By Gift Olivia Samuel, The Sight News
With the lives of many Journalists at risk while covering elections in Nigeria and world over, stakeholders have urged the media to be safety conscious, professional and conflict sensitive while carrying out their activities.
This is coming on the heels of the Edo and Ondo Governorship Elections scheduled for September 19 and October 10, 2020, respectively.
In the light of this, the International Press Centre (IPC) and Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) on Monday held a Webinar with the theme, “Edo/Ondo Elections: The imperative of Safety Consciousness and Conflict Sensitivity in Media Coverage and Reportage”.
Making a presentation on Electoral Conflicts, Media Coverage and the need for Conflict Sensitive Reporting, Dr. Ruqqayah Aliyu, from Bayero University, Kano, noted that the success of the Edo and Ondo Governorship elections to a large extent, lies on the effectiveness and efficiency of media coverage, as the citizens rely on the media to make informed decisions
She further said that if the elections go violent, the consequences might be devastating with multiplier effects on the society.
In her words, “If the present situation is ill managed, the opposite of peace will be experienced, youth will be exploited, innocent people will suffer, governance will be interrupted, the states will be dragged backwards, violence might escalate, consequences might be unpredictable, but electoral violence is better avoided”.
While speaking on conflict sensitive reporting, she noted that professional Journalists have to ensure safety and yet not undermine any details in a conflict situation, adding that if Journalists report professionally, they will douse tension and reduce conflicts.
On what Journalists should do while reporting the Ondo and Edo Elections, she urged them to ensure safety and professionalism; Not to be overzealous in reporting issues, verify all facts and figures; Give National interest top priority; Set a positive agenda; Downplay the negative; Promote Peace and be non-partisan inspite of pressures and personal preferences or affiliations; Uphold Journalism ethics in reporting election processes and outcomes; Be responsive in engaging in intensive voter education; Sensitize members of the public on particularly the consequences of violent conflicts; Work as a team; and Take advantage of the new media.
While stressing that the Edo/Ondo elections are violent and conflict-prone, she also urged the media to go there equipped with a mindset of prpfessionalism and be advocates of peace, adding that peace is priceless.
In another presentation, Mrs. Melody Lawal, Programme Officer (Journalists Safety), IPC, while speaking on Journalists’ safety issues in Nigeria in regards to the Edo and Ondo Election, stated that it is important for Journalists to take cognisnance of the fact that nothing has changed in the way politicians view elections.
She disclosed that there have been 41 cases of attacks on Journalists in the last 8 months, with a statistics of 85% Male(35), 12% female (5) and 3% media houses (1), urging journalists to situate their roles and interests in the context of the interest of the politicians and the people.
“The media should note that the candidates and supporters won’t care whose ox is gored in the election as they are desperate to get into power. So, Journalists should be careful. For the people, the hopes of the average Nigerian is for a peaceful election and so, Journalists are saddled with the responsibility to be professional as well as keeping themselves safe”.
She further reeled out safety tips for Journalists ahead of the elections to include: Being Non-partisan, don’t be biased towards any political party; Be brave and smart, cover situation from a safe distance; Don’t walk and move alone, try to move in clusters and let people know where you are, always move with your means of identification as a press man; Don’t negotiate with any politicians with classified information; Exercise caution in dealing with security agents on ground and avoid unnecessary confrontation with them
“Our safety is our responsibility, we need to be careful what we say and what not to say. Journalists who are peradventure attacked should report to the state council of NUJ, INEC Resident Electoral representative, and the Journalists safety alert desk”, She advised. “Remember, you need to be alive to tell your story. Don’t put yourselves in dangerous situation”.
For his part, Dr. Clinton Okonye of Caleb University, Imota, Lagos while speaking on election coverage under COVID-19 rules; addressing issues of Journalists personal safety, stated that there are 2, 594 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Edo state with 100 deaths and 1, 561 cases in Ondo with 32 deaths, with the most affected age group being those between 31 – 40 year olds who are also the major participants in the Elections.
He, however, stressed that that the election should not lead to increased cases but bring about a credible leader without a spike in the number of Covid-19 patients.
Dr. Okonye while urging every Journalist to remain indoors if they have had contact with anyone who tested positive to COVID-19, appealed to the bodies involved in Election to provide handwashing facilities and sanitizers, and called for appropriate usage of the face masks.
According to him, “COVID-19 is in the downward trend because people are adhering to the required instructions. If you know you are positive and you go out to the election then you are a violent person. We are the change, we are the cure”.
The webinar which was moderated by Mrs. Funke-Treasure Durodola, Board Member, IPC/Former Assistant Director Programme, FRCN, also had opening remarks by Prof. Umaru Pate, President ACSPN/Dean School of Postgraduate Studies, BUK, who called for responsive and responsible behaviour from the fourth estate of the realm; Welcome remarks by Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director, IPC, who urged the media to be abreast with the Nigerian media code of election coverage and the NBC code on election.
There was also goodwill remarks by Dr. Akin Akingbulu, Executive Director, International Media Society, who called for the sufficient kitting of Journalists as they go on their duties; as well as Special remarks by Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, who disclosed that INEC will provide a level playing field in the Edo and Ondo Elections.