Senior Broadcast Journalist and presenter on the BBC World Service, Peter Okwoche, is an iconic personal brand out of Africa.
Exported from Nigeria where he started out as a journalist who worked for a number of local media houses including Hints (romance magazine) and the Radio Benue 2 FM, Makurdi, Benue State, to London where he anchors, ‘Focus on Africa,’ for the foremost international news agency, the multimedia journalist has earned accolades in Africa and the rest of the world for his unique presentation style and compelling way of telling African stories.
UCHE AKOLISA met Okwoche during his recent visit to Nigeria and in this interview which followed, he shares insights on how African journalists can positively shape the perception of Africa in the global community and changing face of the media landscape among other media –related issues: Except
Journey Into International Journalism
I began as a Radio DJ at Radio Benue 2 FM Makurdi, but I quickly realised I wanted to practice journalism. I had studied Theatre Arts at the university and had taken some media courses, so I guess you could say Journalism was my destiny. I have since practised in radio, print, online and now TV. And I love it.
Assessment of Nigeria Media Landscape
A lot has changed. The media landscape is so vast now and there is still room to grow. My issue is with the quality of what is being churned out. It’s been said often that there are not enough professionals in the game. Most of the people in it have just happened upon the industry. Proprietors want to have people with foreign accents on their stations. Good English doesn’t have an accent, it is just good English. The fact that you speak with an American accent, which most of them learned off TV, doesn’t make you a good journalist! It’s a big shame, really. There is so much inexperience on Nigerian airwaves these days and that’s scary. Once you have a pretentious accent, stations want to snap you up. I once told one of these ‘presenters’ that she needed to brush up her news reading skills, and she told me she wasn’t interested. The lady is still presenting at the same radio station and she still reads the news! How can you take such a person, seriously?
Digital Revolution and Journalism
That’s true. We just need to look at what’s happening in the West; media houses that haven’t embraced new-age technology are closing down fast. It’s the way forward. We can’t limit our ‘news’ to Nigeria or our borders any more. We have to cater to a whole world made smaller by the digital age. That’s the task facing all of us now. And we must embrace it!
How To Re-Shape The Negative Narratives About Nigeria
That’s such a great question. Let me ask you a rhetorical question: Have you ever seen a book on American or British history written by a Nigerian? Or a Ghanaian or a Kenyan? When you watch BBC or CNN and they are talking about American or British politics, have you ever seen them bring on an ‘African expert’ on British or American politics? No! Why is that? Because, they are protective of their narrative. And we must be too! I don’t agree that an American or Brit knows my story better than me. I won’t accept that! As Africans we need to tell our own stories. That’s what I try to do on the BBC and the BBC is beginning to understand the need for diverse voices and story-tellers on it various outputs. But on our part, we have to build the capacity to tell these stories too. We don’t want to present paper over the cracks or talk about only the good things. We want to tell our story in its entirety.
Journalism and Pursuit of Professional Excellence and Survival
The first thing is to have integrity. Journalists the world over are poorly paid. It’s not just in Nigeria. We all knew it was a poor paying job before we ventured in to it. Once you lose your integrity as a journalist, you are nothing. I keep telling young journalists, that ‘Brown Envelope’ that looks good at the time you are collecting it, compromises you, which means you can never do your job well and in the end, people will know.
Advice For Journalists On International News Media
I applied for it same as everyone else. It was a long, nail-biting process. The fact that they were looking for a journalist from West Africa, not just Nigeria, made it even tougher. But in the end, I got the job. 13 and a half years later, I’m still not sure how or why but I am thankful for the opportunity and I love it!
Most Difficult Decision As A Journalist
That’s a tough one. I’m not sure there have been difficult decisions. I always try to prepare well. I don’t take risks because, they just aren’t worth it. Anytime I need to travel to a dangerous region, the BBC makes me do a risk assessment. So, you kind of know what to prepare for.
Peter Okwoche and Mike Okwoche
Mike and I are first cousins. Our fathers were brothers. Both are late now. I’m really proud of him and I believe he is doing a brilliant job. I love the fact that there are at least two of us in this industry.