POST 2023 ELECTION: PROMOTING PROFESSIONALISM FOR ENHANCEMENT OF DEMOCRACY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE.
June 22, 2023
Posted by: Imoh Robert
This short paper has adopted the definition of Media professionalism as provided by ACE Electoral Knowledge Network.
The network defines media professionalism as “the conduct of media coverage and activities according to high standards of ethics, accountability, legality and credibility, while exercising rights such as freedom of expression and information”. The ‘high standards of ethics’ referred to relate to the “degree of professionalism and experience of journalists and other media practitioners”.
Arising from this definition, ACE network says the elements of media professionalism at elections include Codes of conduct; Legal issues in election reporting; Accuracy in election reporting; Impartiality in election reporting; and Responsibility in election reporting.
All these elements are well captured in the frameworks governing the coverage of elections in Nigeria, particularly the Electoral Act 2022, the Nigeria Broadcasting Code and the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage, otherwise referred to as the Media Election Code, which gladly all the umbrella media professional bodies and associations and several media outlets have endorsed as a self-regulatory instrument at elections. There are also in-house codes of election coverage by a few newsrooms.
A common thread in all the frameworks is that the media should perform its core roles at elections with equity, fairness and factual accuracy. As a quick reminder, these roles are the civic and voter education role, the public educator role, the campaign platform/open forum role and the conflict management role.
While the essence of these roles is to ensure that citizens have the required information to make informed choices at the polls, the overarching goals are to ensure that democracy thrives through credible elections; there is nation building through the strengthening of diversities; and the profession of journalism is safeguarded so that the media can fulfill the obligation of monitoring governance and holding government accountable to the people for the purpose of catalysing good governance.
2023 Elections in retrospect
It is against the background of the foregoing objectives that we can look back and ask ourselves the germane questions of whether the media lived up to expectation in the coverage and reportage of the 2023 elections; and whether there was the enabling environment particularly as envisaged by the Media Code of Election in its statement of broad principles. The principles obligates the government, the political parties, INEC and the civil to offer support to the media at elections. Of course, all the answers cannot be provided in this brief intervention, and I do hope that soon, the Guild will organise a full-day conference where we can thoroughly examine the various dimensions of media reporting of the 2023 elections.
The above as it may, there were some noticeable trends as captured by the International Press Centre’s election observatory and particularly through its monitoring of the coverage of the 2023 elections by 20 news mediums – 10 print and 10 online.
Among these are:
The media in general made commendable efforts to cover the elections particularly the campaigns and voting. For example, 11,471 journalists from the print, broadcast and online media were accredited by INEC to cover the elections while many more were on electoral duty before, during and after the elections;
The broadcast media made commendable efforts at giving the voters access to the candidates through the organisation of political debates, but a more centralised or united approach could have led to greater impact;
Four political parties – APC, PDP, Labour Party, NNPP, particularly their presidential candidates enjoyed the largest share of the coverage among the parties registered to contest the elections;
In some cases ownership and the political interest of proprietors were factors that caused coverage to be skewed in favour of certain political parties and candidates in terms of prominence, but there were few exceptions;
Clash of personalities made more headlines than intensive interrogation of the candidates, their antecedents and programes with the politicians seeming to set the agenda as against the media doing so;
There wasn’t enough attention to the inclusive issues of women, youths and persons with disability;
Some reporters, presenters, producers and editors became more political than the politicians and exhibited their biases. The biases were freely expressed on group and individual social media platforms;
The enabling environment posed a big challenge as journalists were poorly resourced while some of them on election duty were harassed and attacked; the NBC did not help maters with its arbitrary fines for alleged infraction of the Broadcasting Code. The body mostly served as the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge in its cases against the concerned broadcast stations;
There were question marks on information integrity. Politicians particularly spokespersons of parties and candidates weaponised disinformation and misinformation with some of their unwelcome antics finding their way into media reports although their major arena of operation was the social media. This could be seen from a recent analysis of 63 fact-checked reports by the International Press Centre as follows:
To understand the pattern of mis/disinformation in the 2023 electoral circle, findings from the 63 fact-checked reports revealed some key information as follows:
Subject matter (Politics, religion, economy, and social issues)
Results show that most of the relevant claims that were fact-checked were on politics (93.7%), Economy (4.7%) and social issues (1.6%).
Types of misinformation/disinformation
Findings show that false connection (39.7%) and misleading content (34.9%) were the most common types of mis/disinformation.
Most used channels
Disinformation/misinformation thrived during the electoral process t through multiple channels including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and other notable social media platforms.
Meanwhile, results show that most of the claims were sourced via Twitter (22.2%) and facebook (17%)
Critical periods of compromise of information integrity
A greater percentage of false information occurred in the period before the general elections (71.4%), followed by a little more after the election (14.3%) and very few during the election (12.7%).
Formats (Multimedia combining pictures, video and audio and video)
False information occurred and mostly shared in multimedia formats (85.7%), followed by videos only (14.3%).
