Role Of The Media In The Conduct Of Peaceful Elections BY CHRIS ISIGUZO, NUJ PRESIDENT

In Breaking News, Opinion, Politics

This is a keynote presentation by the National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Comrade Chris Isiguzo in a 2-day (7- 10 November 2022) training on Conflict Sensitive Reporting, 2023 General Elections And Countering Fake News in Port Harcourt for journalists and civic space actors. The training is organized by the Centre for Democracy and Development, INEC, and NUJ.

Protocols,

Introduction

This topic is very important at this time, given the fact that election periods in Nigeria are normally considered by politicians as do-or-die affairs. It is therefore auspicious for us as Media Professionals to brainstorm ahead of the election year so as to prepare ourselves very well for the onerous task ahead.

The 2023 Nigerian elections will be held, in large part, on 25 February and 11 March 2023. The President and Vice President will be elected on 25 February, with incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari ineligible to run, being term-limited, but his party has thrown up its Candidates for the various positions at stake. Similarly, there will also be elections on the same day for the Senate and the House of Representatives. On 11 March, twenty-eight gubernatorial elections will be held alongside elections to state houses of assembly in all 36 States of the Federation.

Peace Journalism/Conflict Sensitive and Election Reporting

In whatever we do as Journalists, it is very necessary to take the issue of peace as a cardinal point and take into consideration the need to be careful so that areas that are already fragile do not explode or implode. 

Peace is a basic requirement in a democracy. No democracy can flourish in the absence of peace. While we concede that it is inevitable to eliminate crises and conflicts from our society, however, it is important if deliberate efforts are made toward conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

How then can journalists use the power of the mass media to resolve rather than inflame conflicts? How can we as responsible citizens and media professionals help in ensuring a smooth and peaceful democratic transition? Is it possible to use the media proactively to help the complex process of conflict management and transformation to peaceful co-existence?

Most importantly, while examining the ethical issues involved in reporting elections and conflicts, how can we play any constructive role in conflict and Post Conflict Scenarios? 

As Journalists, we are expected to develop a thorough understanding of the elections and the electoral process, an understanding of conflicts, and convey these to citizens in a way that reflects the truth in all their complexities. The proper foundation established by Journalists will provide citizens with the opportunities they require to make informed judgments about issues involved and perhaps help the government in taking meaningful decisions.

Media professionals should brace up for the challenges ahead, especially since they are expected to participate in the process of social reconstruction and democratization by providing a positive and participatory forum for the exchange of ideas, democracy, and nation-building while discharging their duties Journalists should never attempt to deviate from the ethics of the profession because it will not auger well for the nation. Since the role of the media in Nigeria’s emerging democracy is central, media professionals must maintain the highest possible standards in their practice.

The role of the media in peace promotion or conflict escalation has been heightened by a number of factors which include ownership and funding, editorial policy, and regulatory agencies, therefore it is proper to suggest peace journalism as an instrument in promoting peace and reducing the dysfunctional conflict to the barest minimum.

The media have a vital role to play in nation building, by being active partners in the implementation of the development processes. They are veritable instruments and are therefore central to any input-output functions of any political system. However, there may be constraints of the media in this regard which among others include lack of a conducive working environment, mass poverty, poor remuneration, and lack of adequate training.

It should be noted that the emergence of our country as a democracy in 1999 was a product of the collective efforts of Nigerians as represented by the mass media and civil society. Despite its challenges, democracy has provided Nigerians with space to freely discuss their affairs. Every single day of democratic governance in Nigeria helps to further deepen democratic values in the country. Our role as journalists is to facilitate easy access to information that will enhance participation in governance and ultimately enable citizens to make informed choices during elections.

We are conscious of our professional responsibility to gather, collate, process, and disseminate news. Through this role, we act as gatekeepers who determine which news material to disseminate especially against the background of the myriads of available news material.

Using the means of new technology to reach a mass audience, the journalist influences opinions to build perceptions and mediates among contending social and political forces. We act as a mirror for society to view itself while also influencing social realities.

Clearly, while we have contributed to the process of democratic sustainability in Nigeria in the past 23 years or thereabout, we are also interested in its future. Therefore the 2023/general election is important to all journalists especially because it will further stabilize our democracy and strengthen the democratic culture in Nigeria.

