Odinkalu urges compulsory insurance scheme for journalists on election duty

Former chairman, National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu
former chairman, National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu

A former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, on Tuesday advocated for a compulsory insurance scheme for media organisations that deploy reporters for elections.

Mr Odinkalu spoke Thursday at an event in Lagos to mark the 2019 World Press Freedom Day organised by the US Mission in Nigeria.

Mr Odinkalu said the insurance scheme would have the simultaneous symbolism of signalling that the lives of journalists are important and also drive down the price of premiums through economics of scale and volume pricing.

“As Nigeria prepares for the 2019 elections, the media has its work cut out,” said Mr Odinkalu, a Professor of Law.

“The elections have a huge significance for Nigeria’s future. As such, it will be useful for the media to consider measures to update its operations.

“Given the penchant of Nigerian politicians to seek to buy their versions of reality, it is important to underscore now more than ever before, the importance of media ethics, especially in the context of election reporting.

“The existing Code of Election Coverage is arguably overdue for review and it can benefit from being backed up by a strengthened monitoring and compliance system.”

The World Press Freedom Day was declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 as an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental objectives of press freedom as well as pay tributes to journalists who lost their lives in the line of duty.

The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law.’

Mr Odinkalu also advocated for the media to pool resources together to establish a Media Fusion Centre which would be accessible to all media outlets.

“Nigerian CSOs working on elections already have a shared NGO Situation Room. A Fusion Centre will model a three-dimensional reporting format integrating sensory observation, algorithmic solutions and signals capabilities.

“This could make for more factual and granular reporting. The time to begin to bed in this capability should have been 2017 or earlier. It is not yet too late to begin.”

In his presentation, Femi Mimiko, a Professor of Political Science, said there is need for the media to help in engendering peaceful resolution of conflicts.

“The media has a mandate to compel political operatives to be issue-focused and also advocate for recourse to the judiciary to resolve issues,” said Mr Mimiko, a lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

Mr Mimiko noted that partisanship in the Nigerian media has become pervasive, adding that the country has “never been as divided as it is today.”

Participants at a roundtable session on Media and Transparency of the 2019 Election included Messrs Odinkalu and Mimiko; Funke Egbemode, President, Nigeria Guild of Editors; and Dolapo Badmos, Zonal Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Police Zone 2 Command.

Earlier in his remarks, John Bray, the United States Consul General, said peaceful and credible elections are essential to Nigeria’s continued economic, political, and social development.

“Nigeria plays a vital role on the world stage and as the largest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria’s stability is crucial to the security and economic prosperity of the rest of the continent,” said Mr Bray.

“The US government is dedicated to supporting Nigerians in ensuring that the 2019 elections will be transparent credible, and peaceful.”

Mr Bray urged journalists to foster active debate, provide investigative reporting, and serve as a forum to express different point of view.

“When people don’t have the facts, they make them up and that creates unstable environments, rife with rumours, gossip and lies.

“And you, as journalists, make sure this doesn’t happen, by providing information, researching, conducting interviews, and then educating the electorate.”

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