FOR THE RECORDS
I am particularly pleased to be here with you today on the occasion of the 69th General Assembly of the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria. As the umbrella organization for all broadcast media – radio and television – in Nigeria, the responsibilities and obligations placed on your shoulders are indeed enormous. Unlike other media, the instantaneous nature of broadcasting is a power that has to be borne with a deep sense of responsibility, commitment and tact. Often, and as has been repeatedly shown across the world since the 1830s, broadcasting is and can be a powerful tool for good, protecting the rights of citizens to information, giving voice to people, providing platforms for diverse opinions, making policies and programmes of government accessible to people and creating conditions for tolerance and understanding. We have also had a glimpse of the flip side of broadcasting, where lack of professionalism, objectivity and impartiality have, in a number of unfortunate cases, plunged nations into turmoil as the experiences of Rwanda (1994) and Kenya (2007) have shown.
Broadcasting in Nigeria has surely come a long way since the first radio transmission in 1933 and television in 1959. Since then, broadcasting has played massive economic, social and political roles in the life of Nigerians. Quality programmes have not only educated, entertained and informed citizens, they have positively influenced citizens’ perceptions and deepened understanding and tolerance amongst diverse socio-cultural and occupational groups. They have also provided farmers and others with knowledge and skills to improve their lives thereby laying the grounds for the emergence of a united, stable, prosperous and strong nation.
I therefore consider the 69th General Assembly and its theme “The Role of the Media in the Nigerian Electoral Process” quite appropriate, particular at a time when the 2019 General Elections is only 289 away from today.
The Media, Democracy and Democratic Governance
The media are not only the cornerstone of democracy, they also play an indispensable role in the proper functioning of a democracy. The vital role of the media as a watchdog of the democratic process and in influencing political discourse, especially during elections, is essential to democratic consolidation. Universally, the role of the media in information dissemination and public enlightenment through the provision of platforms for electoral campaigns, public debate and voter education is a pre-condition for free and fair elections. Without the media, safeguarding the credibility and transparency of the electoral process would be a difficult task. While a free and objective media can foster transparency by disseminating important electoral information, a stifled or compromised media is capable of undermining the electoral process, ultimately weakening democracy.
The important role of the media in a democracy was underscored in the 2005 UNESCO World Press Day Conference in Dakar, Senegal. The outcome of the Conference as articulated in the Dakar Declaration of 2nd May 2005, stressed that “independent and pluralistic media are essential for ensuring transparency, accountability and participation as fundamental elements of good governance and human rights-based development”. Furthermore, the Declaration urged states to, “respect the function of news media as an essential factor in good governance, vital to increasing both transparency and accountability in decision-making process, and to communicating the principles of good governance to society”.
In facilitating the full participation of the citizenry in democratic elections, the media are specifically saddled with the responsibility of:
Elections are not just about the right to vote. Knowledge of the voting process, information about political parties, candidates and their programmes are also crucial. Also required is the acquisition of the knowledge of how to vote. It is the sacred responsibility of the media to provide avenues and opportunities for citizens’ participation, political inclusion and empowerment. The media should avail voters with adequate information about the electoral process and informed analyses on policies, political parties and their candidates, to enable the citizens make informed choices. To fulfil this obligation, the media have the duty to subject the electoral process to scrutiny and to provide public education on the activities of the EMB and other electoral stakeholders, in order to hold them to account.
According to a 2011 report on Media and Parliamentary Election in Egypt by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies:
The media is the primary means through which public opinion is shaped and at times manipulated. Elections constitute a basic challenge to the media, putting its impartiality and objectivity to test. The task of the media, especially national media outlets, is not and should not be to function as a mouthpiece for any government body or particular candidate. Its basic role is to enlighten and educate the public and act as a neutral, objective platform for free debate of all points of view.
