Contribution: Maintaining media neutrality in the 2019 eletion coverage


From Baridorn Sika

The importance of the media to the overall development of society cannot be over emphasized.

In fact, the remarks of the 3rd President of the United States of America Thomas Jefferson captured the essence of the media when he said “If I am asked to choose between a society with a government and another with newspaper, I would prefer a society with newspaper to the one with government”.

Although, the dispensation of Thomas Jefferson was dominated largely by the print media, the media today encompasses the print media made up of newspapers and magazines as well as electronic media which cover radio and television.

This is not to undermine the invaluable contributions of online journalism and the entire gamut of social media. In the world today, one can obtain a plethora of information with a mobile phone connected to the internet.

On the part of radio broadcasting, the former Director General of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in a famous lecture at the University of Bristol in 1948 declared “The power of broadcasting if skillfully used can move masses of people in a way the printed word cannot and if used consistently, it can affect the out look of individuals and nations.”

As if that was not enough, American Country Music singer, Don Williams, (in 1981) simply reminded the world of the power of Radio when he sang; “Listen to the radio”. This again is an eloquent testimony of the power of the media in building society. The story is the same in the case of television in Nigeria.

For instance, the Premier of Western Nigeria, Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, stated thus: “Television will serve as a teacher and entertainer and as a stimulus to us all to transform Nigeria into a modern and prosperous nation”.

Chief Awolowo who was addressing the formal opening ceremony of Western Nigeria Television WNTV at the Parliament Building in Ibadan 31st October, 1959 as recorded in Daily Times Newspaper of November 2, 1959 further said “Western Nigeria was convinced that television could promote both the pace and standard of education regarded as key to progress in other fields”.

Because of the significance of the media, governments, individuals and leaders of society through ages had made foray into ownership and operations of the media with the intent to control the flow of information.

This is where it may be pertinent to cite political systems such as Authoritarian where governance was dictated by kings and queens who were also seen as representatives of God and as such no one  including the media were expected to go against there pronouncement.

Then came the Soviet Communist system followed by the famaus Libertarian and Social Responsibility Theories known as the normative theory of the media.

Since change is constant in nature to bring about a virile society, society has since transformed to accommodate other systems or theories such as Developmental, Democratic-Participant and Revolutionary media system among others.

Interestingly, scholars across the globe particularly from American School of Pragmatism, such as Walter Lippman and John Dewey and others from German Frankfurt School of Critical Thinking such as Jorgen Habermass in particular, Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer have advocated structural transformation of the public sphere in the bid to make the media serve society better.

Be that as it may, the media must be seen to be neutral in the discharge of its statutory functions.

The media refer to the plural form of the word-medium. The media as earlier stated is used to refer to the totality of means of dissemination of information through radio, television newspapers, magazines including books and films.

No doubt, the media could be manipulated by interest groups and parties in process of content generation if not carefully evaluated and managed by core professionals.

As the 2019 general elections draw close, the need for media neutrality has become increasingly Sinequanon than ever so as not to compromise standards.

As politicians resume electioneering campaigns to win the electorate to their sides, the media must distance itself from derogatory remarks, character assassination, deliberate falsehood and acrimony capable of jeopardizing peaceful coexcistence and the unity of Nigeria.

This could be attained when leaders in position of trust dialogue and engage citizens to know their yearnings and aspiration.

The task before the media therefore would be to deploy its mediatory and reconciliatory potentials to address societal needs since journalists have access to parties to an information. This confirms why the media is seen as the middle and a mediated place.

On no account therefore should the media connive with a party to news or information to the detriment of citizens.

Media neutrality in the 2019 general elections coverage requires deliberate refusal to take side when it is expected to mediate.

Already, the tune of public communication of some public officials so far is generating more heat than light and is capable of causing disaffection between Nigeria and the international community.

Most importantly, the Nigeria media must know that the industry is on trial alongside other strategic institutions such as the judiciary, security, and the umpire- INEC, in a democracy.

As a result, the media must resist the temptation to accept campaign of calumny under the guise of accepting commercial to generate revenue. In other words, a news medium should allow itself to be purveyor of hate speech and falsehood.

Hosts of live interview programmes and indeed management of broadcast media must dissociate them self immediately from inciting remarks of guests.

It is on record that journalists and members of civil society organizations had in the past paid the supreme sacrifice to return democratic governance to Nigeria and so neutrality is the watch word

Government officials must employ tactfullness as they engage the electorate while journalists must undertake specialized training to better appreciate media millieu they operate and to tame the crudity of politicians making public speeches.

A stitch in time, they say saves nine.

(Sika is a Port Harcourt-based journalist and public affairs analyst)