Stakeholders at a two-day review meeting have called for editorial independence for both government and privately owned media houses to ensure better reportage of future elections in Nigeria.
The Democratic Governance for Development (DGD II) Project of the UNDP convened the meeting on June 9 and 10, 2015, to review the performance of the media, and other stakeholders, in the 2015 electoral process with the objective of documenting lessons learnt, best practices and challenges to provide unique points of entry for future interventions.
The meeting reviewed the performance of various critical stakeholders and treated different topics including: 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.
On the roles performed by the media, participants noted that the media, both privately and government owned were hamstrung in editorial independence by virtue of their ownerships though a few journalists reported ethically and professionally. While government media promoted the activities of the party in power at both the state and federal levels, private media editorial was determined by the political and economic considerations of the owners.
They also noted that reportage was in favour of the two big political parties: the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the detriment of lesser known parties
Social media, according to participants, played a major role and had a huge impact on events offline during the 2015 elections as they 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, it was noted with concerns that there was a prevalence of hate speech on social media as well as the use and spread of unverified information.
Poor remuneration in the media, participants agreed, resulted in a lot of unethical practices and affecting professionalism and promoting commercially inclined media with little allegiance to the public interest.
Sections of the broadcast media were also accused of high level of impunity and deliberate contravention of legal frameworks and ethical codes as a result of inadequate sanctions, fines and penalties for contravention of these codes and ethics of the profession.
Moving forward, participants called for editorial independence of the media irrespective of ownership. They recommended that publicly funded broadcasters should be run as truly public broadcasters with effective guarantees of independence from political or other partisan influences, particularly in editorial matters. To achieve this, they suggested that 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).
Regulatory authorities were encouraged to properly define and monitor the structure, ownership and purpose of community radios as they are now coming on stream as the third tier of broadcasting.
Participants were drawn from the Independent Electoral Commission(INEC), Media Unions, media regulatory agencies, media support groups, academia, media professionals organisations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and gender advocates, among others.