Mr Festus Okoye, National Commissioner and Chairman of Information and Voter Education, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has tasked journalists to avoid sensational reportage before and during the 2023 elections.
Okoye made the call at a one-day workshop for journalists in the South-East organised by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
The theme of the workshop is:”Conflict Sensitive Reporting and the 2023 General Election’ in Abakaliki.
He noted that the media, plays a critical role in the electoral and governance process and must shun sensational and inflammatory reports.
“The role of the media in the political and electoral process is fundamental given the centrality of the media in the electoral and democratic health of the country.
“Sections 38 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as well as the right to freedom of expression and the press.
“In the same vein, Section 22 provides that the press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives and principles contained in Chapter II of the Constitution.
“The press must hold the government responsible and accountable to the people.
“These are weighty responsibilities that demand the media and its practitioner’s professionalism, ethical conduct and attention to the overall interest of the nation.
“Democracy thrives with effective information flow and it is axiomatic that true democracy cannot exist without effective information flow,” Okoye said.
He noted that the work of the commission and the conduct of electoral business has national security implications.
“This implies that reporting elections needed to be handled with an eye on conflict sensitivity, national peace and cohesion.
“Reporting elections requires special skills and understanding of the centrality of election to Nigeria’s survival as a federal democracy.
” 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.
” It is in the interest of the country for the media to always seek official clarifications on germane and serious national issues, especially when electoral matters are involved.
“Delivering on free; fair, peaceful, safe and credible elections are seen and viewed as a shared responsibility and partnership between agencies, commissions and branches of government and in this multi-stakeholders venture, no one should be left behind,” he added.
Okoye stressed the need for the media to hold a balance between all the contending parties; candidates and ensure balanced, fair and objective reports of the activities of all political parties.
“Section 95(2) of the Electoral) Act, 2022 is categorical that State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election.
“And section 95 (3) of the Act also provides that media time shall be allotted equally among the political parties or candidates at similar hours of the day.”
He urged the journalists to shun the temptations of the ‘breaking news’ syndrome and warned that it remained an offence for journalists to announce election results not certified by the commission.
“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 is sometimes not properly verified and processed.
“The media must be circumspect in casting headlines and the thirst for sensational headlines since sometimes, people look at the headlines and draw conclusions,” he added.
Also speaking, Mr Chris Isiguzo, National President of NUJ, commended INEC for providing an opportunity to discuss issues bordering on the 2023 elections.
He said that the union would continue to work with INEC to ensure that democracy worked properly in Nigeria.
“For us as media professionals, we see it as our cardinal objective to promote democracy, and development. The media which is regarded as the fourth estate of the realm is an essential factor in the process of democracy.
” It is an incontrovertible fact that the indispensable functions of the media cannot be performed without guaranteed safety of journalists and media workers,” Isiguzo said.
Isiguzo, represented by Mr Shuibu Leman, NUJ National Secretary, noted that the media will continue to make governments accountable and also mobilise the populace to participate in the process of governance and development.