At ACSPN conference, scholars charge media to monitor governance
Communication scholars and professionals have admonished the media to constantly hold as sacrosanct its constitutional obligation to hold government accountable to the people.
Speaking at the Eight Annual Conference of the Association of Communication Scholars & Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) held in Port Harcourt, and themed ‘Media and Citizens Participation in Governance for Accountability and Peace in Society’, participants observed that a vibrant media and citizens participation are central to governance.
In his welcome address, ACSPN President and Vice Chancellor of the Federal University, Kashere, Professor Umaru A. Pate, noted that media has the constitutional role to hold the government accountable, and is a veritable tool to promote peace in the society.
He, however, submitted that the media’s ability to perform these roles is affected by issues of poor funding, competition from social media, safety of journalists and decline in media credibility. He said for media to promote peace and facilitate citizens participation in governance, those challenges need to be addressed.
Similarly, the host and Vice Chancellor, Rivers State University, Professor Nlerum Sunday Okogbule, noted that the media has a large role in sustaining democratic values in Nigeria, insisting that such role should not be underestimated.
He stated that the cost of governance in Nigeria is too high and the press has the responsibility to investigate and set agenda on ways to cut such cost. This, he noted, could be achieved by harnessing the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. He added that the media has a duty to facilitate citizens participation in governance and promote sustainable peace.
A reputation management and communications specialist and Group Head, Corporate Communications, Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals and Fertilizer Ltd, Dr. Jossy Nkwocha, urged journalists to uphold the roles assigned to them in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to promote sustainable peace and unity in the country.
Speaking on ‘The Role of the Mass Media in Accountable Governance and Sustainable Peace in Society’, he reminded guests of the provisions of section 22 that state: “The press, radio television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”
On the basis of this, Nkwocha said some of the fundamental objectives that the mass media should uphold include the provision of section 23, which states that the national ethics shall be “discipline, integrity, dignity of labour, social justice, religious tolerance, self-reliance and patriotism.”
He equally cited section 14, sub-section 3, which states that, “The composition of Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the Federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in the Government or in any of its agencies.”
According to Nkwocha, journalists should be courageous enough to draw government attention to the fundamental objectives to reduce agitations of marginalisation and enhance peace in the country. He, therefore, urged the ACSPN and UNESCO to organise workshops or seminars for journalists on crisis reporting and peace building reporting skills.
In a communiqué released and signed by ACSPN General Secretary, Prof. Nosa Owens-Ibie, the following observations were made: “Journalists are the only professionals given a role in chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution to hold government accountable to the people; the media have the duty to promote peace in the society; that while it is important for the media to hold government accountable, it is necessary to note that there is a decline in societal or national value; new media technology is key to facilitating citizen participation in governance; the media have the responsibility to always examine the facts before reportage; media portrayal of women is often not favourable to the course of women; women participation in media is low and there has been a failure to utilise the media even when the opportunities are available.”
Continuing, the participants also observed that poor implementation of the Freedom of Information Act is affecting media role in holding government accountable; journalists lacking in upholding and promoting professional ethic, which affect media credulity; the problem of safety of journalists affects media ability to hold government accountable; journalists are deficient in peace journalism skills, thereby affecting their ability to promote peace; funding and credibility are major challenges of the media in performing their roles in holding government accountable; there are legislation deliberately designed to curb and limit the role of the media in holding the government accountable and government funding could compromise the independence of the media in objectively performing their roles, especially holding government accountable.
The following resolutions and recommendations were also adopted: That media organisations should explore new business models to address the challenges of funding; journalists should advocate for media development fund that should support media organisations; journalist should advocate for bailout support for the media as is the case with other sectors, especially in difficult times, such as the pandemic or recession; media organisations should collaborate and engage stakeholders for necessary support; citizens need to go back to the value system and own up and not blame government for every societal problem; media literacy should be encouraged and funded by the government and other funding bodies to ensure that citizens understand ways to engage the media more appropriately; journalists should uphold and promote professional ethics to ensure adherence and credibility in the media; women should be more proactive in engaging with the media by exploring available avenues, such as media phone-in programmes, new media platforms, films, among others, to tell their stories.
They also recommended that media organisations should focus on training and retraining of journalists, to enable them update skills and knowledge on current issues journalists’ safety should be taken more seriously by media organisations which should ensure robust insurance schemes and hazard provisions for journalists; media organisation should ensure that the welfare of journalists is taken seriously to ensure that they effectively carryout their roles without compromise; media should constantly remind citizens of their obligation to uphold societal values; journalists should fully harness the benefits of Freedom of Information Act to hold government accountable and media organisations should ensure easy access to the media for their audience, to enhance their participation in governance through the media.