Published On: Sun, Jan 25th, 2015

February polls: NUJ and the quest for objective reporting

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National President of Nigerian Union of Journalist, Mallam Mohammed GarbaBy Evelyn Okakwu

All over the world, political seasons or periods of elections are characterized with various happenings; many of which have been deemed harmful to the society.

While information remains the key to making or marring a society on the verge of destruction, such as ours’ the disseminators of information, or the fourth estate of the realm; (The media, as they are called) are equally in constant touch with trouble at times when the polity becomes so politically heightened as witnessed in present day Nigeria.

A couple of publications have been made in the not so distant past about the effect of hate speeches on Nigeria and even on the forth coming elections.

In one of our previous publications; a civil rights group; citizen’s advocacy for social and economic rights CASER called for the postponement of the forth coming election, stressing that the polity had been so heated that it could result in drastic measures for Nigeria, should urgent steps not be taken to cub the reign of hate in the quarters of political party members and their supporters.

CASER’s executive director, Fran Tietie was even reported to have taken the matter to the community court of the Economic Community of west African states; ECOWAS.

More so, various analysts have stated the defective influence that the present transfer of hateful information could cause Nigerians in a bid to bring the attention of political leaders to the impending disaster that could be averted by checking their manner of speeches.

Few people however, made spotlight of the information machine in Nigeria as in many nations.

It goes without saying that the gospel of avoiding hate speeches cannot be widely disseminated without ensuring a full participation of the media. While the public rely on the media to form their political affiliation; certain preconditions make the media prone to political manipulation by selfish leaders.

The role of the media in ensuring adequate and accurate information during this electoral periods formed part of discuss during the inauguration of the Monitoring Network on safety of Journalists recently in Abuja.

The body which was organised by the Nigeria Union of journalists (NUJ) in collaboration with other stakeholders in the international community such as the United Nation’s Social economic and Cultural Organisation; (UNESCO) and other organs in the country, has the major responsibility of ensuring that journalist attend to their duties ethically, while ensuring that they are not abused in the line of duty.

Chairman of the committee, Bayo Atoyobi, a veteran Journalist with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), while commenting on the role of the media said; “The role of the media is very important in election periods just like this, because the electorate who have the power to select those to vote must have the accurate information to select those they would vote”.

“For the electorate to vote they must be adequately informed about the various aspirants so that they can be able make informed decisions to establish good government”.

He adds that the committee has the sole responsibility of protecting the journalist; but stress that they will only be doing that, in collaboration with media related organisations. “The committee’s assignment is simple; to try and work with state agencies and chapels whereby journalists in the cause of their duty in the past have had instances to have clashes.

“Journalists are supposed to be the ears and eyes of the people. In the event whereby they are obstructed from meeting up with their duties for no just cause and the information is brought to our notice, as a committee. We will advice the journalist about the measures they should take”.

“If for example journalists are assaulted, we will meet the other arms that are expected to protect the interest of the journalist, including the NUJ, like the Nigerian Guild of editors, the newspaper proprietors’ organization, Press council, the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC); we must all be able to stand up and defend the Journalist that has been abused”.

“During the Military regime; Menery Almakiri, was assaulted and the Newspapers proprietors’ organisation of Nigeria then took the matter to court and the Military regime of Rivers State then had to pay damages. The various arms of government must be able to stand up to the protection of these journalists at times like this”.

Also, the committee chairman states the need for journalist to stick to the rules of work, as a measure of safety.

“There is another caveat, the journalist too must comport themselves and operate within the rule of the profession. The journalist job is the most difficult; you have to work within the context of the constitution, that of the electoral act; the guidelines about the election”; and putting his hand in his pocket; he brings out a book, then continues talking: “I doubt if many of our reporters will have a copy of this booklet. It is the Nigerian media code of election coverage. If you must cover the election, you should have this book. There is also another guideline provided by the interparty agency IPAC; guiding politicians and the electoral commission itself. If you are familiar with all these rules, it makes your duty as a journalist easier. And so our duty is quite genuine; but we have to carry it very responsibly”.

As stated earlier; the perspective of a journalist is another factor that preempts danger, while reporting at such tense conditions like that presented by political activities: “Another caveat is that journalist must be seen not to be partisan. They must be neutral. The moment you are seen to be partisan, you compromise your position; that has a negative effects on journalists. I am not saying there is an excuse for attacking a journalist but it’s safer if he or she is not partisan.

A major obstacle for journalist in the line of duty is the fact that they are not insured, nor do they feel their organization will have a certain degree of protection for them, in the event of an unexpected tragedy; the committee leader also speaks on this

“There are two ways to look at it; first insurance is very necessary for any journalist; and we know that at election periods the atmosphere for journalist becomes very volatile, but I make bold to say that the government of Mohammed Garba has ensured that the there is an insurance system that we as journalists should take advantage of. The registration fee is just about N6, 500. Many of our colleagues are either not aware or have not taken advantage of that. Secondly organisations are expected to have a genuine insurance for their journalists”.

“So if the journalist have this insurance channels; they should be protected. It is not in the place of the committee to protect the journalists. We will raise this to the attention of the NUJ and try to find out what are they doing to ensure the safety of their journalists.”

“We will be able to ask the president what he is doing; it is not enough to say that they have 40, 000 journalist who will be involved in the coverage what are the measures about their safety that the NUJ itself has taken; we will put that before the president to know what his plans are in that direction”.

As explained by Mr Bayo, the best person to guide the journalist is himself: “But most importantly, a word of advice to our colleagues: “No story is worth dying for. Go and report the news. Don’t be the news to be reported. If you do; you will not be there to listen to the story”.

Also the managing Director of the Abuja Broadcasting Corporation; Abas Hassan added that; “The media will not need to do much more than it has already been doing. The elections are around the corner, and the politicians are doing their part. It is the duty of the media to report adequately and accurately; what is happening on the political terrain”.

“And I think by and large the media has been doing that. I think they are adequately reported both on the print and on the electronic media”.

He adds that the media has a genuine role to play in bringing about a positive government: “The media cannot manufacture manifestoes for the party. What the media does is to bring people to make informed decisions and choices. These choices would be based entirely on what the parties have been able to put up as their manifestoes. What the media is required to do is to inform the voting public about the programs and manifestoes of those vying for elections”.

Speaking further, the AC executive says the place of the media cannot be over emphasized in curbing election violence; but the starting point is self-examination:

“The media should first of all educate itself on the rules of the game. The electoral guidelines are opened. The electoral act has been approved by the National Assembly and the elections will be conducted entirely on the provisions of the electoral acts as well as the constitutions of the federal republic”.

Another member of the committee from the Nigeria Police, SP ThankGod Nkwocha, an officer of the Nigerian police force says: “No news is worth dying for. So the first step is objectivity. You must be different from your story.”

“The nature of the journalist’s job is risky, so they should try to get in touch with security agencies at all cost where the need arise. The constant touch with security holders is very important.

Although a survey of political reporters while putting this report together, revealed that some of them did not have the Nigerian media code of election coverage mentioned earlier by Mr Bayo, it is the hope of these journalists that the stakeholders involved would give the committee the needed support to carry out its functions.

 

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