In an increasingly globalised world, the media have therefore become a powerful tool in determining the political agenda, even in the most advanced democracies of the world. More importantly, the media have become an active participant in the political process, influencing political discourse and, in some cases, decision-making process and policy decisions, in developing democracies. This ability of the media to shape public opinion by providing content and context to discourse has serious implications for the electoral process, with both positive and negative consequences.
The Media, Democracy and Democratic Governance in Nigeria
Chapter II Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) stipulates the obligations of the mass media as follows:
The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.
The obligation under this Chapter on the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy is anchored on the premise articulated in Section 14 that Nigeria is a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice governed by the belief that:
1.Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through the Constitution derives all its power and authority;
2.The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government; and
3. The participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
It is therefore the duty of the media to act as the watchdog of the society, with the primary responsibility of protecting public interest against any abuse by those entrusted with power and resources of the state. Flowing from this, is a responsibility for the Nigerian media to create awareness to sensitise citizens about their rights and responsibilities by continually providing information on public and current affairs. The media should also educate and empower the citizens to hold public officials accountable for their actions or inaction. By serving as a market place of ideas, playing diverse advocacy roles and providing platforms for the government, interest groups and individuals to push their messages, the media must be constantly aware of its position as the Fourth Estate of the Realm and the fourth pillar of democracy. This consciousness in turn strengthens democracy and promotes good governance and promotes the development of society.
As noted by many constitutional lawyers including Ogugua V.C. Ikpeze, in his article “Non-Justiciability of Chapter II of the Nigerian Constitution as an Impediment to Economic Rights and Development” published in the International Knowledge Sharing Platform (IISTE) Vol. 5 No 18 (2015), the provisions of this Chapter of the Constitution may not be justiciable and should be made so. But the status quo does not abridge the obligation of the media as the watchdog of society.
To all intents and purposes, the media has continued to play a key role in the struggle for, and sustenance of democracy in Nigeria. In fact, the media was in the forefront of the struggle for the return of democracy in 1999. Where other entities were complacent or failed to act, certain sections of the media, in spite of the enormous and draconian state powers, mustered the courage to speak truth to power at great personal and corporate costs to the journalists and media organisations involved. Indeed, this attribute of the media dates back to pre-independence and the immediate post-independence period, and it is within this context that the role of the media in the Nigerian Electoral Process will be analysed.
Perspectives on the Role of the Media in Nigeria
Societies the world over, recognize that the media – print, broadcast and now New/Social Media – are an indispensable link between leaders and governance on the one hand, and between government and the governed on the other. Efforts towards making the media accessible through provisions of outlets as well as regulatory frameworks for that access and for the operation of the media itself, are critical indicators of development. Media access, whether by government, opposition or ordinary people and the conditions governing that access are critical in understanding the extent of freedom and information available in any particular country. It is the role of the media to provide balanced information and adequate coverage of events to enable citizens make informed choices about the political and electoral processes.
In Nigeria, the media in general and broadcast media in particular has historically served as a critical national institution engaged in the task of nation-building, mobilization, as well as a store of information on a variety of economic, social, and political issues. While variations in discharging this role are noticeable at various stages of the country’s political evolution, there are nevertheless core elements in the development of the broadcast media in the country.
The establishment of the Radio Distribution System (RDS) under the Department of Post and Telegraph (P & T) by the colonial government in 1933 heralded modern broadcast in Nigeria. Initially limited to broadcast only in Lagos, the RDS was expanded to Ibadan and Kano with the establishment of stations in 1939 and 1944 respectively. In the period up till the late 1940s, broadcast activities (content, operation, regulation and access) were effectively under the control of the colonial government. The need to respond to rising anti-colonial agitation by the nationalist movements from the mid-1940s led to an appraisal of radio broadcast in the country that resulted in the establishment of the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) in 1950. The role and objectives of the NBC were later revised and expanded, with the extension of coverage to Kaduna and Enugu and transmission on both short and medium wave bands. The NBS transformed into the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in 1956 and took on the responsibility of radio broadcasting in Nigeria. By 1978 the NBC was reorganized; vide decree 8 of 1979 (made retroactive 1st April 1978) to become the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) with nationwide broadcast stations in Enugu, Ibadan and Kaduna. Further reorganization in 2006 led to the establishment of six zonal stations in Enugu, Ibadan, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Makurdi and Yenegoa with supervisory roles over all Federal FM stations in their respective zones. Currently, FRCN controls about 37 FM/MW/SW stations nationwide.
