Stakeholders step up campaign for better 2019 election reporting
The coincidence is instructive. The public presentation of the newly revised “Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage” last Friday in Abuja as part of the highlights of the 67th World Congress of the International Press Institute (IPI) reinforced the theme of the conference: “Why Good Journalism Matters.”
The code, which is an update of 2014/2015 version, is facilitated by the European Union through its EU Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) project. The Lagos-based International Press Centre (IPC) anchored the production and dissemination of the new code. The objective is to build a professional media as catalysts of democratic accountability, credible elections and good governance.
The presentation on the platform of World Congress of IPI, according to IPC Director, Lanre Arogundade, “represents a strong statement that good election journalism or good election reporting matters to journalists and media institutions in Nigeria.” The justification for his assertion, he stressed, was the fact that the six umbrella media professional groups have endorsed the code. Arogundade mentioned them to include: Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN); Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON); Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ); Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE); Radio Television Theatre and Arts Workers Union (RATTAWU) and Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP).
Besides, a total of 75 broadcast, print and online media establishments; 15 media support and development groups and two journalism training institutions – the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) and the International Journalism Institute of Journalism (IIJ) have also endorsed the revised code. “More endorsements are still expected,” Arogundade told the global audience that comprised over 300 top journalists, media executives, publishers and communication experts from across the world.
He underscored the connection between the theme of the conference and the objective of the code thus: “This statement of commitment is indeed also made stronger by the fact that this presentation is being done before a global media freedom and freedom of expression audience that has been brought together by the International Press Institute (IPI) to discuss why good journalism matters for the purpose of building stronger societies.”
Through its preamble and statement of broad principles, the Code outlines the imperative of professional and ethical reporting of elections as well as the responsibilities of institutional stakeholders, particularly, the Government, Political Parties, the Election management bodies (Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC)) and civil society organisations and media support groups in creating the enabling environment for such.
Sections one to five of the code outline guidelines for ensuring equitable access, professionalism and social responsibility, ethical conduct, avoidance of hate speech and incitement, and being conflict sensitive by journalists and media organisations in reporting elections.
Section six provides for monitoring, implementation and enforcement while detailing internal mechanisms for ensuring compliance with the code through the institution of Ombudsman, Ethics and Disciplinary Committees, etc. This means that any journalist or media organisation that violates the code could face sanctions if there is complaint from any quarters including the media itself, the government, the political parties, the civil society, women and youths and the general public.
IPC Director, therefore, appealed to all journalists and news mediums in Nigeria to strive to read, digest, understand and implement the provisions of this code. “In order to facilitate this, we urge, all media organisations, especially those that have endorsed the Code, to make the fact known in their news mediums, make it available on their websites and social media platforms, prominently display it in their newsrooms and organise enlightenment or training programs on the Code for which IPC will be willing to assist. IPC on its part will also publish the Code on its websites (www.ipcng.org, www.ndr.org.ng) and social media platforms.”
The ultimate goal, Arogundade asserted, “is that through the credible reporting of the 2019 elections and the electoral processes before and after it, we can all contribute to credible, free and fair and peaceful elections in the country.”
Also, he expressed gratitude to all media stakeholders who contributed to the development of the code through various consultations and meetings while appreciating IPI for “providing a platform for us to launch this code.”
The gesture from IPI also raked in applause from the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, saying, “I am grateful to IPI for the opportunity to address an international audience on our preparations for the election which will be different from all previous elections in many respects.”
Prof. Yakubu marshalled these points to include: “The 2019 general elections will involve the largest number of registered voters in our history. We are currently inching closer to 80 million voters although the nationwide voter registration exercise is on-going. The figure will certainly rise above 80 million registered voters.
“The largest number of political parties of political parties will field candidates in the election. There are 68 political parties at present. However, with 138 applications from associations seeking registration as political parties, the number is set to rise higher. The political parties will contest in elections into 1,558 National, State as well as Local Constituencies in the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja).
“From the statistics of new voter registration nationwide, youths will play a far greater role in the election and processes thereof in 2019 than in previous elections.
“There is also increasing determination by marginalised groups such as women, youths and Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) for greater participation than ever before and we are working with these groups to facilitate their full participation in the electoral process.”
On how the INEC is planning for 2019 elections, he said, “Clearly, the 2019 general election is the most deliberately well-planned election in Nigeria so far. We have formulated, validated and published the Strategic Plan (2016-2021), the Strategic Programme of Action and the Election Project Plan with the full participation of all stakeholders and support from the development partners.
“Similarly, election dates are no longer matters of conjecture. On 9th January 2018, we published the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2019 general elections over a year in advance. We did so to engender certainty in our electoral calendar and allow for proper planning by the Electoral Commission, political parties, civil society organisations (CSOs), the media, security agencies and the business community (hoteliers, transporters etc.).
“Going forward, we have established the principle that our elections will be held on the third Saturday of the month of February of the election year, beginning with national elections (Presidential and National Assembly), followed two weeks later by state elections (Governorship and State Assembly). Based on this principle, in 2019 the national elections will hold on Saturday 16th February while state elections will hold on Saturday 2nd March. We have already started the countdown to the elections. It is exactly 238 days to the opening of polling units at 8am on Saturday 16th February 2019.”
INEC Chief assured of transparent process as the electoral management agency “has been working very closely with stakeholders, including the media. At the moment, INEC has accredited correspondents from 85 media organisations to cover our activities all-year round. The number is growing and our doors remain open to all. We hold regular quarterly meetings with the media and other stakeholders.
“I have no doubt that the 2019 general elections will be the most widely covered event in Nigeria. The Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) has regularly conducted election debates involving candidates at national level. A number of media organisations have given similar opportunities to candidates at state level, including off-season governorship elections, on their own initiatives.
“This is most commendable. We have also been approached by a number of television stations in Nigeria requesting for partnership in setting up facilities for live coverage of our activities from the INEC Headquarters in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. At least one international broadcast organisation has also recently approached us with a similar proposal. We welcome this development and for this reason, we are refurbishing our media centre, including two editorial suites for the convenience of the media.”
Prof. Yakubu assured IPI World Congress that INEC is committed to credible elections. “On this note, I wish to extend our early invitation to especially the international media that require longer time and logistics to prepare that you are welcome to cover our 2019 general elections. We believe the forthcoming elections will further underscore the maturity of our electoral democracy after the globally acknowledged success of the 2015 general elections.”
His closing remark was poetic. He said: “The rule of law cannot thrive without free speech. There cannot be free speech without free press. There cannot be free press without democracy. There cannot be genuine democracy without credible elections. The relationship between an Election Management Body such as INEC and the IPI is therefore organic.”
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