Promoting election coverage without infraction, ethical misconduct
THE appraisal of the coverage of the 2015 Elections that led to the production of Reportage of 2015 Elections: A Monitoring Scorecard of Print and Online Media has been described as positive development that would enhance media performance in the coverage of future elections.
At the public presentation of the publication in Abuja on August 14, 2015, the Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to the President, Mr. Femi Adesina expressed happiness that the labour of media stakeholders which culminated in the release of the Nigerian Media Code of Electoral Coverage has yielded another bumper harvest.
I am gratified that the work media stakeholders did for many weeks, sitting at many sessions, looking at that code of election coverage before that pamphlet was released in October 2014 has never been in vain.
I still recalled vividly, the day we presented it at a hotel in Ikeja, on December 10, 2014 precisely, the Chairman of INEC then, Prof. Attairu Jega was also there.
So, the fact that this volume – Reportage of 2015 Elections: A Monitoring Scorecard of Print and Online Media – is coming out of that booklet –The Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage – for me is very important in the sense that what you don’t measure, you can’t evaluate. So, that code was released before elections, it is good that it has been measured, and it is being evaluated today.”
Adesina however identified certain drawbacks with the code with a stern warning that such pitfall should be avoided in the handling the new publication. “There was some little bit of drawback with that code, in that it was not widely circulated.
I remember that about a week to the elections, I was on a programme in a radio station in Lagos and I mentioned that code, it was news to them.
After the programme, they asked me if I could get them copies of the code and unfortunately, I just had one copy in the car and that was what I gave that station.
I remember telling the NUJ then that they should have made copies of that code available in all the chapels. I also narrated the encounter to Mrs Toyin Gabriel.
Even in my own chapel in The Sun then, I wondered how many members got to read the code. I remember I spoke with the Chairman of the chapel, he didn’t have an idea. But, I think, it is work in progress.
We have the code out there, it is good we continue to build on that work that has been done.” What gladdened Adesina’s heart is the fact it is the media stakeholders that is doing the appraisal themselves with a view to correct the mistakes of the past in order to raise the standard of the performance in the future elections.
As an active participant during that elections from the media side, since I sat as Editor-in-Chief of a newspaper, I have also looked back many times trying to assess what were the strength of the media during that election. And there were many: we know that 2015 elections generated so much awareness positively like no other before it.
It was a positive development from the media as they generated huge awareness for that election. “Of course, there were drawbacks, there were some failings in the media… we know all these infractions. I had a review of the hate speech alone.
It was glaring the 2015 election was characterised by so much hate speech more than at any time in the country. It was a drawback from the media.
But I also know why it happened. The NUJ President, Alhaji Abdulwaheed Odusile made reference to it briefly while he was addressing this gathering earlier on.
He said, perhaps, the media owners could also be encouraged to have their own code. Why not? If it can be achieved, perhaps through the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and other such bodies. But the positive and the negative, like I said, are work in progress.
It is good that we continue to monitor and to evaluate.” He therefore urged producers of Reportage of 2015 Elections…, to disseminate it widely, saying, “as a participant in that process, I would like to read this report page by page.
For instance, when Mr. Lanre Arogundade talked about sensational headlines, I quickly asked for the pages where it was captured in the publication, I wanted to see if we were guilty in the medium where I worked, but happily, we were mentioned only once, while another newspaper was mentioned about four or five times! “It is important that we circulate this to every stakeholder. Let them study it. Let them read it. Let them learn from it. Let them also improve on their art.
Every stakeholder, every professional in the media should read this and it is important that we have it in the hands of every one, so that we learn from what happened at the 2015 elections.”
Adesina specifically thanked the Democratic Governance for Development (DGD) II Project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other partners for facilitating the production as an outcome of six months (from November 2014 to April 2015) monitoring exercise undertaken by the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and International Press Centre (IPC) also with the support of DGD.
The appraisal, according to Adesina, who was the President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) until his appointment last June as President’s spokesman, “is good for the media.”
Earlier, the NUJ President, Alhaji Abdulwaheed Odusile said that the concept of the publication tallied with the desire of the new leadership of NUJ to sanitise the media.
Although, Lanre Arogundade of the IPC, in his opening remarks, had explained why the monitoring exercise and by extension, the report was limited to print media alone, Odusile canvassed the need to extend the searchlight to the broadcast media as “they shared large part of criticism against the media during the election.
The NUJ is determined to sanitise the media. We need to restore our integrity and credibility. So, this report is coming at the right time. Let’s join hands together to cleanse journalism and weed out quackery and fakery.”
He solicited the support of other media stakeholders, especially development partners such as UNDP in the execution of lofty programmes designed by his team to revamp journalism profession, just as he pledged NUJ support in the efforts to popularise the new publication. “We are ready to partner with other stakeholders including UNDP.
Let’s discuss this Report among journalists in order to achieve the goal of putting the report together,” he said while disclosing the plan to hold “conference of all Nigerian journalists” before the end of the year.
Commenting on the significance of the publication, the keynote presenter, Prof. Nosa Owens-Ibie who spoke on Ethics in Election Reporting: Looking into the Future, praised what he tagged “a growing body of data that is taking the discussion beyond the realm of the anecdotal.”
The collaboration between the IPC and NPC monitoring 22 newspapers, four online media and three social media platforms between November 2014 and April 2015 on the reportage of the 2015 elections, according to the communication scholar, produced “definitive insights, including on the primacy of issues of ethics as a core of journalistic practice.”
The documentation, he argued, provided critical information for an assessment of levels of subscription to ethical principles in the electoral process by the media.
Prof. Owens-Ibie who is also Dean, College of Social and Management Sciences (COSOMAS) Caleb University, Imota, Lagos attributed the ethical infractions committed in the coverage of the elections to financial considerations as “the temptation to make hay was enormous with a variable scorecard of breaches due to financial considerations and a pandering to other primordial sentiments, especially based on ethnicity and religion.”
He justified his assertion with an assessment of another marketing communication expert, Ayo Oluwatosin who noted at an event that “the election was a money spinner for the Nigerian Press with their January to April 12, 2015 revenues roughly equivalent to what they made cumulatively in the previous 24 months with some newspapers averaging a daily income of N30 million.”
For Prof. Owens-Ibie, “It was not just a case of the end justifying the means; the means in all cases of infraction of ethics appeared to have justified the end. The issue had apparently gone beyond the old debate on the propriety of the professionalism of the wrap-around for flagship print media to that of how far each medium was willing to go.
The Nigerians be Warned: Life and Death advert, the Leopard commercials and the disinformation campaigns, promoted by the combatants, among others, and echoed by the media pushed the barriers of propaganda.
Probably the irony was the justification by at least two of the criticised electronic media in this adventure, one stating that they are in business to make money and offer a right to reply while the other didn’t consider their station’s performance to have contravened the code guiding broadcasts,” the scholar said.
Recommending “introspection by the media and its stakeholders” as a way forward, Prof. Owens said “media organizations, regulatory agencies and journalists” must lend meaning and substance to “a re-invigorated ethics which must reflect the dynamics of media and journalistic space.
These specific roles have to be clearly enunciated and comprehensively disseminated among all stakeholders. More transparent mechanisms for monitoring the implementation process is desirable.”
According to him, “ethical media is doable and a distinct possibility as the image of the journalist must move out of the pigeon-hole of ‘press boy’ with a price tag.
Insights offered by the research findings published by the Nigerian Democratic Report affirm the fundamental need for evidence and enhanced institutional and stakeholders capacities and collaboration as we progress.”