Unlike the radio, the provision of television service was spearheaded by the Western Regional Government in October 1959 with the establishment of the Western Nigerian Television (WNTV) in Ibadan. The Eastern and Northern regional governments established their own TV stations in October 1960 and April 1962, respectively. However, television service in Nigeria went into a lull thereafter, until 1972 when the Mid-West TV was established as a TV broadcaster in Port Harcourt but run by the state government from Benin City. The establishment of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in 1976 led to the rapid expansion of TV broadcasting in the country. Indeed, by 1977, all regional TV stations became unified and since then, the creation of more states and the deregulation of broadcasting in 1992, which led to the establishment of private radio and television stations, have resulted in the expansion of broadcasting organisations across the country.
Over the years, the broadcast media have played and continue to play key roles in the political and electoral processes, mobilizing citizens for civic duties, providing information on government activities, facilitating the attainment of the rights of citizens to information, and, especially since 1979, creating platforms for citizen engagement with stakeholders on government policies. The mobilization of citizens towards the switch from right to left hand drive in 1972, the change from the use of the British Pound Sterling to the Naira in 1973 and the more recent campaign against the spread of Ebola are some of the most significant campaigns successfully undertaken by the media in Nigeria.
Media and the Electoral Process in Nigeria
The critical role of the media to democracy cannot be over-emphasized. Some scholars even hold view that democracy is impossible without the media. This position is rooted in the recognition and understanding that the media undergirds, monitors, and strengthens the entire electoral process from the registration of voters, through the actual voting process and the announcement of electoral outcomes or results, as well as the management of public opinion and perception in post-election period. An election is credible not just because of the ability of EMB to ensure that voters have the requisite information about the process and exercise their rights to choose whom they want; credibility is also judged by the participatory process in which voters have adequate information of policies, programmes, political parties and their candidates, and the entire electoral process, including the level of public debate and quality of information that informed the choices of the electorate.
Similarly, the media acts as an ombudsman, a general overseer safeguarding the transparency of the electoral process, ensuring not only that information is available to voters, but also that the activities of stakeholders in the electoral and political process are consistent with laid down rules and international best practice. The media thus, has both a duty to ensure effective coverage of the electoral process and through it, the obligation to protect voters’ rights to full and accurate information, participation in debates and dialogues on the electoral process and engagement with stakeholders in the entire process.
Beyond protecting the rights of voters, the media should, by that measure, also protect the rights of political parties and candidates to have access to, and use of media platforms for public engagement. Similarly, EMBs ought to rely on the media as partners in the delivery of credible elections, e.g. in voter/civic education, respect for electoral codes on political conduct by all stakeholders.
In general terms, therefore, the media should serve as communicators and information channels for voters, political parties, candidates, EMBs, civil society organizations and other stakeholders in the electoral process, as well as informal regulators of the entire process.
In performing these three-dimensional roles, the media must be professional, accurate in its reporting and impartial in its coverage. Without professionalism, the media could become an impediment to the democratic process.
Media Ownership, Control and the Electoral Process
The media in Nigeria has come a long way, with an evolution dating back to 1859 when Iwe-Irohin, blazed the trail. From that date to 2018, Nigeria has over 100 government, community and privately-owned newspapers and magazines, some 200 radio stations and about 150 television channels. This is apart from the large and increasing number of online publications and bloggers. While some of the pioneer publications such as The Lagos Times and Gold Coast Advertiser were published fortnightly and sold for six pence, newspapers are now published daily and sold for N200 and above, while it costs a lot more to subscribe to a variety of television channels on satellite.
