Documenting how print, online outlets reported 2015 polls
AS part of efforts to ensure that electoral process in Nigeria conform with international standards, the activities of a total of 29 media outlets, for six months (from November 2014 to April 2015), were put on the spotlight with the aim of evaluating their coverage of 2015 General Elections.
The exercise, as a key highlight of the broad project tagged, Media Capacity Building, Mentoring and Monitoring for Conflict-Sensitive, Public-Issue and ICT-Driven Reporting of 2015, is a collaborative undertaking of Democratic Governance for Development (DGD) II (supported with funds contributed by the European Union (EU), UKAid, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) and UNDP); Nigerian Press Council (NPC); as well as International Press Council (IPC).
The period of the monitoring was carefully designed in order to undertake assessment of the performance of the concerned media outlets prior to, during, and immediately after the elections with emphasis on: use of sources, conflict sensitivity, language use, coverage of issues and coverage of the election management body.
The outcome of the monitoring exercise has now been documented entitled Reportage of 2015 Elections: A Monitoring Scorecard of Print and Online Media. The public presentation of the publication held last Thursday in Abuja attracted the presence of distinguished personalities such as Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to the President, Mr. Femi Adesina; Project Director, UNDP-DGD, Dr. Mourtada Deme was represented by the Media Expert, UNDP-DGD, Toyin Gabriel; President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Abdulwaheed Odusile; Executive Secretary, NPC, Mr. Nnamdi Njemanze; President, National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Mrs Ifeyinwa Omowole; Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade; Mr. Edetaen Ojo of Media Right Agenda (MRA) among others.
The presentation on Ethics in Election Reporting: Looking into the future by Prof. Nosa Owens-Ibie of Caleb University who is also Secretary-General, Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) added intellectual touch to the ceremony.
In her brief remarks, the representative of DGD Project Director, Toyin Gabriel dwelled on the overall objectives of the initiative which included strengthening the democratic character of Nigerian political processes as well as promoting outcomes that consolidate and advance democratic governance and accountability to achieve Nigeria’s stated development priorities and goals.
According to her, DGD II provides, specifically, technical and financial support to INEC, civil society organizations and institutions such as the media, National Assembly and political parties as a means of strengthening accountable and responsive governance institutions and consolidating democratic governance in line with international best practices.
Media outlets monitored were categorized into national, regional, online and social media platforms. The breakdown reveals 12 national newspapers – Daily Sun, The Nation, National Mirror, Vanguard, The Punch, ThisDay, Daily Independent, The Guardian, Nigerian Tribune, Daily Champion, Leadership and Daily Trust; 10 regional newspapers – Nigerian Chronicle, Daily Star, Nigerian Observer, Nigerian Pilot, Abuja Inquirer, Peoples’ Daily, Blueprint, The Gleaner, Desert Herald, and Fresh Facts; four online news media – The Tide, The Cable, Sahara Reporters and Premium Times; and three social media platforms – Enough-is-Enough Nigeria, Reclaim Naija and INEC.
The objectives of the exercise included monitoring the public interest, development and conflict sensitive content of election and political news reports, features and editorials in all the target outlets; gauging media professional performance in the reportage of parties and candidates as well as electoral stakeholders including INEC; analysing the trend, issues, context and quality of media reportages of election and electoral issues; identifying the strengths, gaps and challenges of media coverage of election and electoral issues; as well as engaging stakeholders on the improvement in the human and development content of political and electoral reporting.
Both quantitative and qualitative methodologies were deployed to arrive at the outcome. Quantitative methodology involved identification of all the relevant reports in the selected media outlets and social media platforms; determination of the number and percentage of reports according to the topics and sub-topics of the monitoring, for which codes and sub-codes were also respectively allocated; calculation of space allocation to the topics and sub-topics; as well as identification of the relevant reports to determine the number and percentage according to the genre and format of reporting.
The genre had to do with whether the relevant reports were published as news, features, investigations, interviews, opinions, columns/articles, photographs, cartoons, etc. The format, on the other hand, was about the placement of the reports, that is, whether they were reported on the front page, the inside page, the editorial page or back page, vis-à-vis space allocated for respective issues and topics. The space allocation according to genre and format was therefore documented.
