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‘Media has to put in place mechanism to check for facts during election’

By Guardian Nigeria
15 March 2022   |   2:43 am
The 2023 election, which is some months away, by all indications, is perhaps, going to be one of the most seriously contested in the country’s political history.

Rosemary Egabor Afolahan

The 2023 election, which is some months away, by all indications, is perhaps, going to be one of the most seriously contested in the country’s political history.

The current insecurity in Nigeria makes the argument about 2023 more important than ever before. Recently, Media Hangout Ng (MHNG) partnered with the American corner (US Consulate) in Nigeria to organise a roundtable to discuss the need for synergy ahead of the elections. Rosemary Egabor Afolahan, the founder of the initiative, spoke with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR after the roundtable.

Tell us more about the MHNG Network
WE set up the mediahangoutng in 2015. It is a support initiative that has been giving back to the media, as well as, bringing its personalities from different platforms (TV, radio, online, print) together to network and discuss issues that affect the profession. It is also an opportunity for practitioners to explore possible collaborations through conversations with stakeholders, while also promoting unity and professionalism in the industry.

We conduct training programmes in collaboration with media and communication institutions such as the School of Media and Communications, Pan-Atlantic University and Poise School of Communications.

We believe that the Nigerian media, as the fourth estate of the realm, can be an agent of change, especially in a nation that finds itself at a crossroads, and is currently, challenged by security, corruption and economic dislocations. The network is a fulcrum that holds the rubric of the media industry together.

You recently gathered media practitioners from different platforms to synergise ahead of the 2023 elections, what motivated this?

The country is currently faced with one form of violence or the other, thus, creating fear in the populace that we might not have a violence-free election or peaceful handover of power, as the case may be.

This dire situation, as the country approaches 2023, demands that the media, as the fourth estate of the realm, and other stakeholders, is above politics, and thus, must steer the country from brinks and uncertainty of election turbulence.

There is a need for the media to play its major functions to inform and educate society on the power of their vote; the saying, “votes don’t count” needs to be a thing of the past. The media, through TV, radio and print, can help make that happen.

Now, the objective of the roundtable is to push a united media as a way forward for nation-building, which means, we, as media professionals, should, at some point, put aside competition for audience numbers and collaborate on how we push out the right narrative for the greater good. We identified ways the media could work together for effective coverage and reportage of the 2023 general elections for a free and fair election.

Another objective was to table issues on violence against Nigerian journalists and push for a commitment from the police that no journalist would be manhandled during election coverage, but would be protected by them.

To highlight the need for government to sensitise the public on the power of voting, the voting process, zero violence during the election, among others, before, during and after the election through effective media campaigns. Also giving the Nigerian media unlimited access to information.

Corporate organisations often shy aware of electoral matters, but in their little way, they must intentionally sensitise society through educating their staff on the need to vote, because a steady economy also means their businesses will thrive and finally to discuss with the various consulates to understand how the international community can ensure elections are free and fair.

Has the media performed creditably well in the development of democracy in Nigeria?
The media, definitely, has played a role in the development of democracy in Nigeria. However, there is still much to be done, especially, in seeing through, issues affecting the country to its notable conclusion. Take the case of governance in my state, Edo, where, to date, 10 legislators are still operating the Assembly instead of 24. Corruption cases and unnecessary delays by the court when you have in place the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJ) 2015, which seeks to ensure that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime and protection of the rights and interests of the suspect, the defendant, and the victim. There’s a need for more journalistic interrogations to unravel facts on issues affecting governance. General issues on governance, economy etc. must be well analysed for the benefit of the people.

What specific roles do you believe the Nigerian media should play during elections?
The media should be an advocate for peoples’ participation in the electoral process with reasons, campaigns against vote-buying, violence and its implication. We should monitor the elections at the polling booths and the counting of votes downloaded to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) portal. We must work towards accurate reporting of incidents during elections, and finally, be objective in presenting candidates and policies of the parties to the electorate.

Do you think synergy is important in the Nigerian media?
It is. But the question is, is it possible? It is important to have it amongst Media groups. The truth is that there will always be divergent views, depending on their setup, belief and political ideology.

Across media platforms, synergy is possible on a commercial basis. I believe true synergy is more possible between media professionals irrespective of the platform they work for and that’s why when we started the mediahangoutng our key objective was to build a united media by bringing professionals from TV, radio, print and social media together. If there are restrictions to push out a story because the media owner is aligned to a political party rather than toss the story in the bin, why not call up a colleague who might be interested in the same story after she must have fact-checked it.
You ran a campaign on social media years ago tagged EVAJ (End Violence against Journalists), tell us more about it?

Over the years, journalists in Nigeria and Africa have been threatened, harassed, intimidated and killed on the job while seeking to perform their core functions. Such threats are prevalent during elections and nothing is ever done about it. At the mediahangoutng, we believe that to protect journalists during elections, we need the cooperation of our media colleagues to call the attention of the public, civil societies, security agencies and the government to any form of harassment and intimidation towards journalists on assignment.

#ENDVAJ (End Violence Against Journalists) was a social media campaign, which demanded the end of violence against journalists to enable them to carry out their duties without fear of violence, death and intimidation. The goals of #ENDVAJ (End Violence Against Journalists) advocacy was to ensure journalists are allowed to perform their functions without fear of intimidation or harm during the election time; to beam the searchlight on all forms of intimidation to members of the press before, during and after the elections to ensure accurate updates are reported during the election period; to ensure that adequate logistics and security is provided for all Journalists from the government and the media houses during and after the election and to create public awareness on the need for media presence at every polling unit during the elections.

Why partner with the US Consulate on the roundtable?
The US Consulate has been supporting initiatives that empower journalists with skills in election reporting over the years and when we spoke to all the consulates, it was the US Consulate that showed excitement about the roundtable, as it aligned with one of their objectives to be met for 2023.

Misleading information on social media always negatively influences the behavioural decision pattern during elections, how do we curtail this ahead of the 2023 elections?
The media has to put in place a mechanism to check for facts on information that is not directly from the government or a very credible source. It helps in curtailing fake news and putting such news outlets on social media in check. This is important because we should expect a lot of fake news during the election period. Africa check is Africa’s first independent fact-checking organisation and they are doing well in the space of fact-checking, a few organisations like News Central TV have partnered with them on fact-checking. Media owners should invest in fact-checking tools; it’s also good for their business.

What has been the major achievement of the mediahangoutng initiative (MHNG)?
Before the mediahangoutng, we had media personalities that were just in clusters and felt comfortable with colleagues on their platforms. It was so rare to see a print Journalist being friends with a radio journalist but with the initiative, we are gradually getting to the point where we can say we are ‘one media’ and many collaborations of projects have been birthed.

In partnership with the School of Media and Communications and Poise School of Communications, we have trained 50 journalists. I believe we have also been able to create awareness of the challenge facing it, which is often the same across all platforms. Four years ago we ran an online campaign with the theme: IAMTHENIGERIANMEDIA. The objective of the campaign was to change the negative perception about how people saw the media profession; we had award-winning journalists speak on how to promote professionalism in the media space as they rolled out advice and tips to overcome challenges on the job.

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