Some have argued that the existence of multiple platforms today is healthy and helps to bring the best out of the media. Media organizations now know that they must be innovative and do something unique in order to attract a sizeable audience and profit in the midst of fierce competition. The advent of the social media has, indeed, expanded the challenges and opportunities that traditional media organizations now face in previously unimaginable ways. But I am confident that the traditional media has the capacity to withstand the pressure and protect its hard-earned territory.
But how does ownership and control affect the reportage of the electoral processes? Our experience at INEC, as an Electoral Management Body has been a bitter-sweet one. I must admit that INEC has enjoyed good coverage by the media generally, including members of BON. The reportage has been very helpful. The increasing public confidence in the Commission today is partly attributable to the balanced coverage we have enjoyed so far. We have been called upon to explain our processes and procedures and answer questions from stakeholders on various platforms across the country. We have seen the effect of these engagements in the feedback that we get from Nigerians whom we are committed to serve.
However, there are times when the reports about INEC are aired without any opportunity to the Commission to comment or provide its own side. My appeal to this distinguished audience is that our opinion should always be sought over issues that affect the Commission. It is an open secret that media organizations have deep interest in politics regardless of ownership (public or private). However, the expectation is that the code of conduct and ideals for which the media are known will always take precedence in the reportage of events. The pursuit of truth, underscored by balanced and fair reportage, would always endear media organizations that uphold such principles to the general public. In this age of digital technology, where information is easily accessible with just a click of the button, any media organization whose reports are considered inaccurate and biased runs the risk of losing public confidence and goodwill in the long-run.
Media and the 2019 General Elections
In the run-up to the 2019 General Elections and given the aforementioned and constitutionally recognised roles demanded of its professionals in democratic dispensation, the media is an indispensable partner. With exactly 289 days to the General Elections, it is important for the media to begin to actively address critical information deficits in public discourse. First of all, we enjoin the media to partner with the Commission in providing information on its plans for the election. As at today, the planning process for the 2019 General Elections have been concluded with the 2017-2021 Strategic Plan and Programme of Action, the Election Project Plan and the formation of the Election Monitoring and Support Centre.
Other critical planning processes towards the election are the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), as well as the collection of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). These plans need to be popularized to raise awareness and promote voter participation and engagement in the electoral process. It is also of significance that the media focuses on ensuring professionalism, accuracy of reports and impartiality. Given the nature of political contests in our country, inaccurate or biased reports could endanger peace, leading to violence before, during or after elections.
It is possible that the 2019 General Elections would be one of the most intense media-focused events in our political history. Stakeholders are likely to rely heavily on broadcast media, as well as on the New Social Media. For this reason, combating hate speech, fake news and other forms of reporting likely to inflame passion and trigger crisis will be of critical importance to the peaceful conduct of the elections.
The Role of New Media: Opportunities, Threats and Challenges
The emergence of the Internet has changed the way we think and do things all over the world. It has, indeed, brought with it, tremendous opportunities for the media, like all other sectors. It has broadened the scope of human abilities to share information and knowledge within seconds such that it is no longer possible to hoard information.
The social media, through digital technology, has revolutionized the ability of media organizations and even interested individuals to share breaking news in terms of photos and video clips. It is now possible to watch television programmes live on Facebook and even post comments. Individuals can also record scenes, take pictures with their mobile phones, upload same with their narratives on social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook and to share them. Such content could be viewed by millions of people all over the world within minutes.
The effect is that the monopoly of “Breaking News”, hitherto the exclusive preserve of the traditional media, has been taken away by the new generation of bloggers and those who refer to themselves as “Citizen Journalists”. This poses a major challenge just as it offers new opportunities to media organizations.
The opportunity is that media organizations now have more platforms to ply their trade. There is no need to wait for the prime time to broadcast events, as breaking news can now be released as the news breaks. It has also opened a new way of making money, through digital advertising.
