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#OtvOPINIONS: Reporting the 2015 elections

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He who says politics says money, to begin with the
first of our customary titbits. If you doubt this
maxim, ask the lucky beneficiaries of the “rain of
dollars” at the recently concluded governorship and
presidential primaries of both the Peoples
Democratic Party and the All Progressives
Congress.
According to a report in Saturday Punch of
December 13, 2014, entitled, “PDP, APC primaries:
Dollar, naira rain for delegates”, many delegates left
the scenes of the primaries laughing to their banks
having collected hefty amounts reaching up to
$7,000 per delegate in some instances. To be sure,
the use of money as vote-buying instruments is not
new in Nigerian politics. It will seem however that
not only are the amounts spent on buying votes
rising but what is now known as stomach
infrastructure in its various guises has become
pervasive. Please, note that the monetisation of
politics is not peculiar to Nigeria. A report by the
Washington-based Centre for Responsive Politics
on the recent midterm elections in the United States
informs that the 2014 midterm was the most
expensive yet in American history. The Centre
estimates that candidates, parties, committees and
donors spent over $3.64bn with the Republicans
predictably outspending the Democrats.
What is disturbing, however, is the blatant use of
monetary inducement to secure votes by the two
frontline Nigerian parties. Obviously, given this kind
of squalour and a political process priced out of the
reach of the professional class, we may not have
heard the last of bottom league rankings in the
corruption perception indices of Transparency
International. And this holds true irrespective of
whether the PDP or the APC wins the presidential
election next year.
The second titbit comes from two of our university’s
convocation ceremonies. This year’s convocation
ceremony at the Lead City University, Ibadan, was
livened up by the presence of a representative of the
Executive Secretary of the National Universities
Commission, Prof. Julius Okojie, signalling an
upswing in the hitherto tense relationship between
the university and the commission. On Wednesday
last week, the convocation ceremony at the Obafemi
Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, had as one of its
distinguishing human interest features the
graduation in first class of twin brothers, Joshua
Taiwo Ayansola and Caleb Kehinde Ayansola aged
22. The two of them were the only first class
graduates in the Faculty of Education making their
feat more remarkable.
Upon investigation, this writer discovered that the
boys had a head start in that their father who
unfortunately passed on last year was a lecturer at
the Obafemi Awolowo University while their mother
is the founder of a flourishing primary and
secondary school. However we explain it, the
achievement of the twins who have expressed their
desire to become academics should serve as an
inspiration for the teeming youths who are a
significant demographic category in this country.
The opening quote drawn from star columnist and
former newspaper proprietor, Muhammed Haruna,
captures the essence of a two-day workshop on
balanced and non-partisan election reporting held at
the University of Ibadan on Monday and Tuesday.
Organised by the Media Scholars Network in
conjunction with the Independent National Electoral
Commission, the workshop featured an array of
distinguished journalists and media scholars. This
include Kwesi Gyan-Apenteng, President, Ghana
Association of Writers; Prof. Lai Oso, Dean, School
of Communication, Lagos State University; Lanre
Idowu, Editor, Media Review; Dapo Olorunyomi,
Chief Executive of Premium Times; Tayo Agunbiade,
a former Editorial Board Chair, Nigerian Compass;
Yomi Layinka, Chief Operating Officer of the
Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State, as well as
this columnist among others. INEC had a powerful
contingent led by Sylvanus Yepe, an Assistant
Director and Chukwuemeka Ugboajah, Chief
Publicity Officer. The clientele were journalists from
the print and electronic media who had come to
sharpen their tools and refresh their skills in
balanced and non-partisan election reporting.
One of the unresolved issues that recurred
throughout the workshop was the possibility of
objective reporting which though desirable is
obviously difficult to attain considering that
journalists bring to their work hidden biases which
are not easy to eliminate. In fact, some media
scholars taking into account the vibrancy of a hard-
to-police online media with their tendencies for
speed, virality and lax editing, argue that mankind
has entered into an age of partisanship.
The matter gets more complicated when you factor
the increasing salience of citizen journalism, civic
journalism and independent bloggers most of which
operate by ground rules different from mainstream
journalism. As Olorunyomi correctly reminds the
workshop, several professional associations of
journalists such as the American Society of Editors,
have dropped the word “objectivity” from their code
of ethics. Nonetheless, no one will contest that
fairness and balance remain primary objectives for
the journalistic enterprise. More so, in an election
season when passions run high and when descent
into hate speeches or provocative language can
easily heat up the atmosphere or become the
prelude to disastrous conflicts.
As Gyan-Apenteng suggests, many wars in Africa
have been triggered by divisive elections with the
media lining up on opposing sides of the divide.
How then can Nigerian journalists, attain balanced
coverage of the forthcoming elections considering
the upsurge of media houses set up by politicians,
the brown envelope syndrome deriving from the
poor working conditions of journalists and rundown
ethics among other factors?
The various instructors at the workshop offer both
scholarly and hands-on perspectives. For example,
journalists need to educate themselves not just on
the laws and ethics that govern their craft but on
those that relate to the electoral process such as the
electoral law.
Balanced coverage of elections, it was pointed out,
does not just happen; it has to be planned. In this
respect, media institutions ought to plan their
coverage of elections by making clear to their
workers and to the public how they intend to go
about the coverage. Recommended for emulation
for instance, is The PUNCH style of allocating
equitable space to competing political parties. Of
importance too, is the need for media to monitor
partisan coverage of elections by reviving the
concept of an ombudsman who will enforce in-
house rules about balanced coverage.
Advice concerning the use of civil and non-
provocative language in reporting the comments of
political parties came from Haruna. Said he: “For
every story you report, ask the key question: How
will this affect my readers’ or listeners’ lives?”
In one of the interactive sessions, the journalists
alluded to the security problems they faced in the
course of reporting the Ekiti and Osun elections.
Promising to ease the burden of the journalists,
Ugboajah revealed that notwithstanding his being a
senior official of INEC, a security agent tried to
prevent him from moving around during the Osun
governorship election and even threatened to shoot
him.
The beauty of events like this is that stakeholders in
the election process can develop proactive
strategies that will assist them and the nation in
making the 2015 elections the peaceful and
successful outing that they ought to be.

Written by Ayo Olukotun, post earlier featured on Opinions.ng

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