2019 Elections: MRA Executive Director Urges the Media to Self-Regulate on Hate Speech

Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA)

The Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Mr. Edetaen Ojo, has called on the media community to put in place self-regulatory measures to tackle the issue of hate-speech ahead of the forthcoming 2019 general elections, cautioning that the result of the current inaction on the matter could become detrimental to the media sector, should the government decide to act on it.

Mr Ojo raised this issue during his presentation on Friday, February 23, 2018 in Abuja at the Media Project Stakeholders Meeting, organized by the Institute for Media and Society (IMS) with support from the European Union, as part of the support to the media component of the EU SDGN Project.

According to him, “I believe that there is a consensus that there were disturbing levels of hate speech and partisanship in the coverage of the 2015 elections by many media outlets. Since then, no concerted effort has apparently been made to address the problem. There is a risk that if the media community does nothing to address this problem, government could take legislative measures in response and this would most likely be in the form of criminal law.”

In order to address this problem and other breaches of professional standards ahead of the 2019 elections, he said “the media community should make efforts to put in place a self-regulatory system and intensify activities aimed at sensitizing the media community about the industry standard.”

 In his presentation titled: “On the road to 2019: What regulatory environment would be suitable for media practice in Nigeria,” Mr Ojo discussed the role of the media in the electioneering process, putting the forthcoming 2019 general elections in perspective. He identified and proffered ways out to the key issues affecting the role of the media including political interference in government–owned media, media ownership and the question of self-censorship in privately-owned media, fairness in coverage, among others.

Mr Ojo noted that fairness is the most critical issue for the media in election coverage. Therefore, he said “fair access to the media involves issues such as: equality of time and space allotted to political parties and candidates; the type of access time or space given to them; and whether there is proportionality in the presentation of opposing parties or candidates in the media, etc.”

Discussing the media ownership question, Mr Ojo described the issue one of the biggest challenges for professional coverage of elections and electoral processes and which frequently results in self-censorship or even direct interference in the editorial decision making of media organizations. To this, he proposed a dual track approach.

First, he proposed an urgent reform in the operation and management of state-owned media at both Federal and State levels. “There is an urgent need to transform all state-owned broadcasting stations in the country, both at the Federal and at the State levels, into genuine public service broadcasters.

“In practical terms, these stations should be removed from the direct control of the President or the Minister of Information (at the Federal level) and of the Governor or Commissioners for Information (at the State level).

“The stations should be run by independent boards whose members are appointed through a transparent process and have security of tenure. The stations should also be guaranteed adequate and secure funding in order to protect them from arbitrary interference with their budgets,” Mr Ojo recommended.

He added that all of these reforms should be guaranteed by Law, which would require a complete review of the current legal framework regarding the operations of the stations.  He said that the existing laws establishing these state-owned media should be abrogated and replaced with new laws which reflect these principles of broadcasting independence.

The second approach he proposed was the need to address the challenge of owners interference 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, links or even affiliations.

On this, he proposed that “the media should collectively put pressure on media owners in the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria and the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria to also develop and adopt a Code of Conduct for Media Owners.

“One of the elements of such a code would be that there must be a separation of roles between media owners and journalists and that media owners should not be involved in or interfere in editorial matters of the media organizations owned by them.”

Mr Ojo also drew attention to the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage, declaring his absolute support for its timely revision and updating so that the final document can be read far ahead of the 2019 elections and the necessary sensitization carried out.

He said: “I believe that there is a move to update the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage that was developed ahead of the 2015 elections to make it more comprehensive.  I am in complete support of such an effort.”

In addition, he said, “the media community should also consider the possibility of developing and implementing enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with the updated Code by all media stakeholders.”

To this end, he called for collaboration of the entire media community united by this common cause to achieve those heights.