Qualitative method took care of the analysis of the content of all the relevant reports to determine the focus, the tone, the professionalism and the ethical standard of reporting as derived from the five monitoring topics namely sources, conflict sensitivity, language, issues and Electoral Management Body (EMB).
Presenting a summary on the publication, Lanre Arogundade of IPC said general and specific findings were discovered at the end of the monitoring exercise.
Under the general findings, Arogundade explained that “the monitored media outlets accorded varying degree of priority to public interest issues in the 2015 elections; while there was high interest in conflict related issues, the development content of the election reports were quite low.
“The monitored media outlets exhibited different levels of professionalism in the reporting of political parties and candidates but media access was generally in favour of the biggest two political parties while the other political parties were often overlooked.
“The monitored media outlets made noticeable efforts to comply with the legislative and the institutional frameworks on the media coverage of elections, but there were significant areas of non-compliance,” he said.
On mention of the political parties, a key issue under specific findings, Arogundade said, “Though 26 political parties were listed on the website of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the mention of political parties in the monitored reports was highly skewed in favour of only two parties – the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“For the six months covered by this report, political parties were used as sources 8,318 times out of a total of 42,595 sources. The APC had the highest mention with 3,911 or (47.01 per cent) closely followed by PDP with 3,716 or (44.67 per cent). All other 24 political parties shared the remaining (8.4 per cent) of mention with a significant number without mention at all.”
With regards to headline sensationalism, Arogundade said, “the monitoring exercise recorded only 28 headlines that could be termed sensational. This gives the impression that the media were largely mindful of the need not to further escalate tension and that perhaps the admonitions at trainings, workshops and similar interventions were beginning to be heeded.”
He said further, “a total of 117 sensational headlines, incitement and hate speeches as well as stereotypes were recorded in the six- month period with an average of about 20 per month across the 12 selected national print media.”
He however clarified that most of the words or expressions that constituted hatred or incitement were used in political advertorials by some of the monitored media outlets.
The publication gives a number of observations and recommendations with a call on the media, in future elections, to guarantee fair access and equitable coverage for all registered political parties especially in order to enable the electorate to make informed choices at the polls. The reporting should not continue to be focused exclusively on the so-called frontline or prominent political parties.
The media is essentially urged to continue to base its agenda for the reporting of elections and democratic governance issues on the public interest for credible process, development and democratic accountability.
Media owners, editors and reporters who cover elections are admonished to develop deliberate strategies to ensure that women politicians are properly projected.
There is a message for regulatory agencies such as Nigerian Press Council (NPC), the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) etc and media professional associations/bodies like the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigeria Guild of Editors, RATTAWU etc. They should strengthen and enforce their industry regulatory instruments, including election guidelines and professional conduct to ensure that media organizations deliver on equitable coverage of all political parties and women candidates.
Also, the media should embrace the philosophy of gender responsive reporting by giving greater projection to female politicians and women issues generally while also seeking commitment from women politicians and women led organizations as sources for stories affecting the female gender and democratic governance.
Other recommendations included the need for journalists to ensure that their reports on the electoral processes in general and democratic governance issues in particular are more inclusive by improving on the use of experts, women, youths, ordinary citizens, the civil society, etc, as sources; online media platforms operated by media practitioners should continue to uphold media ethics in their reportage of electoral and democratic governance issues in order to enhance their rating as dependable sources for engagement in subsequent elections and especially to draw a distinction between online media and other online activities by individuals who are not journalists.
The publication notes “some cross cutting advantages” of the use of social media. Civil society should therefore plan to use and equally encourage other election stakeholders to use social media in subsequent elections in Nigeria and in engagements that deepen Nigeria’s democratic governance.
The electoral umpire is specifically tasked to sustain and improve on its engagement and use of the social media as a political communication and voter education tool in Nigeria, while development partners are commended and tasked to continue to support and fund local NGOs and media support groups on capacity building and knowledge sharing initiatives that contribute to deepening the democratic process in Nigeria.
The curtains fell on the event with the consensus that a stakeholders’ meeting should be convened to review and discuss the way forward as far as the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage is concerned. Such assembly, it is believed, will create avenue to expand the distribution network for this publication, in addition to looking at the challenges with implementation in the last elections and put in place monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.