Free press coverage is crucial for a successful democracy. It provides the public the tools to make crucial decisions about their country’s governance.
And subsequent Supreme Court rulings have upheld the prohibition on “prior restraint.” That means the government can’t stop content from being published.
Both governments have also tried to shape the global media environment through propaganda. And, in the case of China, a campaign to destroy the very concept of a global Internet.
Authoritarian rulers in countries as diverse as Venezuela, Turkey and Ethiopia are mimicking the Moscow-Beijing playbook. They’re throwing reporters in jail, subjecting them to violence, and suppressing Internet freedom and social media.
Equally disturbing are recent setbacks in democracies such as Hungary and Poland, where the decline in press freedom has been accomplished with remarkable speed.
In Poland, the Law and Justice party government is systematically undermining the independent media. It’s asserting control over public broadcasters, among other repressive measures.
In Hungary, the ruling party of strongman Viktor Orban has gradually warped the media sector in its favor. It’s done so through politicized ownership changes and the closure of critical outlets.
Nigerian Elections 2023
I will be watching with great interest how the Feb. 18, 2023, elections proceed. I am fascinated with democratic election systems in other countries. I followed the actions of President Goodluck Jonathan when in 2015 he conceded to current President Buhari in 2015. That, of course, made him the first incumbent president in Nigerian history to concede defeat in an election.
That drew a lot of attention in the U.S., since Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, and an economic hub on and political leader in the west part of the continent.
That’s something the United States doesn’t have bragging rights to anymore. The 2020-21 change in presidents from Donald Trump to Joe Biden was the first time in American history there wasn’t a peaceful transfer of power. The Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol ended that streak, which had endured during some of the nation’s most challenging times, including the Civil War and other crises.
And those events have in many ways changed the way journalists cover their own government. News outlets now have entire beats devoted to democracy, reporting on and critiquing which candidates and parties support voting rights and other measures. It’s a shift away from the “even-handed” model – often called “both siderism,” which now seems antiquated and outdated.
Administration of Elections
How elections get administered – ideally free and fairly – is an increasing challenge in much of the world. I’m keeping my eye not only on what happens here in Nigeria, but with elections in France, in April 2022, Australia and the Philippines, both in May 2022, Kenya, in August 2022, and Brazil, in October 2022. And of course, midterm elections in the United States in November 2022, when voters will decide who should control both chambers of Congress, governors in 36 of the 50 states, and a range of other offices.
Elections increasingly are affected by platforms like Facebook and other social platforms. And it’s not clear that they’re ready. Facebook has played a distorting role in U.S. elections, including amplifying Russian-sponsored propaganda supporting former President Donald Trump.
Now Facebook is belatedly blocking some Russian propaganda amid the war that started from its invasion of Ukraine. But it still has a long way to go.
And I’m aware of the challenges Nigerian journalists face, which I give you much credit for confronting.
I’m aware that in 2021 Koo, Twitter’s Indian rival, began advertising to Nigerians with the support of this country’s president. And that was just two months after the president banned Twitter from Nigeria.
Endorsing a specific media company is just the latest development in what I know is the government’s ongoing attempt to suppress free expression. All of which makes your professional lives considerably more challenging and even dangerous.
And it’s here that I don’t necessarily have specific suggestions, as I understand the constraints you were working with. But I’m looking forward to coverage from afar of the Nigerian presidential elections and all of the other contests going on for federal and state positions.
I look forward to hearing your questions.
And you can always find me on Twitter at @DavidMarkDC