L-R: Abati, Chida on ARISE TV Morning Show *
Arise TV The Morning Show presenter Dr Reuben Abati clearly went overboard and defamed his colleague Mary Chinda on air in the now infamous exchange about the use of first names. If it was a joke, it turned out sour.
Stakeholders have been up in arms. The din is loud and overwhelming. It is a function of the strength of that programme and station that the issue gripped national attention so much. Conversations around it have brought up many points. They include first names by broadcasters on air: is it a universal norm such as the inverted pyramid in news reporting? Or is there room for cultural peculiarities? How far can hosts go with jests on air?
AriseTV News can sort it out in several ways. One very unusual but intelligent method would be for the senior person to make it up to his junior on air. It should satisfy all stakeholders. Please note that the junior here, Mary Chinda, is as professional as they come. She holds first and second degrees in mass communication and is pursuing the ultimate academic diadem. Chinda has stacked up experience at Enugu Broadcasting Corporation, Plus TV Africa and News Central TV. She is, as such no greenhorn.
Significantly, I have seen many commentators try to degrade Dr Reuben Abati by claiming that he is not a trained journalist or not prepared for broadcasting. Debatable claims. Reuben is as trained in journalism as they come. He has spent more than 30 years serving in high editorial positions and winning all available awards in the profession in his area. Those awards are validation of competence and professionalism.
Not a journalist? Yet he was Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Guardian, columnist and editorial board member at Thisday and now anchor at AriseTV News. Please. Broadcasters say the use of first names is the norm in their industry. I reached out to veterans such as Mr Kevin Ejiofor, former Ag DG of FRCN, Nnaemeka Maduegbuna, formerly of NTA, Sola Omole, and Senator Chris Anyanwu, who owns broadcast organs. Three of four responded.
They affirmed the use of first names in addressing colleagues. Mr Ejiofor stated, “Of course, that’s the norm. I had often wondered why the young lady (not the Abiola) always addressed him as Dr Abati on The Morning Show. Of course, conventionally, there’s such a thing as a house style. I had wondered if Arise was introducing its own house style to ‘dobale’ for ‘seniors’.”
Senator Chris Anyanwu: “The convention that I know of is to call people by their first names. The idea is to promote a nice, collegial atmosphere. No one ever addresses a co-anchor by Mr… Such formality is best left off the air”.
On cultural variations, Mr Ejiofor stated, “I’m afraid I’m not aware that it does. But then, with conventions being a matter of choice and long-standing habit, there’s little room for a definitive yes or no. For example, no one objected to the young lady calling Reuben Dr Abati, as far as I know. I felt odd about it but And this is Nigeria.”
And Maduegbuna: “There could be. However, it has to be contextual. Naming in broadcasting is akin to bylines in print journalism. Titles are ranks are not usually used. Back then in the late seventies, late James Audu, pioneer Director of NTA News ( grade level 15) and Late Joan O’dwyer (grade level 9) as a news anchor pair, used their first names on air. It was not just that Audu was a level 15 officer, he was the boss of the organization. Reuben should be conversant with the norm.”
The Morning Show is an exciting programme that has gripped the imagination, attention and interest of viewers. The first-name use incident has availed critics and fans alike the opportunity to give feedback to the station and the presenters. They should please pay attention and take all the learnings. I will urge that they script the programme more closely to reduce off-the-handle displays that happen during exclusive reliance on live shows. “Simply Mr.” was the innovation of The Guardian in 1983 to tackle the Nigerian obsession with titles. It died a year later on the eve of the Decree 4 trials when Chief Rotimi Williams as the paper’s counsel voiced his year-long resentment at the insult of the denial of his title in the pages of the newspaper.
Culture fights against the quest for egalitarian usage in titles in Nigeria. Note that the use of first names is an ongoing debate in some organisations in Corporate Nigeria and has become a riddle for their internal communications teams.
One bank CEO insisted on such usage for himself, staff and customers. Well, his staff tried it with a high net worth customer in a South-South state. The High Chief took offence and exception to have customer service representatives demean him. The bank had to find exceptions to the rule.
However, the convention in broadcasting is to use first names. Will it bend to Nigeria? Not yet, and not desirable.