New Telegraph

2023: INEC, NUJ prepare journalists for election reporting

Journalists drawn from major media organisations in Ondo State were recently trained by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in conjunction with Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) on conflict and sensitive reporting during the 2023 elections, Babatope Okeowo who was a participant reports

As part of the preparations for the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in conjunction with the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) last week trained journalists on how to handle reportage of the elections in order to prevent a breakdown of law and order.

The fear that a single report may throw the entire country into chaos made journalists drawn from the Ministry of Information, Information Officers from the 18 local governments, print, broadcast, and online media outfits to converge on the Press Centre of NUJ, Alagbaka, Akure, the Ondo State capital where they were instructed on the importance of accurate reporting before, during and after the forthcoming election. The 2023 elections would be held on February 25 and March 11. The President and Vice President would be elected on February 25.

There would also be elections on the same day for the Senate and the House of Representatives; while on March 11, 28 gubernatorial elections will be held alongside elections to state houses of assembly in all the 36 states of the federation.

Journalists’ roles during elections The National President of NUJ, Chief Chris Isiguzo, who set the ball rolling, said the training of journalists on conflict sensitive reporting was important considering the fact that election periods in Nigeria are normally considered by politicians as do or die affairs.

He said it was auspicious for media professionals to brainstorm ahead of the election so as to get prepared for the onerous task ahead. In his speech titled: “Peace Journalism/ Conflict Sensitive and Election Reporting” Isiguzo said journalists in whatever they do should 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 know that it is inevitable to eliminate crises and conflicts from our society, it is important if deliberate efforts are made toward conflict resolution and peace building,” he said.

Isiguzo, who was represented by the National Trustee of NUJ; Mrs Bimbo Oyetunde, said journalists should use the power of the mass media to resolve rather than inflame conflicts, ensure a smooth and peaceful democratic transition and use the media pro-actively to help the complex process of conflict management and transformation to peaceful co-existence in the country.

Since the role of the media in peace promotion or conflict escalation has been heightened by a number of factors which included ownership and funding, editorial policy and the regulatory agencies, Isiguzo said it is proper to suggest peace journalism as an instrument in promoting peace and reducing dysfunctional conflict to the barest minimum. According to him, the media have a vital role to play in nation building, by being active partners in the implementation of the development processes.

“The media must always beam their searchlight on the Election Management Body – INEC to ensure that it is impartial and competent, 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 centre 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,” he said. On the upsurge of fake news and hate speech during elections, Isiguzo said: “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 organisations have not embraced.

“The 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 change in roles between traditional media and social media. Journalists need to avail themselves of the opportunities being provided by the 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.” INEC’s caution on fake, sensational news The INEC National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education, Mr Festus Okoye acknowledged the constitutional roles of journalists to hold government and its office holders accountable to the people and the section 38 and 39 of the 1999 constitution that guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as well as right to freedom of expression and the press.

These powers, he said, give weighty responsibilities that demand from the media and its practitioners’ professionalism, ethical conduct and attention to the overall interest of the nation. Okoye, who was represented by the Administrative Secretary of INEC in Ondo State, Mr Oyetola Oyelami, said the Commission sees journalists as partners in progress as democracy thrives with effective information flow.

He said true democracy cannot exist without effective information flow. Some of the roles of journalists during elections, he said included availing the critical stakeholders with timely and relevant information pertaining to the electoral process, carry out voter education and public enlightenment in the context of the electoral legal framework and the processes and procedures pertaining to the elections, mobilise the electorate to participate in the electoral process through awakening in them the consciousness of taking ownership of the political process and giving vent to the programmes and activities of the Election Management Body with a view to bringing stakeholders up to speed with developments therein.

In carrying out these responsibilities, Okoye said there are irreducible minimums to a meaningful relationship, partnership and engagement with the Commission, the critical stakeholders and the people of Nigeria. His words: “The media and its practitioners must have basic understanding and a working knowledge of the constitutive constitutional, legal and regulatory instruments that guide and underpin the work of the Commission.

This is fundamental as the Constitution has gone through several amendments and the country has a new Electoral Act that is progressive and has imputed and domiciled the use of technology more concretely in the electoral process. Without this understanding, all perceived inadequacies and infractions by other agencies of government and other stakeholders in the electoral process may inadvertently be ascribed to the Commission and this could lead to misunderstanding and disinformation.” Okoye said: “The media must be conversant with the processes and procedures of the Commission as well as the dynamics at play in the conduct of elections.

The media must be aware and understand that preparations for elections, the conduct of elections and the resolution of electoral disputes are in a class of their own and cannot be discussed and analysed from a generic point of view. This is because elections and the electoral process have their own dynamics.

For instance, election petitions are not civil or criminal proceedings and therefore must be understood within the context of Nigeria’s electoral jurisprudence. “Another issue is that the work of the Commission and the conduct of electoral business has national security implications, which implies that reporting elections needs to be handled with an eye on conflict sensitivity and national peace and cohesion.

Reporting elections requires special skills and understanding of the centrality of election to Nigeria’s survival as a federal democracy where incontrovertible facts devoid of speculation, grandstanding and political manoeuvres are more likely to be more helpful.

This is simply because one false report that goes viral may have the potential of triggering a breakdown of law and order in a part or the whole of the country. “As the country moves closer to the 2023 General Election, there are obvious landmines that the media must avoid. The media must avoid the breaking news syndrome. Some of the mainstream media are gradually gravitating towards online journalism with the attendant quest for breaking news, which are sometimes not properly verified and processed. The media must be circumspect in casting headlines and the thirst for sensational headlines. Sometimes, people look at the headlines and draw conclusions without looking at the body of the report.

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