broadcasts. Those who appoint journalists as media aides should know this and not expect any ‘story killing’ magic. Taking up a media aide job in some cases is a career sacrifice for the professionals concerned and the assignment should not be made difficult by poor performance by their bosses.
One advice for journalists who get media adviser roles is that they should understand that they are no longer the ‘big’ newsroom bosses who cannot be questioned by reporters. They must be patient to listen to journalists who want explanation and justification for everything as they should.
The media adviser job is also more than just responding to enquiries and issuing statements. It is a total public relations role which media management is just one aspect of it. How they write and speak matters, especially in this new media age when a single slip can go viral. Their bosses should know when to speak, when not to speak and how to speak in public as every word counts.
The media to be managed now is not only the traditional media but the ‘gateless’ new media platforms where virtually everybody is a ‘journalist’ and commentator. I can imagine how difficult the special job of being a media aide is now. My best wishes to colleagues who have what it takes to be one and do it well.
- Otufodunrin is the Executive Director of the Media Career Development Centre