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Why media must adopt conflict-sensitive reporting approach to 2019 elections

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Muyiwa Popoola

Ahead of the 2019 general elections, experts are agreed on the imperative for the Nigerian media to adopt conflict-sensitive style in reporting the election processes, election and post-election. While speaking during a two-day workshop for journalists in the South West held in Osogbo on ‘Best Practices and Professional Reporting of the Electoral Process’, organised by the International Press Centre (IPC), in conjunction with European Union (EU) Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN), the speakers argued that the media must be socially-responsible and development-driven in signifying hate speech.

While speaking on ‘Towards 2019: Avoiding Hate Speech and Being Conflict-Sensitive in Election Reporting,’ Muyiwa Popoola, a professor of journalism, communication and media studies at the Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo State, said the issue of politics and governance are not far from hate speech, hence the media must watch out in order not to be tools in the hands of politicians.

He added, “Nigerian media, in their own capacities, serve as shadow parties to political conflicts that are rooted in hate speech and vituperations in the polity; thus having pervasive influences on journalistic contents and reportorial directions. Nigerian reporters have a responsibility to cover the facts, but they also have a responsibility to avoid unnecessarily stoking hatred and violence, especially when religious or political tensions are running high.”

The general elections, slated for February 16, 2019, will see Nigerians elect the president and members of parliament while the governorship and state assembly/FCT council elections will hold two weeks later.

Popoola said recent studies have shown that the number of headlines and news stories that vilify specific political groups on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation seem increasing in the Nigerian media and issues of hate speech and fake news have, particularly, dominated discussions across the country.

“Because of the reality that societal peace is a strong condition for development, a major expectation from a democratic, participant media system is that such a press avoids reporting what divides the sides in the conflict-prone environment,” he said.He highlighted five-point test of Ethical Journalism Network in relation to the electoral process, which includes the content and form of the speech, economic, social and political climate, position or status of the speaker, reach of the speech, and objectives of the speech. These, according to him, would enable the journalist adopt a conflict-sensitive approach to reporting, which is rooted in the belief that the news media in many societies can be a powerful force to reduce the causes of hate speech as well as enable a hate-speech stressed society to better pursue peace.

“The Nigerian media can do this by training their journalists to better understand hate speeches and media role in them,” Popoola said. “Journalists can strengthen their reporting to avoid stereotypes and narrow perspectives on the causes and processes of hate speech by adhering to the essential standards of accuracy, fairness, balance, and responsible conduct.”

The university don urged journalists to abide by the ethics of the profession while adopting conflict-sensitive language in their reportage, adding, “In their gatekeeping and agenda-setting role in elections and political contestations, Nigerian journalists should endeavor to continually perform as good members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. A good Fourth Estate of the Realm is driven by professionalism and ethical standards.

“There are political machinations already in respect of the 2019 general elections. Nigerian journalists should help, more than before, to foster and stabilize Nigeria’s democracy and political development so as to continually prevent any unwarranted and retrogressive interventions in the nation’s political life.”

Founder of Africa Check, David Ajikobi, emphasised the need to evaluate stories and be skeptical, adding, “identify original sources and interviewing them, investigate their network. Our lives depend on the facts available to us and asking questions is the first line of accountability.”He further noted that fake news is deliberate, fictional and intended to generate profit, stressing that journalists must be mindful as biases affect the way stories are written, adding, “Propaganda is a valid political tool intended to promote specific point of view.”

Also, founder, Journalism Clinic, Taiwo Obe, stressed the need to listen to social media conversations and follow news makers on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook and so on, noting, “Our business is to interrogate.”Earlier in his welcome speech, Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said the event was organised to critically examine the interconnections between the public, the media and elections towards developing an agenda that seeks to strengthen the role of the media in facilitating a credible electoral process.“It will bring to the frontburner the prerequisite to hone the skills of journalists in the professional and ethical reportage of democratic processes and elections as well as commit to professional, conflict-sensitive, citizen-focused, gender-focused and digital reporting of the 2019 elections,”

Arogundade advised the media to follow global trends and use media as a political communication tool as well as create equal opportunities for Nigerian politicians and political parties to tap into the opportunities offered by the media to reach and engage their constituents and voters.He added, “Journalists must use media tools to improve the efficiency of election observation.”


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