The downside, however, is the circulation of fake news, which the unsuspecting public may believe as the truth. In any case, media organisations have also been victims. There have been reports of certain individuals cloning the platforms and some media organizations and broadcasting fake news which sometimes attract the attention of the public.
INEC has been a victim too. There is a lot of misinformation in circulation, some of which we have had to refute, posted on the social media by unprofessional journalists or bloggers. Some of them even open fake accounts in the Commission’s name with the intention of duping the unsuspecting public. Recently, we had to ask Facebook to pull down a fake account which was asking people to apply for non-existent jobs at the Commission. So too is the fake news that INEC will not sell forms to persons with outstanding corruption cases, thereby effectively banning them from contesting in elections. Apart from the fact INEC does not sell forms to candidates, nothing in the Constitution or the Electoral Act empowers the Commission to ban candidates on account of pending investigation or prosecution.
How then do we tackle fake news? Some people have suggested some form of regulation by the government. But can the government put some control measures in place that would not be quickly misunderstood as an attempt to censor the media? If the government cannot regulate, who should? The New Social Media has become the new normal. INEC does not support censorship in any way. We believe that this is a subject that requires constant and open conversation until a solution can be found through structured and sustained engagement between the media and other stakeholders.
Promoting Credible and Peaceful Elections: The Role of Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria
Having explored the role of the media in the Nigerian electoral process, it is important at this point to highlight how INEC and BON can work together towards the promotion of credible and peaceful electoral process and the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria. As an independent, non-governmental umbrella association of all public and private electronic media organisations in Nigeria, we solicit the support of BON in three major areas as follows
i Civic and Voter Education
Civic and voter education is a cardinal statutory function of the Commission. Section 2(a) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) grants the Commission the power to conduct civic and voter education in addition to other functions conferred by the Constitution. Every year, but particularly at elections period, the Commission commits enormous time and resources on voter education. However, the Commission’s human and financial resources are always limited, especially given the size and diversity of both the country and the voter population. Consequently, the incidence of low voter turn-out, voided votes as a result of improperly marked ballots and the case of uncollected PVCs are often blamed on inadequate voter education by the Commission.
In placing blame on the Commission, critics often forget that civic and voter education is a shared responsibility involving the Commission, political parties, civil society organisations, the media and relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of Government, especially important value-orientation role of the National Orientation Agency (NOA). It is for this reason that the Commission in its 2012 – 2016 Strategic Plan sought to put in place a framework for the development, design and dissemination of voter and civic education materials through the harmonisation of concepts and approaches.
In realisation of the fact that INEC cannot single-handedly undertake or achieve effective mobilization and voter education with desired scope and reach, the Commission inaugurated an advisory 15-member Inter-Agency Committee on Voter Education and Publicity (NICVEP) in May 2014. The membership of NICVEP consists of INEC along and relevant MDAs and professional bodies to leverage on their considerable knowledge, expertise, resources and reach to enhance the level of citizens’ awareness of electoral matters. It was our expectation that the activities of NICVEP would discourage voter apathy and promote positive attitudes among citizens, encourage compliance with regulations, discourage violence and all forms of malpractices and increase more active participation in the electoral process. Unfortunately, this effort at actualising a coordinated and effective civic and voter education approach did not yield the desired result due largely to inadequate resourcesThe Commission is still convinced about the value of NICVEP as a veritable instrument for mainstreaming voters, mobilizing and enlightening the citizenry on electoral processes and engendering free, fair, credible and acceptable elections. It is for this reason that INEC is again making efforts to engage a wide range of stakeholders for the formulation and implementation of viable and effective civic and voter education mechanism and strategies through the design and development of messages targeting the voter population, as well as all socially excluded and marginalized groups in the electoral process. We will require the individual and collective commitment and support of members of BON in accomplishing this objective.
ii Fair, Professional and Ethical Coverage of the Electoral Processes
Elections have become an important source of revenue for the media with wealthy candidates and political parties spending large amounts of money on political advertising which sometimes resulting in skewed coverage in favour of those who can afford the high cost of such advertising. In some cases, sections of the media do not always strictly adhere to professional and ethical standards for a variety of reasons. This is not only a violation of Sections 99, 100, 101 and 102 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), it actually imperils our democracy.
