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Stakeholders charge media to uphold ethical conduct, democratic culture

By Sunday Aikulola
15 November 2022   |   2:56 am
Sixty-Two years after independence, stakeholders, after appraising the media landscape, have argued that the sector has fared relatively well. They, however, stressed the need for the media to uphold ethical conduct and continuously ...

Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE president, Mr. Mustapha Isah

Sixty-Two years after independence, stakeholders, after appraising the media landscape, have argued that the sector has fared relatively well. They, however, stressed the need for the media to uphold ethical conduct and continuously hold public officers accountable.

In a chat with The Guardian, first female professor of Mass Communication, Chinyere Stella Okunna, recalled that it has been a case of the good, the bad, and sometimes, even the ugly.

As one of the powerful ‘weapons’ that fought to end undemocratic colonial rule and achieve Independence for Nigeria, she noted that the ‘good’ has shown the media in many cases fighting valiantly to sustain democratic culture in the country.

Okunna, who is currently Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)  at Paul University Awka, Anambra State, said the ‘bad’ can be seen in the failure of the media to hold democratically elected leaders accountable, as bad governance has continued to thrive across the nation.

In this respect, Okunna insisted that the media did not speak out strongly enough in condemnation, for instance, through ‘naming and shaming’.In extreme ‘ugly’ cases, she added, the media (particularly government-owned media) have aided and abetted such bad governance, by serving as praise singers and propagandists for horribly incompetent and undemocratic leaders at national and state levels.

She identified challenges facing the media to include, ownership control, particularly, by government, outright greed and other inducements, which, once accepted, incapacitate media professionals in discharging their constitutional responsibilities and doing the right thing. She said ignorance and poor training/education are other factors.

Ahead the 2023 general elections, she said the role of media in the elections would include massive dissemination of all relevant information to enlighten/educate the electorate, and play the role of ‘whistle blowers’ whenever anything untoward happens during any aspect of the electoral process: campaign, voting and vote counting, transmission of results, declaration of winners.

President, Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), Mustapha Isah, noted the Nigerian media played a key role in forcing the British colonialists to grant Nigeria independence in 1960.

To him, when the military truncated democracy in 1966, the media didn’t relent until democracy was restored in 1979. He recalled, “the military struck again in December, 1983. The media took it upon itself to clamour for the return of the military to the barracks. This was at the risk of our lives. In the process, some media houses were shut, some journalists were killed, others incarcerated, while some went into exile. It was really a tough period for us, but we didn’t relent because of the love for our nation.”

Since the return of democracy on May 29, 1999, he noted that the media has been playing its role to ensure it’s sustained. According to him, “as a watchdog of society, we raise the red flag when we notice undemocratic actions and undesirable elements trying to undermine our democracy. The best way to sustain democracy is through good governance and the conduct of free, fair and credible elections.

He, however, expressed concern over the effect of the economy on the media. He observed, “to hold government accountable, you have to first survive as a business. The harsh environment we operate in is affecting us greatly, resulting in some media houses owing their workers backlog of salaries. It makes it difficult for them to sponsor investigative reporting. Adverts are drying up because of the poor economy, coupled with the advent of on-line media.”

As a way out, he advised that the media must innovate and move with the times. He added, “media convergence is the sure way to go. This enables one media entity to do print, electronic and online news. We must embrace technology. Access to information must be democratised. More investigative reporting must be embraced.”

On the role of the media in ensuring credible elections, he said it is simple: “All the actors must follow the rules. INEC, the political parties, the candidates and the electorate must adhere to the provisions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2022, as amended. The media should monitor compliance and raise the alarm when it sees infractions.”

Advising the media to properly scrutinise candidates and political parties, he said, “their policies and programmes must be interrogated. It is not enough for a candidate to promise 10 million jobs in two years, he must tell us how he plans to achieve it. If you promise free education from primary to university level, you must make it clear where you intend to the get the money to execute it.

“You must tell Nigerians what you are going to do differently when you promise to tackle insecurity. The media should provide the electorate credible information about the candidates to enable them make informed choices. The media should shun reporting divisive rhetorics by politicians. Those who want to use ethnicity and religion to deceive the voters must be exposed.”

Professor of Journalism, Lagos State University (LASU), Jide Jimoh, said the media has fared well in certain areas and there is clearly more diversity in ownership and spread.

While the print media shrinks in number and diversity, he noted that the Internet has enabled diversity in the digital sphere. He observed, “we now have newspapers that are completely online and they explore alternative funding models, like the Premium Times and Cable. The media have been more democratised to the extent of putting substantial power in the hands of the ordinary citizens who can exercise their freedom of speech. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the media is now an unweeded garden and all things rank and gross possess it merely.”

He identified challenges as economic pressure occasioned by a dwindling economy, poor welfare of journalists, noting that a poorly paid journalist has unwittingly been outsourced to the sources, he is supposed to interrogate.

Jimoh also said high cost of inputs, including diesel and printing materials is another challenge. He cautioned journalists against sensationalism but to focus on issues that matter for the common interest instead of divisive vituperations of some political gladiators.

To him, “if Nigeria goes up in flames, neither the journalist nor the politician will be able to ply their trades. We need to stir politicians to issue-based campaigns just like recent editorials of The Guardian have been advocating.”

On his part, Programme Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Ayode Longe, observed that prior to independence, the media was one tool the nationalists used to fight for Nigeria’s independence and after independence, the media held the various governments, civilian and military, accountable for their decisions and actions.

He recalled, “I still remember The Guardian and The Punch newspapers as well as Tell Magazine, The News and Tempo magazines, which were thorns in the flesh of the Babangida and Abacha governments. They so much got on the nerves of the military that government, at different times, proscribed them. However, Tell, The News, and Tempo magazines went underground and continued to publish. That was the time of guerilla journalism in Nigeria. So, the Nigerian media metamorphosed into the kind of tool to engage any government in power at any point in time.”

To make the media really strong and be able to hold government accountable, he added, “we need strong and independent institutions that will help fight the corruption war and the media will be a very strong ally in the fight. Without such institutions and systems, the media will not be as strong as it should be.

“It must be said that the media is also a reflection of the society. Nowadays, corruption in the media rife and important news are killed or skewed to favour some people. This, as I said, is a reflection of society. The society itself is corrupt and the citizenry is not helping matters: someone in government misappropriates funds and what you hear is, if you were the one, would you have done better? Or someone serves the government and leaves after meritorious service without embezzling government money and people blame him and say if he served for so long and didn’t build a house, he will remain poor for the rest of his life. So, the people are also sometimes the problems as they encourage corruption in society.”

For the media to do its work conscientiously, he also canvassed moral reorientation of the citizenry, better and continuous training for journalists, payment of salaries and remuneration when due and government doing its bit by showing seriousness in fighting corruption.

Conclusively, he said, “as we inch closer to the 2023 general elections, the media must realise that they can ensure peaceful co-existence or cause war by their reporting and so should be conscious of that.”

According to him, to sell or draw people to their websites, they should not “push out fake news, they must avoid sensationalism and any news that can set the nation on fire.”