The NUJ is committed to improving the ethical standard of news reportage during elections. We are keen on ensuring that Nigerian Journalists undertake their professional duties within the ambit of the Electoral Law and other regulations. Professionally, we desire to improve the news judgment of journalists as it affects elections and elections-related issues.

Media Professionals should be actively involved in the Pre-voting stage during which electoral frameworks may be developed or refined and boundaries may be defined to ascertain voter eligibility. During this phase, voter and civic education, Voter registration, party nominations, and electoral campaigns also take place.

The process of voting where citizens come to cast their votes is also very important for the media to be active participants. In addition to the casting of votes, this phase also includes vote counting and the verification of results. It is therefore another critical stage where the attention of Journalists is very key. It is the responsibility of Journalists to provide the necessary information on whether the electoral system is fair and equitable, without ethnic- or regionally-based discrimination.

The media must always beam their searchlight on the Election management body- INEC to ensure that it is impartial and competent and that it embraces transparency and inclusivity in its composition and mandate in order to discharge its duties effectively.

The role of Journalists in the proper functioning of a democracy cannot be ignored. Their “watchdog” role should center on unfettered scrutiny and discussion of the successes and failures of politicians, governments, and the electoral management body. Journalists should inform the public of how effectively they have performed and help to hold them to account.

Other roles of media professionals should include educating voters on how to exercise their democratic rights by reporting on election campaigns through providing equal platforms for the political parties and candidates to communicate their messages to the electorate. 

Similarly, they should provide a platform for the public to communicate their concerns, opinions, and needs, to the parties/candidates, to the EMB( INEC) the government, and to other voters, and interact on these issues.

Another important responsibility is bringing the parties and candidates to debate with each other. This is a veritable means through which voters can have ideas on where to cast their votes.

It is the duty of Journalists to report election results as released or provided by INEC and monitor the entire process of vote counting. They should scrutinize the electoral process itself, including electoral management, in order to evaluate the fairness of the process, its efficiency, and its probity. Journalists must provide information that, as far as possible, avoids inflammatory language, thus helping to prevent election-related violence.

Social Media, Fake News, And Hate Speech

Journalists must avoid hate journalism, and fake news as these evils can destroy a society.

The advent of multimedia technology has changed the pattern and flow of communication, globally and since journalism is in the business and practice of Communication, it has also been impacted tremendously.

Social media platforms have thrown up challenges and opportunities for the practice of journalism which many journalists and their media organizations have not embraced.

Social media is both a threat and yet affords opportunities for journalism and businesses, especially in Nigeria. It is a healthy trend but there is a need for a change in roles between traditional media and social media. Journalists need to avail themselves of the opportunities being provided by Social Media Platforms to provide credible information and reduce the prevalence of hate speech and fake news. This will assist immeasurably in dousing tension in the polity.

Finally

The media plays a major role in keeping the citizenry abreast of current events and raising awareness of various issues in any society. It also has an extremely significant impact on the public’s views and way of thinking. The media is the primary means through which public opinion is shaped and at times manipulated. If this is the media’s role then in the normal course of events, it becomes even more vital in exceptional periods, one of which is electoral junctures, when the media becomes a primary player.

Elections constitute a basic challenge to the media, putting its impartiality and objectivity to the test. The task of the media, especially national media outlets, is not and should not be to function as a mouthpiece for any government body or a particular candidate. Its basic role is to enlighten and educate the public and act as a neutral, objective platform for the free debate of all points of view. (“Media and Parliamentary Elections in Egypt: Evaluation of Media Performance in the Parliamentary Elections” Human Rights Movement Issues 26, (Cairo, Egypt: Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, 2011: 27)

Conclusion

Journalists in Nigeria should work towards the advancement of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, freedom of the press, media independence, conflict transformation, and peacebuilding. These are prerequisites for open governance and development, which ultimately serve the public interest.

In order to properly advance public interests, earn public trust and be watchdogs of society, the pursuit of truth and public good must be the cornerstone of journalism practice in Nigeria. This makes it obligatory for every journalist to maximally comply with ethical principles and professional standards. It also makes it obligatory for every journalist to be entitled to decent wages, protection from attacks or hazards, and a conducive working environment.

It is our hope that participants will avail themselves of this training opportunity to ensure that a level playing field is provided for all political actors and ensure that peoples’ votes will count through highly professional management of news by journalists who are equipped with international best practices. This is the only way we as professionals can advance the course of peace and ensure a credible and peaceful transition.

I thank you all for listening and may God bless you.

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