It is a known fact that elections often tend to exacerbate artificial divisions within the complex environment of Nigeria and some actors often exploit these divisions to threaten the conduct of peaceful elections. It is the duty and responsibility of BON to mitigate this unwholesome practice as post-election violence are often triggered by hate campaigns perpetuated by opposing candidates and parties.
The Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage, adopted by the key media stakeholders’ organizations in October 2014, offers self-regulatory guidelines for fair, accurate and balanced coverage. BON should not relent in pushing for the regulation of political advertising and in promoting the obligation of broadcasters to give equal access to all contestants and in protecting the unity and national interest of the country against the use of unsavoury documentaries and hate speech especially during live campaign broadcasts.
iii. Organisation of Debate for Candidates Seeking Political Office
Since the restoration of democracy in 1999, the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG), which is a coalition of broadcast organizations, civil society and professional groups, has been in the vanguard of organizing and hosting live televised debates for all presidential, vice presidential and gubernatorial candidates in Nigeria. Some media organizations have also been involved in the organization and live broadcast of debates among candidates seeking political office, especially during off-season Governorship elections. The conduct of such election debates amongst candidates has become a key mechanism for deepening political participation, helping to focus candidates on the policy issues, clarifying choices and options open to the electorate, creating level playing field in political contest and reducing political tension. Undoubtedly, these debates have afforded the Nigerian electorate the opportunity to watch and listen to presidential and governorship candidates on their intentions and aspirations through an equal opportunity platform. It has also allowed them to compare the candidates running for office and to understand their position on key public policy issues.
As a key player in the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG), it is appropriate that BON and its members, in consonance with the practice in advanced and developing democracies, should remain in the forefront of efforts to institutionalize the practice of debate among candidates seeking political office in Nigeria. Such debates are necessary for deepening democracy by promoting civil discourse and providing a platform for candidates to articulate their positions on public policy issues. They also allow the public to judge aspiring candidates for political office under pressure and evaluate their arguments in competition with other candidates.
Debates also serve an important role of demonstrating to the aspiring candidates that democracy is about standing before the public and answering their questions. Invariably, debates assist voters in making informed decisions on election day and provide a yardstick for holding the elected candidates accountable to their party manifestos and campaign promises.
As we move closer to the 2019 General Elections, my appeal to the distinguished members of BON is that we should remain vigilant and constantly look out for those who seek to divide and incite Nigerians through fake narratives. When you hear of certain allegations against the Commission, I urge you to endeavour to ask us for clarifications through our open official channels and or by making use of other available channels. Our doors are open and we will always oblige you with the information that you need. We are confident that when professional organizations like yours put truthful stories out there in the public domain, it will be easy to tackle rumour mongers and peddlers of fake news.
The Commission has conducted five general elections since 1999 and the 2015 election has so far been adjudged as the best of them all. Since then, we have conducted elections into 179 Constituencies in addition to the recent verification of petitioners’ signatures for the recall of a member of the National Assembly. Since January this year, we have conducted four (4) elections, majority of them by court order. We still have five (5) bye-elections into National and State Assembly constituencies to conduct, including four (4) vacancies that occurred in less than two (2) months (March-April 2018). In addition, we have two (2) off-season Governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States scheduled for 14th July and 22nd September 2018 respectively.
We are determined to make the 2019 General Elections our best election ever. But we cannot do it alone. We need the full support of all stakeholders. It is our hope that we can continue to count on the support of BON in particular and the media in general. Only by working together can we continue to deepen our democracy.
Once again, I thank BON for this gracious invitation to speak at your 69th General Assembly.
Being a Keynote Address delivered by the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu at the 69th General Assembly of the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON), held at the Lagos Oriental Hotel, Lekki, Victoria Island, Lagos on Wednesday 2nd May 2018.