To ensure credible and ethical coverage of the 2019 general elections and subsequent polls, politics editors on January 26, 2019, adopted a charter on election coverage.
This charter was adopted at the end of a two-day Political Editors Training organised by Daria Media and Thompson Foundation is a voluntary commitment to raising professional standards during the forthcoming polls.
Executive Director, Daria Media, Kadaria Ahmed said she was motivated to put the training to improve on the quality of reporting by Nigerian journalists.
She noted that journalists must be empowered to be able to report accurately to protect the interest of the public.
She said: “I think that Nigeria has become fractured, as our fault lines have been exploited, the country continues to loge from one sort of problem to the other; journalism is becoming even more important. It is critical that we are able to tell truth to power, but not do it in a way that is designed to further exacerbate the issues we are facing, but in a way that puts the public interest ahead of everything else. My view is that the only way we can do it is to improve the quality of the way we report, so our standards around balance, around verification.
She said the press in Nigeria has done fairly well given the harsh conditions they operate.
On the responsibility of holding the government accountable and responsible to the citizenry as contained in Section 22 of the 1999 constitution (as amended), Ahmed said: “I think the Nigerian media has actually done fairly well if you consider the myriad of challenges we face. So often I think journalist are treated unfairly in the sense that people will sit here and compare the Nigerian media with the international press: Reuters, BBC, forgetting that the environment under which those media work is totally different. The Nigerian media works under very difficult condition. The Nigerian media is not well funded; people’s condition of service is very poor; we live in a democracy that is still fledging and institutions are not functioning. If you take all of that into account, by and large, the Nigerian media has actually done well. Historically there are many examples of this. June 12 is one, and the Babangida regime that was pushed out is another and more recently, the issues around subsidy. I’m not saying the Nigerian media is perfect; we know it isn’t. I’m just saying that some of the issues we face, you can really compare the way we work and the way BBC journalist works. I’ve worked on both sides so I understand.
“At BBC I have a whole team that supports what I’m doing, I get paid very well; I get insurance when I travel. All that mean I have to focus 100 per cent on doing my job. The Nigerian journalist is not like that; he is worried about school fees; he is worried about transport; he is worried about buying a midget that actually works with money from his own pocket and of course there are institutions that lock him up if he doesn’t report what they want him to report; so it is a difficult terrain. I’m the first person to admit that and I’m also the last person to say that people are rubbish. But I’m also insisting that most people who do journalism do it out of conviction and passion and as a result, you will always get people to do little things that will improve the quality of what they are doing and eventually the whole industry will get better as a result.”
“The charter sets the threshold of fundamental values by which the country’s media can judge itself and be judged. It also determines the rules which the editors undertake to observe and tell Nigerian electors what they are entitled to expect from a free and responsible media sensitive to the needs of its audience during the democratic election process.”
Some of its highlights include the need to balance freedom of expression and the media’s right to be partisan and the equal rights of electors to expect openness, honesty and fair-dealing in the reporting of elections.
It also includes the need to uphold standards of accuracy, professional integrity and due sensitivity that embrace the best values both of Nigerian’s cultural heritage and ethnic diversity and of modern international society. It also safeguards journalism in the genuine public interest and the freedom to editorialise: to challenge, stimulate, campaign, and criticise.
It states that it is essential that a voluntary code is honoured not only to the letter but also in the full spirit. It should neither be interpreted so narrowly as to compromise its commitment to respect individual rights nor so broadly as to prevent publication in the public interest.
The code should be strictly observed by all participating publishers, editors and their journalists and contributors including non-journalists in print format, broadcasting and online.
The charter also encompasses the need for accurate reporting, including fact-checking and the avoidance of fake news; need to correct materially incorrect reports at the first opportunity and with due prominence.
“A journalist shall not knowingly or wilfully promote communal or religious discord or violence, by any means, with intent to influence the outcome of an election or any other reason.
“Special care should be taken to avoid dealing with any such issues in a discriminatory manner that might inflame election tensions, even without intent.”