IPC ROUND TABLE ON THE MEDIA AND 2003 ELECTIONS HELD ON JUNE 5, 2003 INSIDE THE MEDIA HALL OF FAME, IPC, LAGOS
The one-day round table on The Media and 2003 Elections was a collaboration of the IPC, Media-for- Democracy In Nigeria group (Media Rights Agenda, Independent Journalism Center and Journalists for Democratic Rights), International Federation of Journalists, Brussels and LO/TCO, Sweden.
It took place against the background of local and foreign criticisms of media performance in reporting the electoral process, especially, the political parties, the candidates, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the actual voting exercise.
It also took place against the background of “the relevant provisions of the Electoral Act governing the use of the media during electioneering campaigns” as contained in Section 29 that provides as follows:
1. A candidate and his party shall campaign for the lection in accordance with such rules and regulations as may be determined by the constitution
2. State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election
3. Media time shall be allocated equally among the political parties at similar hours of the day
4. At any public electronic media, equal airtime shall be allotted to all political parties during prime times at similar hours each day, subject to the payment of appropriate fees.
5. At any public print media, equal coverage and conspicuity shall be allotted to all political parties
The meeting was held, as well, against the background of the provisions of section 22 of the 1999 constitution that states that the press, the radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all time be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.
Finally, the meeting noted the Code of Ethics of Journalists, paragraph 7 of which states that:
1. A journalist should neither solicit nor accept bribe, gratification, or patronage to suppress or publish information
2. To demand payment for the publication of news is inimical to the notion of news as a fair, accurate, unbiased and factual report of an event
The round table attracted participants from a broad spectrum of the society including the Nigeria Union of Journalists – NUJ, the print and broadcast media, media groups, the political class, students and non-governmental groups. The discussions were led by a panel that included Prince Tony Momoh, former Information Minister; Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda; Mrs. Wale Sokunbi, Editor, Media Review; Mr. Tony Iyare, Punch newspapers columnist; Mr. Abayomi Ogundeji, Editor, Sunday Comet and Ms. Moyo Oyatogun, MITV while it was moderated by Mr. Gbemiga Ogunleye, Deputy Editor-In-Chief of Punch Newspapers.
The roundtable concluded:
· That the Media is a Stakeholder in the democratic process and as such it has a key role to play to consolidate democracy and democratic values. Indeed the future of democracy is intertwined with that of the media.
· That the media has not totally fulfilled its obligations under the electoral Act, the Constitution and the Code of Ethics
· That the media is faced with certain problems, which militated against its effective performance. Among them is the general decline in economic standards of the state, which causes reeds and intellectual poverty.
· That the media is also faced with the problem of decline in ethical standards of media practitioners, lack of adequate equipment, corporate and self censorship, commercialization of news, ethnic coloration of issues and the lack of adequate focus on issues.
· That the media has been biased by not giving adequate opportunity for the expression of alternative views as against that of the status quo.
· That on the side of the government, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has performed below expectation in terms of allowing the media to perform its functions.
· That most events during the elections were unreported and that and that this was informed partly by too much focus on the bigger political parties as against the smaller and newer ones as well as the erroneous impression that those emphasizing rigging of the elections were promoting threats to the democratic structures.
The way forward
To ensure that the media lives up to its constitutional, ethical and societal responsibilities and properly cover future elections along the principles of fairness, objectivity and balance, participants identified:
· The need for journalists to promote ethics, respect alternative viewpoints and ensure that public interest serves as the guiding principle of media coverage of events including elections.
· The need to check alleged increasing rate of corruption in the media with journalists shunning acts that are capable of undermining the integrity of journalists, the image of the journalism profession and the status of the media as the fourth estate of the realm.
· The need for media proprietors to pay adequate and necessary attention to the welfare of journalists and other media staff to avoid putting them in a situation where they could be easily compromised