Stakeholders chart path for better media coverage of elections

Elections2015In order to hit the ground running for the next general election, stakeholders in the project Nigeria last week gathered in Lagos to review the performance of various critical participants in the 2015 general election, especially the media, with the aim of ensuring better coverage in the future. Convened by Democratic Governance for Development (DGDII), a project of UNDP with support from the European Union, it was attended by media and electoral stakeholders with the discussions on various topics such as ‘Media, Electoral Management System and Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria’, ‘Voter Education and Media Coverage of the 2015 Elections: an Assessment’, ‘Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage and other Legal/Professional Frameworks’, ‘Capacity Building Initiatives: Relevance and Result’, ‘Online and Social Media: What Value Added to the Integrity of Elections’ and ‘Media, Elections and Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria: Roadmap towards 2019’.

Although participants highlighted some areas that INEC, political parties and the academic should work on in order to make better contribution in the future, for the media, it was observed that poor welfare for journalists promoted a lot of unethical practices during the election.

Other observations at the forum about the media included a reduction in the attack on journalists while carrying out their assignment. However, it was stated that some gatekeeping and editorial judgment manifested a lack of understanding of electoral processes.

It was stated, “Sources for election related stories were skewed in favour of men and the major political parties, to the detriment of other political parties, women, youth and people with disabilities. Some media personnel who worked as trainers in the capacity development initiatives in the lead up to the 2015 elections did not walk the talk in their practice

“Social media can have a huge impact on events offline as manifested during the 2015 elections. Additionally, social media provided global access to election related data and contributed to the integrity of the elections with attendant positive perceptions of Nigeria’s electoral process. However, there was a prevalence of dangerous speeches on social media and the use and spread of unverified information.

“A high level of impunity and deliberate contravention of legal frameworks and ethical codes was noted in the conduct of some media houses. Current sanctions, fines and penalties for contravention of codes and ethics of the profession are inadequate.”

Moving forward, it was suggested that publicly funded broadcast stations should be established in a manner which effectively guarantees their independence from political or other partisan influences, especially in editorial matters, just as all state-owned broadcasting stations should be removed from the direct control of the Minister of Information, at the federal level or the Commissioners for Information, at the state level.

Participants further recommended that existing laws establishing state-owned media should be abrogated and replaced with new laws which reflect the principles of broadcasting independence, while regulatory authorities should properly define and monitor the structure, ownership and purpose of community radios. Media practitioners were called upon to advocate for a Code of Conduct for Media Owners to ensure that media owners do not interfere in editorial matters.

It was also argued that the media should collectively address the challenge of ownership in the editorial content of privately-owned media outlets, especially in the light of the current environment where a large number of media organizations are owned by politicians or business persons with clear political interests and affiliations.

Other recommendations at the forum included, “Media practitioners should understand existing processes and procedures relating to elections to enable improved reportage of the electoral process besides providing equal access to all political parties/candidates as well as underrepresented groups including women, youth and people with disabilities. Media should engage in investigative journalism to support informed decision making by the electorate, while civil societies should join efforts to counter hate speeches online and on social media.”

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