Nigeria's media scene is characterised by state and private broadcasters, popular international brands like the BBC and CNN, and more than 100 national and local print titles. The enormous popularity of social media has brought greater diversity but also an explosion of misinformation.
Media outlets are tapping into the growing vibrancy of Nigerian digital communities, with blogs, podcasts, and social media apps gaining prominence. Our Digital News Report survey shows that the vast majority (95%) of our educated English-speaking sample access news weekly via digital and social platforms, well ahead of TV (61%) and print (33%). Across the whole population, however, TV and radio remain the most important sources of news, although internet access is growing fast and it is estimated that there were around 33m social media users as of January 2022.1
Facebook (62%) and WhatsApp (60%) are still the dominant social networks used for news, but Telegram (26%) is gaining in popularity, with adoption in Nigeria leading the list of countries surveyed. The short video sharing platform TikTok is also seeing take-up among both mainstream and new media outlets, with Pulse Nigeria and Channels TV having over 804,000 and 26,400 TikTok followers respectively. Despite the integration of news organisations in social media, closed messaging apps like Telegram and WhatsApp have also been contributing to the burgeoning circulation of misinformation and disinformation on politics, elections, and COVID-19.
The government has become increasingly worried about digital platforms' influence in airing grievances, such as the recent #EndSars anti-police violence campaign. Twitter, the fifth most important social network for news in Nigeria, was banned for more than six months after it deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari. The authorities said the suspension – widely criticised by human rights organisations – was part of a wider response to the ‘use of the platform for activities … capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence’.2
Following the lifting of the Twitter ban in January 2022, the government has pushed to regulate social media through the proposed National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act amendment bill. The plan has received significant backlash because of its potential for infringing on media freedom.3 Other legislation being considered includes a data protection bill, a bill expanding criminal penalties for online speech, and one that extends the NBC’s mandate to online content hosts.4
Print media have responded to the shift of advertising revenue to the big platforms by exploring digital subscriptions as a way to sustain operations. Daily Trust, a widely read newspaper, launched Trust Plus, an online subscription service, in September 2021. Publishers with already existing membership programmes include Premium Times (including access to The Brief monthly newsletter), Business Day, and Stears Business. The impact of declining revenues and changing audience consumption patterns have also resulted in changes to how frequently some news organisations publish. Daily Times now publishes three times a week (previously daily), with Champion only publishing occasionally. Print publishers have also been asking for more direct government help, such as lowering the cost of production by subsidising printing materials. It is worth noting that the Federal Government of Nigeria has halted plans to subsidise TV's Digital Switch Over (DSO), as the country is on the verge of transitioning television broadcasting from analogue to digital.
There is an increase in the number of new digital media start-ups emerging, with some of these owned or managed by former employees of traditional media organisations, who were laid off at the pandemic's peak. Start-ups such as AllWomen and TraceReporter usually operate without a physical office and have adopted a model of aggregating news from other traditional newsrooms like The Punch, The Vanguard, and The Nation.
Media organisations are alarmed about the heightened insecurity in the country that has resulted in journalists being attacked, spied on, and arrested, with RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index (which saw Nigeria drop five places to 120) describing the country as ‘one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists’. The International Press Centre (IPC) and media organisations have called on Nigeria's security agencies to investigate the attacks and prosecute perpetrators.5
While the shifting media business landscape has the potential to impact how news is covered, traditional media still enjoy a much higher trust rating than social media and new digital media products and are perceived as a vital pillar of democratic freedoms. The key issue going forward is how government regulations will adapt in relation to the ever-evolving digital environment.
with contributions by Chris Roper
Code for Africa
These data are based on a survey of English-speaking, online news users in Nigeria – a subset of a larger, more diverse, media market. Respondents are generally more affluent, younger (18–50 only), have higher levels of formal education, and are more likely to live in cities than the wider Nigerian population. Findings should not be taken to be nationally representative.
Online (incl. social media)
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Although overall trust in news increased to 58%, this could shift with 2023’s upcoming elections, given that only 38% of respondents say they think media are independent of undue political or government influence. It is notable that privately owned local media as well as BBC News ranked higher in terms of trust than state-sponsored media such as the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
% who think media are independent from undue political or government influence
% who think media are independent from undue business or commercial influence
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1 DataReportal – Nigeria Digital Data 2022. https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2022-nigeria ↩
2 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-07/nigerian-regulator-drafts-new-rules-for-twitter-after-ban ↩
3 https://www.thecable.ng/exclusive-lai-moves-to-relaunch-bid-for-social-media-regulation-through-nbc-act ↩
4 https://freedomhouse.org/country/nigeria/freedom-net/2021 ↩
5 https://www.mfwa.org/partner-highlights/ipc-decries-attacks-on-punch-newspapers-journalists-calls-for-immediate-investigations/ ↩