Thursday, 1 May 2014

Nigerian journalist Funmi Iyanda shares her insights on creating a kinder media

Funmi Iyanda with IFLAS director Prof Jem Bendell

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
Mark Twain

Nigerian journalist Funmi Iyanda has an important message for the media: Be Kind.

As British journalism grapples with the implications of life in the Post-Leveson landscape, Funmi offered her insights at a public lecture hosted by the University of Cumbria’s Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) at its campus in Ambleside, in the heart of the Lake District National Park.

Speaking to an audience of members of the local business community and Leadership and Sustainability MBA students from the University of Cumbria and Robert Kennedy College, the journalist, producer and activist examined how the profit-driven agenda of most media organisations leads to journalism that fails its readers by lacking kindness and fostering divisions in society.

Funmi, who became a household name in Nigeria through her TV shows New Dawn with Funmi and Talk with Funmi, is also the founder of Change-a-Life Nigeria, a foundation that aims to help vulnerable people find the means to reach their potential.

She is now CEO of Ignite Media, a media organisation operating out of Lagos, and was elected one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders in recognition of her achievements.

As an insider in the world of media she believes journalists have a responsibility to be kinder – by moving beyond current stagnant conventions to tell the stories that matter to all of us and helping us gain a greater understanding of each other.

While in Ambleside, Funmi met Alan Hinkes, the
first Briton to climb all 14 mountains above 8,000m
Funmi believes media organisations particularly need to find new ways to help readers and viewers engage with political and economic news. These are the stories that have a profound impact on our daily lives, and yet we often favour the ‘fast food’ of celebrity gossip.

Telling stories about the lives of people who we share our communities with can help us gain a greater understanding of each other that can’t be gained by only reading about Miley Cyrus, the Kardashians or the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Funmi told guests.

She noted that a good lesson from celebrity news is the simplicity of style, the use of imagery and the normalisation of the ordinary day-to-day lives of the rich and famous. Can same principles be applied to sell stories on economics, politics, travel, countries and other communities? Can we make things that really matter sexy? Can we make it fun and relatable?

When the media does not help us understand each other, it leads to divisions in society. And when things go wrong – like the banking collapse of 2008 or the killing of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich – the media’s failure to create understanding makes it easy for us to scapegoat entire communities.

But when the media’s goal is to maximise profit by giving readers what they think they want, how do we change the behaviour of those who create our media and those who consume it?

Funmi said: “You can’t quantify kindness but you feel it and you see it. How can we teach people to be kind and compassionate? How can we teach the ability to really see ‘the other’?

“One of the best ways to know the other is to let them tell their stories by themselves. What do I know about the Pakistani man down the road from me in London? The media does not give me that. I do not know him and so it’s easy to not like him when things go bad.

“The media is too important to be left to market forces. It’s a shame that a world so technologically advanced has been reduced to mean ways of living and mean ways of talking to people. For humans so advanced who have done so well in so many other ways, it’s a huge shame.”

Funmi Iyanda speaking at IFLAS
The plight of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by militants in April offers a prime example of how a kinder media could help us be more empathetic.
Weeks after they were kidnapped, no media organisation has reported the names of the girls or published any photos of them.

Funmi said: “We have not seen one picture of them, so how can we connect with them? How can it be that I know the name of the Duchess of Cambridge’s son, but I don’t know the names of these girls? We can’t tell your story to the world if we don’t know your name. It’s a failure of Nigerian media but also all the other media houses covering the story.  I am not blaming the media - l am pointing out that the media is itself a victim of a structure that does not serve its practitioners, the people or our globalised world.”

British mass-media journalism exists in an ethically questionable atmosphere that was epitomised by the phone-hacking scandal. A kinder media that cared less about revenue, circulation and web traffic and more about kindness would not have resorted to those tactics.

The kind of leaders who study with IFLAS have a crucial role to play in improving our media, says Funmi – leading the way in building relationships with media managers to ensure that we all get the media we deserve.

She asked her audience: “How can we support a media business model that’s kinder, and as thought leaders how do we build something better? Because kindness is another word for sustainability.”
  • To find out more about courses offered by IFLAS, including the new Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Leadership, visit

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