As the 2019 general elections draw near, Lanre Arogundade, Director, International Press Centre (IPC) and other media experts have urged journalists to be conflict-sensitive in their reports.
Mr Arogundade made this call at a training on election coverage by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Thursday in Abuja.
The workshop was attended by journalists from different media houses in Nigeria and other countries.
He said the power of the media is seen during electoral processes especially at elections, adding that the abuse of this power has led to dire consequences in some countries
“Election is conflictual because it entails inevitable competition for power, divergence of views on problems and disagreement on solutions as well as clash of ideas, ideologies and personalities.
“Therefore, the essence of conflict sensitive election reporting is to navigate the various circumstances of conflict in elections to prevent outbreak of violence. It is also to ensure that peaceful solutions are quickly found where such outbreaks become inevitable as they often do.”
Mr Arogundade said journalists can be conflict-sensitive by not “casting headlines or reporting stories that could lead to violence.”
He therefore urged journalists to make it a social responsibility to be ” conflict-sensitive election reporters”.
He said political conflicts do not just happen, as they are often preceded by early warning signs. He tasked reporters to report these signs so those in authorities can take actions to forestall such conflicts
He urged the media to fact-check ” rumours, hot words, arms movements, protests, inciting/hate comments on new/social media etc..
Kwame Karikari, Dean, Wisconsin International University College also advised Nigerian journalists to learn from Ghana in exposing politicians and political parties, who intend to cause electoral violence through hate speech.
According to Mr Karikari, who is Founder, Media Foundation for West Africa, the media in Ghana published names of political parties and politicians engaging in hate speech, “and this was one of the measures that helped the country to address the issue of hate speech”.
Another trainer at the event, Lanre Idowu, urged journalists to give more focus to the grassroots in their reports, as the country prepares for 2019 elections.
Mr Idowu, who decried the little or no attention given to the rural areas in the coverage of election said this must change.
“The rural areas must be given attention because that is the area when politicians get the bulk of their votes. If they are not well informed, they may not make right decision during elections.”
UNESCO, one of the organisers, called for “deliberation on the state of journalism in Africa in order to alleviate future media and freedom of expression violations in the region”.
This call was made by the Regional Director of UNESCO, Abuja, Yao Yao, represented by the National Professional Officer Communication and Information Sector.
He said this can be achieved through capacity building of journalists and media professionals and by enhancing dialogue about the ethics and standards of the profession as well as the working conditions.
“Given the proliferation of reporters, social media producers and the changing media landscape, it is time to take more seriously, the discussion of the state of journalism in order to alleviate future media and freedom of expression violations in Africa. This is important to prevent violence, including violent extremism and the eradication of hate speech in reporting content.
“To this regard, journalists and media professionals would be expected to play an important role in covering the violence itself and its consequences.
“Journalist are also expected to play key roles in helping the society to better understand the sources of violence and how to promote more inclusive and tolerant societies, especially during the election period.”
IPI Director of Advocacy, Ravi Prascal, said the institute is very keen on the safety of journalists and also building their capacity on election coverage.
“We decided to have this workshop as crucial elections are coming up. What we have seen is when elections are coming, very often, the government uses laws and legislations, while the politicians use social media, independent journalists and social media and the voice of critics is silent.”
Representing INEC, the Deputy Director, Electoral Training, Ifeanyi Agoha, said the commission recognises the power of the media and hopes it would be a constructive instrument that would positively impact the 2019 general elections.
“The commission recognises the media as critical stakeholders in the electoral process. We appreciate whatever could be done to improve on their capacity.
“We also realise that the media has plays a critical role in deepening democratic processes in Nigeria,” he added