Results show politicians were the most common perpetrators of false information (at 63.5%), followed by Unknown sources (19%) and members of the public (11.1%).
Gender (Male, Female)
Male persons were the greatest perpetrators of false information (76.2%)
The target of mis/disinformation
Findings showed that Peter Obi was mostly at the centre of false information (41.3%) followed by Atiku Abubakar and Bola Ahmed Tinubu at 11.1% each. INEC’s share was 4.8%.
False connection (39.7%) and misleading content (34.9%) seemed to be the most common types of mis/disinformation used during the electoral process.
Most false claims were sourced via Twitter (22.2%) and facebook (17%)
False information occurred the most before the general elections (71.4%), followed by the post-election period (14.3%) and very few during the election period (12.7%).
False information occurred and was most shared in sophisticated multimedia format (85.7%), followed by strictly video (14.3%) and this suggests fake actors are becoming more sophisticated than fact-checkers.
Politicians were the most common perpetrators of false information (at 63.5%), particularly male persons (76.2%)
Peter Obi was mostly at the centre of false information (41.3%) followed by Atiku Abubakar and Bola Ahmed Tinubu each at (11.1%).
INEC was targeted at 4.8%.
The subject matter of disinformation and misinformation were mostly politics, religion, economy, and social issues
Note: The overall picture may change if all fact-checked reports during the elections are analysed using this methodology.
Confronting the challenge, moving forward
The observations captured above certainly raise a few questions about media professionalism and that is why I think it is important to look at the measures we can take to promote media professionalism and enhance democracy and good governance in the aftermath of the 2023 elections. Again, this is an exercise that should require days of deliberation so, I will only put forward 10 recommendations for our consideration.
We must through orientation and reorientation, capacity building and reorganisation of the newsrooms, develop a new corps of political reporters who take the beat seriously and who by making use of sources, become authoritative reporters (and therefore sources) on the political parties, the election management body, the electoral processes and elections. The new corps of political reporters must know the constitution, the Electoral Act and other relevant legislations cover to cover and page to page. You must be first a reporter before being able to use technology to enhance your practice.
We must return to the regime of proper gatekeeping especially in this age of Internet and social media disruptions; journalists and editors must not yield the digital space to untrained so-called ‘citizen journalists’ or so-called ‘media personalities’ who are nothing but enthusiastic creators of media messages. A journalist is trained to know the attributes of news, and how to navigate the grey areas in between.
We must revisit the media agenda setting theory and decide whose agenda we really want to set; that of the political class, the ruling governments, the corporate world, etc or that of the public and the citizens?
Editors and journalists must now discard their political togas and commit to democratic accountability reporting by reinterrogating the campaign promises of the president and the governors, and follow up on their implementation using investigative and solution-driven journalism methods. A step in this direction is for us to respect our journalism ethics of impartiality, objectivity, balance, and doing things in the public interest.
Journalists must ascertain the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care before publishing to avoid inadvertent error. In other words we must avoid falling into the trap of what I call Google-it-journalism.
All over the world journalists are known to be courageous in gathering, reporting, and interpreting information. We have to return to that foundation and tradition of being courageous and being honest and fair to all in order to regain our professional respectability.
We should take our social responsibility obligations seriously in the aftermath of the 2023 elections which again exposed the underbelly of ethnicity, religion and other divisive tendencies in our political relationships and electoral processes. In this regard, we should as journalists strive to maintain our heads even if others lose theirs and embrace the policy of avoidance of hate speech and the principle of conflict-sensitive journalism in reporting crisis situations. Indeed, we should be wary of crisis-journalism wherein we see crisis in every situation and cast headlines that suit our crisis fancy. Denis McQuail had all this in mind when he said that the thrust or cardinal principle of the social responsibility theory is that the media should contribute to the building of productive societies.
We must have further discussions on how the co-regulatory framework embraced by the Nigeria Press Organisation can work in practical reality and be acceptable to the public. In this regard there must be periodic sensitisation of the citizens on the functions of and the procedures for filing complaints before the National Media Complaints Commission (NMCC).
We must step up the struggle for the enabling environment for good journalism, media independence, press freedom, freedom of expression and safety of journalists through robust engagement with the government, particularly the law enforcement and security agencies, but more importantly the 10th National Assembly. The latter becomes pertinent in order to build consensus around acceptable regulatory frameworks for the media especially in relation to the powers of the two media regulatory bodies – the National Broadcasting Commission and the Nigerian Press Council. Engagement with the 10th National Assembly is also important for the purpose of pushing for constitutional amendments that would guarantee press freedom and the right of access to information as obtains in jurisdictions like Ghana.
We must with collective vigour address the question of the economic state of the media for the purpose of coming up with a twin-agenda on media survival as businesses and the welfare of journalists. Perhaps at national level and sub-national levels, and or through intra and inter professional dialogues we should critically examine models of media sustainability bearing in mind that without media development, there cannot be media in development and democracy.