Ojo: Media and democracy in Nigeria (2)
IN spite of these enormous challenges, the Nigerian media have discharged their constitutional roles of supporting the goals and objectives of the Nigerian people by providing regular information to the people, exposing corruption, injustice, double standard and non-performance and fighting tyranny and anti-democratic tendencies. They have not always allowed political leaders to do just what they like. The Nigerian media have very often challenged the excesses of the government and do hold the government accountable to the people from time to time. As Tony Momoh, a former Nigerian Minister of Information once put it, there is no democracy without the press. The success of a democracy, he argues, depends “on the measure of freedom of the press in the country.”
I have listed here five important cases that I believe challenged the media and tested the collective souls of Nigerians in the last 15 years. The first are the nationwide elections in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011. The second category of cases is the various scandals in the National Assembly and the Executive arm of government. The third category is the failed Third Term bid and the faceoff between a President and his Vice. The fourth case is the attempt by the cabal around a sick and incapacitated President Umaru Yar’Adua to prevent his deputy, now President Goodluck Jonathan from taking the reins of power. The fifth category is the Niger Delta militancy/Boko Haram insurgency.
In discussing these issues, no attempt has been made to privilege the media in Nigeria as a perfect institution. Some of the common criticisms against the media are that they are biased, too quick to jump on the bandwagon, easily manipulated, sensational, careless with information, corrupt, lack depth and that they cater to the lowest common denominator.
The Nigerian media have also been accused of misrepresentation, deliberate falsehood, malicious reporting, sloppy writing and poor editing, lack of balance and originality, timidity and over-reliance on government or corporate press releases.
There is also the problem of elitism – poor, uneducated and rural dwellers are often missing from our media. They only impinge on our consciousness when they violate the laws or do something stupid. The media is also over-commercialized. A rich person can buy newspaper space or air-time on radio or television to hail a boy friend or girl friend on his/her birthday. Anything goes as long as you can pay. This has further widened the gap between the rich and the poor and created a situation where governments, corporate groups and moneybags monopolize the media because they are the only ones that can pay. As for Government-owned media organizations, most of them have serious credibility deficit. Many Nigerians do not trust them. They tend to trust foreign media organizations such as BBC, VOA, CNN and AL JAZEERA for their objectivity and integrity.
Writing about the many short-comings of the media in Nigeria, Ayo Olukotun listed them as planting of stories, putting a spin on stories, “fiction writing, partisanship and elegantly served nonsense masquerading as informed commentary” which he said have “become the order of the day. Politicians long caricatured by a hostile media or denied the right-of-reply are forced to state their cases in paid advertisements, found their own newspapers or television stations or simply carry on with their work hoping that orchestrated bad press will not count.”
In assessing media coverage of the 2011 elections, the UNDP-sponsored study found that the “coverage was not issue based; the media was not sufficiently critical in analyzing the various campaign promises made by political parties or their candidates; the media demonstrated weaknesses in investigative journalism; most times the media had failed to distinguish between the official and political party campaign activities of incumbents like the governors; generally, government owned media severally and commonly violated the provisions of the Electoral Act, Professional Code of Ethics and the Nigeria Political Broadcasting Code.”
The study rated the Nigerian media coverage of politics and democratic processes ineffective and attributed it to the constraints of “inadequate staff; confusing politician issues as political issues; unbalanced curricula of media training institutions; commercialization of news; self-censorship; pressure on editors in allocating journalists to beats; and the socio-cultural context within which the media operate”.
In particular, the study identified “poor logistical support, lack of insurance coverage for journalists; misunderstanding of the roles of journalists and the media by politicians; proliferation of quacks; level of editorial independence; ownership influence; advertisers influence; and absence of investigative journalism” as obstacles militating against effective media coverage of elections:
Way forward: The Nigeria media must constantly build capacity in the coverage of democracy and governance, invest in new equipment, do more investigative reporting and be better informed about the media’s role in a democracy and about the workings of other democratic institutions. They should ensure editorial independence and maintain discipline among journalists; they should not allow themselves to be compromised by politicians and governments in power.
The media must commit themselves to protecting and upholding the public interest or public good at all times. They should endeavour to stick to the principles and ethics of the journalism profession.
In addition, the Nigerian media must do more of development journalism to promote equality and social justice, education, health care delivery, etc. They have to be concerned about the situation in a country and then partners with the government or the people to find solutions to common problems. They should take government’s programmes and policies to the people and feeds the government back on their effectiveness and possible ways of improving them. The media should give voice to the voiceless, empower the poor and vulnerable members of the society, encourage the marginalized segments of the society to be actively involved in changing their circumstances, and highlight the plight of those often missing from mainstream media. It is the duty of the media to bring the government, the people and the media together to effect positive change in the society.
In their coverage of political issues, there is the need to draw a distinction between politics for politics sake or what some have called political politics and development politics. Political politics adds no real value to a nation while development politics can positively transform a nation.
Regulatory and enforcement agencies such as National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) as well as professional bodies like the NUJ, NGE, NPAN and BON should ensure sanity and orderliness in the media.
I agree with Professor Pate that the media should “focus increasing attention on leaders in public institutions, political offices and how they discharge their responsibilities, lead their people and acquit public trust.” He also advocates that the media should “focus extra attention on building institutions in the country instead of building some strong individuals” and argues that building institutions “have more advantages than strengthening of individuals” because “functional institutions enhance the performance of the system and protect the society from the deviant behaviour of the few that try to injure the majority”.
For the media to effectively play their role in the polity, they should be accurate and objective, must be known for their consistency, creativity, innovation and ability to deliver a quality content. They should strive for excellence, be clear about what each media organization stands for; journalists and editors should know what makes a good story; media outfits should be professionally managed and be guided by the core values of journalism; and such media organizations should develop an open and honest relationship with their primary constituency. Also, they should build relationships with their readers/viewers/listeners and endeavour to know and understand the needs of the community.
• Adinoyi Ojo delivered this (excerpts) at a three-day training/workshop for journalists in Imo State from December 3 to 5, 2014 in Owerri, Imo State. It was jointly sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria.