By Bisi Olominu
The proliferation of digital communication technology has revolutionised a democratic participation. The digital exchange of ideas and opinions is now a vital component of the democratic landscape.
Comments on digital news stories and on social media play an increasingly important role in public discourse as more citizens communicate online.
As good as social media is in our society, it has continued to be platform for hate speeches, thereby heating the polity.
As the 2019 general elections approach, the democratic space has been buzzed with ethnic jingoism, unpatriotic comments and religious bigotry.
To stem the tide, the 6th Triennial Delegates Conference of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, held in Abeokuta, Ogun State with the theme ” Media, Hate Speeches and 2019 General Elections in Nigeria, A Democratic Participant or Democratised Press”, was centred on how to help the country to weather this gathering storm.
The polity is already saturated with a time bomb of words and the only organ that can douse the tension is the media.
The participants at the conference were of the opinion that Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gun powder as it journeys on to the general elections coming up next year February because of the prevalence of hate speeches.
Speaking at the occasion, the Governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun represented by his deputy, Mrs Yetunde Onanuga posited that hate speeches cannot take the country to the promised land, rather it would stunt development, cause more hatred and the hitherto friends would continue to look suspiciously on one another.
Amosun added that the coming of social media has been an added advantage to journalism as a profession, but some have been using it in a way that is detrimental to the peaceful co-existence of Nigeria as a country.
He was of the opinion that the media can help the country to grow by promoting things that bind the country together, rather than concentrating on the nation’s political dysfunction.
The Governor said further that as the nation nears the 2019 general elections, the media must get it right, journalists must report events accurately and without sensationalism.
“Seek and report truth and information founded in facts, grounded in humanity and necessary to public function.”
Representative of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed at the occasion, Mrs. Esan called on media men to be factual, accurate and not slant stories in a way that can engulf the country in conflict.
He posited that the government headed by President Mohammadu Buhari has been tolerant of the Fourth Estate of the Realm, but there is the need to curb hate speeches, so as not to plunge the country into problems of great proportion.
The minister said that the media must get it right as the country heads to the general elections, stressing that reports must be accurate, independent and fair.
He, however commended the media in Nigeria for doing a good job, urging the body to protect the present democracy and nurture it to maturity.
Also speaking at the conference, the Alake and paramount ruler of Egbaland, HRM Oba Michael Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo represented by Ba’royin of Egbeland, High Chief Lai Larode urged the media to be positive and write more on things that bind us together rather than things that divide us.
He added that the 2019 general election is a litmus test for the country, so the media must be accurate and language usage must strike the right chord.
Oba Gbadebo lauded journalists in the country for doing a good job, urging them to work towards strengthening ur nascent democracy.
The Ogun State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Otunba Dayo Adeneye, in his comments at the event, urged journalists in the country to be cautious in using words, noting that improper words usage can generate serious conflict.
He added that words can either be constructive or destructive, as he called on the media in the country to be upright and make sure that the unity of the country was not sacrificed for anything.
He also said that as the nation prepares for 2019 General Election, journalists should be conscious of the likely consequences of their reportage.
Professor Muyiwa Popoola of Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, while delivering a lecture at the conference urged the media to be conflict sensitive in their reportage.
He stressed the need for them to be conscious of the society they are in, development driven and contribute to peace initiatives.
In another lecture, the Director, International Press Centre, Mr Lanre Arogundade emphasised the need for stakeholders in the electoral process to be fair to all and ensure equity for all political parties and candidates.
He added that journalists must verify any allegation made against a party, candidate or any other interest before publishing, while reflecting all sides in the story.
He said the media as the key purveyor of information on the electoral processes must all times embrace best professional practice by acting in accordance with the principles of social responsibility.
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