The Nigerian government has accused the country’s media of undermining their ability to hold power accountable by unethically associating with politicians, alleging that some journalists were biased in the coverage.
Amid repeated attempts by the government to stifle free press, Information Minister Lai Mohammed on Tuesday said the government was concerned about being “bullied” and not the other way round.
“The Nigerian press has a rich history of holding power accountable. This is not a surprise, considering that the Nigerian press is one of the most vibrant in the world. Yes, I didn’t say that as a joke! Our experience as a government confirms this assertion,” said Mr Mohammed at a session of the Nigerian Economic Summit titled ‘Fourth Estate: Holding Power Accountable.”
“Whereas in many countries, the press is worried about being bullied by the government, here in Nigeria, it is the government that has to contend with endless bullying by the press.”
Mr Mohammed said there is an increasing concern about the ability of the media to hold power to account.
“This concern is due to a number of factors. One is bias. For example, there is a national television station here in this country that has, as one of its anchors, a partisan, a known opposition party man,” he said.
“Yes, the said anchor is also a journalist. But what kind of objectivity can we expect from such an anchor? No matter how professional he seeks to be, his partisanship will always be a blur. Can such anchor or his medium be trusted to objectively hold power accountable?
“Another is the increasing propensity of the media in Nigeria to undermine their own watchdog role. Today, it is not uncommon to have media organisations hold annual award ceremonies. In most cases, their awardees are top officials of the same government they are supposed to hold accountable. Such awards include: Governor or Governors of the Year; Minister or Ministers of the Year; Politician or Politicians of the Year. Let’s even forget the fact that the criteria for giving such awards are dubious, at best.
“Let’s forget that some of these awardees support the awarding organisations in one form or the other, especially during the awards.
“To what extent can such media organisations hold their awardees, most of the top officials of government at all levels, accountable? Is this not antithetical to the watchdog role prescribed for the press in the constitution?” he questioned.
Mr Mohammed has been in the lead of the Buhari administration’s repeated attempts to stifle free speech and clamp down on the press. He backs legislation seeking government control of the media and social media, claiming the aim is to check hate speech and fake news.
Speaking Tuesday, Mr Mohammed repeated his position about the circulation of fake news.
He said there are presently hundreds of online newspapers that churn out the news that are neither verified nor balanced.
“And society believes this fake news or misinformation and runs with it,” he said.
“For example, during my recent official trip to the U.S. to engage with the international media, one online news website published that the purpose of the trip was to engage with Twitter.
“This fake news was published without recourse to my office to even double-check the purpose of the trip. And of course, many gullible people believed it. Can a media organisation that engages in fake news and misinformation uphold the constitutional role prescribed for the media? Can you be a watchdog when you are a dog of fake news and misinformation? Is it not said that he who must come to equity must come with clean hands?
“There is therefore what I will call the urgency of now for the media to look inwards and engage in self-scrutiny in order to remove those things that inhibit its ability to perform its constitutional role,” he said.
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