Experts urge journalists, media owners to invest in fact-checking…Says biased media reporting undermines election integrity
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC in partnership with the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ and Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD has organized a two-day capacity building for journalists and Civil Society Organizations, CSOs in Southeast on media training on conflict sensitive reporting, 2023 general election and countering fake news at Enugu state.
The training among other vital issues was aimed at building the CSOs and Journalists to be sufficiently knowledgeable of the electoral act; adopting a conflict sensitive approach through accurate reporting and religiously embraced the tenets of development Journalism.
The experts also urged publishers, media owners and journalists to invest in fact-checking of news stories to mitigate misinformation, disinformation and hate speech; and as the 2023 general election is fast approaching, should avoid ethno – religious sentiments, be fair and unbiased in their reportage in order to justify the ethic of the profession of being a watchdog of the society.
Declaring the workshop open, the National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education of the INEC Barr. Festus Okoye represented by the Deputy Director, Voter Education and Publicity, Chukwuemeka Ugboaja, assured that with the amended Election act 2022, Nigerians would witness a free, fair and credible election in 2023 but reminded the participants drawn from the five states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Eungu and Imo, that reporting elections needs to be handled with an eye on conflict sensitivity and national peace and cohesion.
Barr. Okoye pointed out that it was in the interest of the country for the media to always seek for official clarification on germane and serious national issues, especially when electoral matters are involved, instead of relying on the opinion of anonymous officials of the Commission.
His words, “The work of the Commission (INEC) and the conduct of electoral business has national security implications, which implies that reporting elections needs to be handled with an eye on conflict sensitivity and national peace and cohesion. Reporting elections requires special skills and understanding of the centrality of election to Nigeria’s survival as a federal democracy where incontrovertible facts devoid of speculation, grandstanding and political maneuvers are more likely to be more helpful. This is simply because one false report that goes viral may have the potential of triggering a breakdown of law and order in a part or the whole of the country”.
In his message delivered on his behalf by the Deputy Director and Head of Department, Voter Education and Publicity, Achumie Chuka Rex, the Enugu State Resident Electoral Commissioner of INEC, Chukwuemeka Joseph Chukwu, asserted that the need for an efficient, effective and seamless communication/reportage in an electoral process cannot be over-emphasized as it constitutes an important aspect of the process that is capable of facilitating or hindered the outcome of a successful election.
Chukwu who tasked the media to mobilize Nigerians to participate robustly in the 2023 electoral process, encouraged the media to combat voter apathy by mobilizing the electorate to turn out en masse to go and collect their Permanent Voter Cards now that the Commission was distributing same to the eligible voters.
Also speaking on behalf of the Commission, the Head of Legal Unit of the INEC, Enugu state, Humphrey Okoli reassured Nigerians of credible 2023 polls, vowing that INEC must adhere strictly to electoral guidelines to ensure free, fair and credible polls.
He noted that the INEC activities have been reformed and digitalised, informing that incident forms will not be used anywhere during the 2023 general election.
Also addressing the participants, the Grant and Partnership Manager of Centre for Democracy and Development, Ihekoronye Damian, pointed out clearly that the training was an opportunity to deliberate/brainstorm on the critical issues that would shape the forthcoming general election, as well as educate the media professionals on the innovations in the 2022 Electoral Act and how it would positively affect the election.
In a keynote address titled: “Role of the Media in the Conduct of Peaceful Elections,” National President of NUJ, Chief Chris Isiguzo represented by the National President of Nigeria Association of Women Journalists, NAWOJ Ladi Bala, who called for peaceful election, tasked journalists to always crosscheck their facts before disseminating information.
While reminding the participants that peace is paramount for a democracy to flourish, Isiguzo carefully noted that every region in the country is battling with one crisis or the other, hence the need for journalists to be cautious of their reportage to ensure they do not worsen the situation.
“In whatever we do as Journalists, it is very necessary to take the issue of peace as a cardinal point and take into consideration the need to be careful so that areas that are already fragile do not explode or implode”, Isiguzo advised.