Media tasked on sensitive journalism during elections
In order for Nigerian media to serve as catalyst for democratic accountability, credible elections, good governance and one which uphold ethical conduct and coverage of the 2019 elections and the processes leading to it, stakeholders have stressed the need for journalists to be conversant with the essence and challenge of reporting the electoral process. This would help society, it was also canvased, to freely and fairly elect candidates that would best represent the people’s interests.
While speaking recently at a roundtable meeting on baseline assessment of the print and online media reporting of the 2015 electoral process, organised by International Press Centre (IPC), with the support of European Union (EU), the forum argued that media ownership, commercialization and inadequate regulatory framework were some key factors mitigating against credible reportage of electoral processes and elections, as well as poor service conditions of journalists.
The project was aimed at establishing previous trends in reporting the electoral processes, identifying key gaps and recommend resources required to bridge the capacity needs of journalists in reporting the 2019 and future electoral process and elections.
In the assessment, five national newspapers and two online publications, namely The Punch, ThisDay, The Nation, Daily Trust, Vanguard, Premium Times and The Cable were used as case studies. The findings indicated that the issue of gender-sensitivity received scant attention in all the surveyed publications. As stated by a participant, Lawal Sabo Ibrahim, Managing Director, Triumph Publishing Company, Kano, women are their own enemies as they lack the spirit of togetherness, adding, “They need to start seeing themselves as partners not opponents.”
The report stated that most of the publications were sensitive enough to emphasising the need to follow due process in election but left out other political aspects. All the publications surveyed gave disproportionate access to two political parties – APC and PDP – with scant attention to the other 24 parties. Preponderant attention of 92 per cent focused on the All Progressive Congress (APC) and People Democratic Party, with the seven others attracting a paltry eight per cent.
In her review of the assessment, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Prof. Chinyere Okunna, said the media is the oxygen of society and as such journalists need to be abreast with trends. She, however, suggested that The Sun, which has a strong presence in the Eastern region of the country, should have been part of the assessment.
Participants lamented poor attention given to youths who constitute about 60 per cent of Nigeria’s population. The report stated that little effort was made to create synergy between the electoral process and the fate of people with disabilities (PWD): “Critical issues affecting PWD such as low percentage of PWD in the hierarchy of political contestants and the lack of programmes and policies of political parties were not mainstreamed. Premium Times and The Cable ignored PWD whilst Trust barely gave it three per cent mention,” says the report.
Editor-in-Chief of Premium Times, Dapo Olorunyomi, advised that such huge assessment projects ought to involve every media house and that the final report must get to every newsroom.
On his part, Press secretary to INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, said specialization was another challenge, as journalists were not allowed to master their crafts on a beat before they are moved to another, adding, “Sub-editors should be part of this meeting as well.”
The peer review group advocated engagement of the media, electoral agency, civil society, and the government: “The media as interpreters of reality need to carry out the exercise without blinkers, but with a vision 2020 to ensure that the requisite training, support, and resources are put in place for free and responsible journalism to thrive,” as stated in the report.
Earlier, the Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, emphasised the need for media to document electoral campaign promises so as to hold politicians accountable. With Nigeria being a member of United Nations, the report advised that no journalist should cover the electoral process without a clear understanding of the import of the eight development goals of the UN and the content of Part 2 of the Nigerian Constitution of fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy.
The group argued that since conflict sensitivity enjoins journalists to move from conflict highlighting to setting broad agenda for peace building and conflict resolution, the media must deviate from just narrating claims and counterclaims without making efforts to interrogate them and offer informed perspectives.
“Conflict sensitivity demands that reporters avoid stereotyping, profiling and primordial clichés that may hurt the sensibilities of the electorate, conscious that appearance is hardly ever reality.
“Truth should not be determined by hierarchy of political or social status but through media verification. Statements made by top political leaders are often splashed as if such statements are automatic truths,” the report stated.