Recognizing the vital role journalism plays in strengthening public health through precise, informative, and instructive reporting, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) hosted a two-day intensive workshop for journalists. The training centered on Nigeria’s Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB) tax.
The event, which drew twenty-three journalists from twenty premier outlets spanning print, radio, and TV, featured discussions led by public health experts and seasoned media professionals who deepened participants’ understanding of SSBs’ health risks and the tax policy in Nigeria, the industry’s opposition to the tax, investigative and reporting techniques to counter the industry’s narrative, and craft compelling stories on public health and SSB tax issues.
The event began with opening remarks from Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of CAPPA, who acknowledged the critical role good reporting plays in supporting the SSB tax and the need to advocate for the sustainable increase of the SSB tax in line with recommendations by global health experts to achieve a 20% increase in the final retail prices of these drinks.
The Nigeria Coordinator for the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI), Joy Amafah, also reinforced the pivotal role of the media in guiding policymakers and educating the public about the benefits of the SSB tax.
Activities on the first day of the workshop proceeded with interactive sessions led by public health experts and media gurus who provided practical insights on the subject matter of the workshop. The first discussion, facilitated by Akinbode Oluwafemi, dwelt on Understanding and Monitoring Industry Interference in Public Health Behaviours and Policies. This conversation delved into the denial, dilution, and delay tactics commonly used by industries to counter health-focused policies. Additionally, it provided a comprehensive guide for journalists to track, identify, and report on these forms of interference effectively.
Environmental Journalist and Media Trainer, Ugochi Anyaka Ouigbo, led the next session on Developing Story Ideas on SSB Tax. She underscored the importance of journalists asking probing questions focused on issues such as the food and beverage industry’s operational standards and the role of schools in promoting healthy eating. Media practitioners were encouraged to identify compelling human-angle stories in their report development. Ouigbo concluded her talk with a riveting story of an industry leader who refused to consume his organization’s products on live TV.
Austine Iraoya, a Research Associate and Economic Policy Expert, walked participants through the Economics of the SSB Tax and Understanding the Finance Act, 2022. He highlighted the tax’s role in mitigating public health issues linked to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and its capacity to correct market failures and raise revenue. Iraoya recommended a threshold-based tax for healthier product alternatives and legislative measures for the SSB tax’s sustainability.
In a final session for the day, Declan Okpalaeke, President of the African Health Journalists Association, guided reporters on the theme: How to Excite Your Editor with Public Health and SSB Tax Stories. He highlighted the necessity of broad-based reading to provide diverse story angles and the importance of simplifying story pitches with jargon-free language. Facts and statistics, human-angle stories, and international comparisons can enhance story impact. Okpalaeke encouraged journalists to explore productivity loss due to excessive sugary drink consumption as another story angle. He concluded by emphasizing the power of words and the importance of trending topics for relevant reporting. Journalists, he stated, should use visually captivating words to narrate powerful stories concisely.
The second day of the presentation opened with a presentation on Policy Direction for a Successful SSB Tax Regime in Nigeria by Dr. Adeolu Adebiyi, Senior Regional Advisor, Africa, Global Health Advocacy Incubator. The discussion highlighted the immense potential of the SSB tax as a tool to reduce sugary drink consumption and fund health initiatives. He noted the role of journalists in supporting the tax and called for a structural intervention for effective implementation.
Dayo Aiyetan, Executive Director, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, followed next with a presentation on How to Conduct Investigative Reporting on Public Health SSB Tax Issues. He underscored the role of investigative journalists in holding authorities accountable and tracing the connection between SSB consumption and non-communicable diseases. Successful investigative reporting, he posited, requires in-depth research, curiosity, objectivity, and robust work ethics.
Dr. Francis Fagbule, a Public Health Consultant, provided an informative overview of SSBs in his presentation titled The Burden of SSB Consumption on Public Health. He discussed the increasing SSB intake in Nigeria as due to factors like accessibility, affordability, and lack of public education. A possible solution, he noted, would come from increasing the tax rate on SSBs. He also stressed the importance of journalists in fostering public understanding of taxes.
Abayomi Sarumi, CAPPA’s Programme and Digital Media Manager, also facilitated a session centered on Maximizing Digital Tools to Support Public Health/SSB Tax Reporting. He encouraged participants to utilize digital tools to augment public health and SSB tax reporting. He also emphasized the importance of social media platforms, multimedia storytelling, and data visualization in reaching wider audiences.
The workshop concluded with a final session that discussed the challenges faced by journalists. This meeting allowed journalists to ideate solutions like personal motivation, strategic story development, and continuous self-learning as ways of overcoming identified barriers to health reporting.