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Post-2015 Polls: Canvassing media turnaround for better performance

By Kabir Alabi Garba
04 May 2015   |   5:58 am
THE altercation, last week, between the crew of the African Independent Television (AIT) and the security aides of the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) and the swift way the matter was resolved might have signposted how the media would relate with the incoming government. Earlier on April 25 during the 2015 biennial conference of the…

NUJ PresidentTHE altercation, last week, between the crew of the African Independent Television (AIT) and the security aides of the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) and the swift way the matter was resolved might have signposted how the media would relate with the incoming government.

Earlier on April 25 during the 2015 biennial conference of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), the President-elect had also underscored the significant role of the media in deepening democratic culture, saying no modern society or government can neglect the press or function without a vibrant media. The Vice-President-elect, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo represented General Buhari at the occasion.

As a fall-out of the 2015 general elections, there had been apprehension that the incoming government might want to ‘punish’ unbridled partisanship displayed by certain section of the media through the promotion of hate speeches and deployment of foul languages against the personality of the President-elect.

But this thought appears to have been buried as Buhari, in his remarks over the purported barring of AIT from covering his activities, reposed confidence in the capacity of his media team “to deal with their media colleagues as they best knew how to.” He was point-blank instructing that all matters relating to the dealings with the media should be left to his official media team.

Like feeling the pulse of the industry, The Guardian had sought the views of media professionals and scholars on the kind of media template envisioned under the new regime.

Prof. Lai Oso of the School of Communications, Lagos State University voted for people-centered media with greater access to lower class groups while advocating public/civic journalism. The university don who is also President, Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) dismissed the notion that hate campaigns against Buhari during the electioneering would affect relating with the fourth estate of the realm. “He needs the media,” Oso said.

He however cautioned that “all media organizations should review their operations during the campaign. They need to strengthen professionalism. Commercial and proprietary influences must be critically examined. Newsroom leadership is important.”

On how to ensure individual journalists do not carry their political bias into journalism practice, Prof. Oso recommended training of journalists on regular basis, as well as monitoring and enforcement of regulations by relevant bodies.

President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Mr. Femi Adesina fingered ownership structure as a factor dictating disposition of media operatives during campaigns. “Clearly, particularly more in the electronic media, and you will see that the electronic media that were partisan was due to their ownership, whether public or private. Once the ownership was beholding to one side, the media followed to that side, the Nigerian Television Authority NTA, understandably owned by the government, and African Independent Television AIT private, but the owner was beholding to the government in power, so the station itself took that same line. But we also saw Channels Television that was quite neutral, very professional, very ethical, so we saw all sorts.”
Adesina foreclosed any vendetta inclination from the President-elect as a result of the partisanship. “The man is 72 years old, at that age you have learned to take a lot of things in your strides. When he was 40 and was Head of State, one could really say that those people will be in trouble, but now at 72, he has seen a lot in life and he can take it. The Buhari I know will not take it out on anybody, all that he has to do now is to turn the nation back to its glory.”

Since public media organs under the outgoing government of PDP functioned mostly as government megaphones, media expert/CEO of Diamond Publications, Mr. Lanre Idowu tasked the incoming administration to ensure that those organs truly serve the public. Doing this, he argued, would be consistent with the administration’s promise “to change our bad ways.”

One way to begin, Idowu said, was “by looking at the enabling laws that set them up, and tinkering with them to let them serve as public trusts not beholden to the government of the day but run by a trusteeship that sufficiently represents the Nigerian public. Their mode of financing necessarily should also change. The BBC model can be of great help. Let radio and television license fees be collected by the FRCN and NTA respectively. When the stations don’t depend on government subventions for the bulk of their financing, government’s choke hold will be relaxed.”

A combination of moral force, economic pressure and coercive power of state policy should be brought to bear.”

On how to curb hatred and mudsling that characterized campaigns for the election, he said the country would need to step back and say never again should we allow hate merchants to poison the public space so recklessly.

Dean, College of Social and Management Sciences, Caleb University, Lagos, Prof. Nosa Owens-Ibie warned against generalisation about how Buhari was reported during campaigns. “There were media which favourably reported Buhari just as there were those which only saw the world from a Jonathan prism. It depended on who controlled what media at what level. Private media organisations had levels of bias with a few possible exemptions.”

Every leader, Prof. Owen-Ibie who is also General Secretary, Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) asserted, “has the opportunity to leave a legacy and Buhari is going to have his space under the sun. If he is able to focus on the substance of change – the mantra on which he rode to power, and demonstrate a vision and mission which rallies the media as an institution and not function as a partisan, he would be wiping off a sticky stigma from his days as military head of government and go down in the country’s history as a major contributor to the evolution of our transitional media. It is better to engage than dominate the media.”

Under the incoming regime, the media template required, according to the communication scholar, “is one which operates on the principle of values rooted in democracy as promoter of equity, allows the free flow of ideas, gives voice to the divergences typical of a multicultural Nigeria without amplifying its divisions and basically respects traditional ethical codes of journalistic practice.”

The template, he insists, should move beyond sloganeering to change the paradigm of ownership as determinant of media content. “Change would have happened when media under the direct control of government at federal and other levels reflect balance in coverage and opportunities even in the heat of electoral contest.”

Now that the election is over, Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Mr. Lanre Arogundade believes it may take some time to effectively measure the full impact of the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage. His reasons: The code was published in December 2014 and not all journalists were able to have copies as desired. Although disseminated through online channels, the awareness was not enough, he submitted. But at the capacity buildings organized by IPC for journalists in the six geo-political zones, reporters and editors, Arogundade said, welcomed the initiative. What mattered most, he argued, was the knowledge of the existence of a code that seeks to uphold professionalism and ethics in election reporting. He however, canvassed review of the code ahead of next elections “so as to have adequate provisions for monitoring and enforcement as it is done in some other jurisdictions.”

The process, he suggested, should involve frank discussion among stakeholders on what went amiss and what could be done to rectify the situation. “Hopefully, when some media outlets smell the dangerous scent of huge libel damages, common sense would prevail,” Arogundade reasoned. He identified moral loss as the major consequence of ethical infractions displayed by the media in the coverage of the election, as “many readers, listeners and viewers permanently turned off the media outlets because of their excessive partisanship while swimming in the ocean of hatred.”

But the two major presidential candidates – Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari -, according to National Secretary, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Shuaibu Usman Leman, benefitted from the media partisanship. And the violation of the provisions of the ‘Code of Election Coverage’, the NUJ scribe argued, might reopen the campaign that media has no capacity to regulate itself, thus, an independent ombudsman is required. Leman therefore tasked stakeholders to brace up and face the challenges, otherwise they should prepare for being regulated by the government.

Some of the salient provisions of the Code of Election Coverage violated included Article 3.5.2 which deals with political advertising, “A media organisation shall not publish or air political adverts, advertorials and sponsored political news that seek to create hatred or incite violence”; Article 4. 3 which deals with Hate Speech, “A media organisation shall reject any material intended for publication or airing by parties, candidates and other interests that contains hateful or inciting words and messages”; as well as Article 4.4: “A media organisation shall refrain from publishing or airing abusive editorial comments or opinions that denigrate individuals or groups on account of disability, race, ethnicity, tribe, gender or belief”.

The regulations in the Code were adopted on October 30, 2014 by the media professional groups such as Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN); Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ); Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE); Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON); Radio, Television, Theatre and Arts Workers Union of Nigeria (RATTAWU); Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ); Media Rights Agenda (MRA); and International Press Centre (IPC).