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Experts task journalists on building strong democratic culture

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Journalists. Photo: PIXABAY


The Executive Director, African Languages Technology Institute, Tunde Adegbola, has stressed the need for journalists to look beyond their immediate role and assist in building a lasting democratic culture.
 
Speaking at a media stakeholders’ meeting and public presentation on the review of the National Broadcasting Commission Act in Lagos last week, he noted that journalists must also help in addressing election rigging, which he described as a weak democratic culture.
 
With the theme: ‘The Media in the Progressive Refinement of Nigeria’s Electoral Processes’ he said democracy is a process and not a destination. 
 
According to him, “We are living in an age of structured information out of unstructured data and journalists should not just go to court on the first day of tribunal and on the final day announce that a particular candidate has won. But journalists should engage from the beginning of the tribunal to the end. He, however, added that journalists have put out their heads without helmet in dangerous zones.
 

Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society, Akin Akingbulu, noted that the media stakeholders’ meeting was an activity under the ‘Support to Media Component’ of the ‘European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) Project, which was being implemented by IMS works to strengthen the media to provide fair, accurate and ethical coverage of the electoral process in Nigeria. This objective is achieved through: enhanced professionalism of media practitioners; strengthened capacity of media platforms to diversify and deepen civic and voter education; enhanced capacity of the media regulator to perform its mandate; improved engagement in promoting women, youth and marginalized groups in politics.
 
Continuing, he said the event which was the third in the series, aims to bring to the attention of stakeholders the performance of the media on the coverage of the2019 electoral process along with the emerging issues so that we can collectively address them. It is for this reason due diligence was given to the selection process of participants at this event.
 
He argued that the media continues to be very central in the electoral and broader democratic process. In Nigeria, the media has played and continues to play its role to ensure that the management of our elections moves to greater heights. However challenges remain at institutional and environmental levels.
 
Speaking on security of journalists, Director International Press Centre, Lanre Arogundade, said ‘what we advocated is that the framework for management of elections should include safety of journalists and one of the things we suggested is that the police should see it as their responsibility to protect journalists. Our observation is that though journalists have been accredited by INEC, they still get attacked in the course of their work. The police don’t seem to see it as their duty but they just treat journalists like other citizens.
 
Chairman, Nigeria Union Journalist Lagos State chapter, Quasim Akinreti said journalists should have blogs where they can tell their stories. He added that insurance policy was launched by the Union and journalists should take advantage of it.
 
Reacting to the proposed hate speech bill, Arogundade, while fielding questions from journalists, said government should not criminalize criticism in the name of fighting hate speech. According to him, Nigerians must be enlightened on what constitutes hate speech and government should get the National Orientation Agency to embark on massive public education in the next one year because the understanding is not there and people share things out of ignorance. Everything should not be by force of legislation.
 
Specifically, he added that there are enough laws currently to deal with hate speech like Cybercrime Act and if anybody thinks he has been lied against, he can go to court like the Vice President that said he would waive his immunity to defend himself in court.
   
He argued further that the responsibility of conducting free and fair election devoid of violence was major responsibility of the government.
 
He said, “The government must provide the conducive atmosphere because it is quite embarrassing where the police say it deploys thousands of policemen and you talk of fake police and violence. The security agencies should be embarrassed by what happened especially in Kogi State, the IG was having a peace rally and while that was going on a female candidate was being attacked outside that venue, there should be no excuse, and I think by now, they should be telling us the numbers of arrest that have been made. We can’t place security on INEC, it doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.”
 
Similarly, Akingbulu, reacting to the governors’ unanimous stand against proposed hate speech bill, stated, “You cannot say you have criminalized speech and you want to take human lives. What we have seen from the work we have been doing over the past few years, which include monitoring of the content of media organization is that the major disseminators of hate speech are politicians especially the ones that are office holders now.

During the campaigns, heavy harmful content were disseminated by politicians from major political parties and on getting to office saying they want death penalty. This is unacceptable.”
 
The event ended with the public presentation of IMS Publication on the review of the National Broadcasting Commission Act. Akingbulu, in his speech stated that “our plan is to have a reviewed law. This means that this process will lead to legislative activity at the National Assembly and assent at the Presidency.
 
“Right away, wide dissemination of the publication will start. Engagement with affected groups will continue with government agencies in the executive and legislative arms, with civil society, with the media and others. We understand that the federal government has decided to embark on a broad reform of the broadcasting sector. We welcome that decision and urge the government to make the exercise comprehensive, participatory and in consonance with international standards.”


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