Roles of media in elections
By Maria Famakinwa
The roles of the mass media in the just concluded general elections cannot be over emphasised. They are seeing as critical stakeholders in the nation’s efforts to advance the cause of democracy, which its sustainability depends on the credibility of electoral process.
The mass media are indispensable in modern democracies, like Nigeria, where there is a need to link citizenry of more than 200 million scattered over a landmass of 924 square kilometres.
Communications scholar, Tom Burns, recalls a suggestion that “the press alone rivalled the House of Commons, in that it was the only organ of public opinion capable of dictating to the government, since nothing could speak the sense of the people.”
Former American president and statesman, Thomas Jefferson once said “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspaper or newspapers without government, I would not hesitate to prefer the latter.”
The media is powerful no wonder it derives its strength from section 22 of the Nigerian constitution which says “ The Press (meaning the print media), radio and television and other agencies of mass media shall at all times uphold the responsibility of the government to the people.
So, the media in Nigeria performed creditably well in the last elections, although there are some lapses which the electoral law also captured, and stations on media houses that flaunted the section were sanctioned by the appropriate authority.
Section 100 (6) of the Electoral Act 2014 prescribed that “a public media that contravenes subsection (3) and (4) of section (100) commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N500,000 in the first instance and to maximum of N1,000,000 for subsequent convictions.”
The media before the elections, sensitized the general public on the importance of collecting their Permanent Voter Cards(PVCs), vote for the candidates of their choices ensure that their votes count and to take necessary security measures to avoid being victims of electoral violence among others. They also notified the voting public of the preparations for the election by various political parties especially the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The Hope spoke with some media practitioners and a political analyst on the roles played by the media in the 2019 general elections. In the submission of Ondo State Secretary, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Mr Leke Adegbite opined that the media provided adequate information about the plans and activities of INEC, politicians and political parties to the electorate to guide them on how to conduct themselves before, during and after the elections.
“The media played key roles in the general election from voter’s education to announcement of accurate election results. Just imagine how the country would have been without media organizations, to inform the electorate about the various activities of INEC and political parties? Both traditional media and the new media (social media) were used by political parties and their candidates to transmit their manifestos and programmes to voters. Tuning to radio and television stations nationwide between October 2018 and March 2019, campaign jingles flooded airwaves. Features and editorials published by newspapers in the country proffered solutions to some pre-election and post election challenges.
” Therefore the roles of media cannot be over stressed. Many media professionals did not sleep for days during the elections, staying at the collation centres to bring the announcement of results to the public. This is the only set of professionals that played this kind of significant role in an election. People relied on media for every information regarding the elections”.
Adegbite lauded the media for doing an excellent job in the last election, stressing that there is still room for improvement.
Sharing similar sentiment, Ondo State Chairperson, National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) Mrs Sola Omotoso explained that the media provided insight and interpretations of INEC policies and the programmes of politicians and their political parties to the public for them to make informed judgements and decisions. “They involve in publicising the dates and venues of elections, the way the elections would be conducted and also notifying INEC, security agencies, government and the general public of any short comings and announcing the results as released by INEC.
“The roles of media in the 2019 general elections cannot be quantified. The media practitioners in the Print, Electronics and the New Media ensured they had unbiased coverage. They opened up areas where there were shortfalls in the electioneering process and ensured proper process was followed. They stood for democracy and wanted to be part of a new Nigeria where transparency and people’s will are adhered to”.
NAWOJ chairperson maintained that the media in the country did a great job before during and after the elections as some of them really lost their lives while convering volatile areas in the country. She added that through the media people glued to their radio and television sets to get prayer results from INEC.
A political analyst, Mr Dipo Adedeji who maintained that election cannot be conducted successfully without the media added that to advance a true democratic culture, the role of media cannot be played down. “Media cover and report elections issues cum activities that are very crucial because they contribute in one way or the other to the outcome of the electoral process.
“They played a major role in informing and enlightening the electorate about who was contesting for which position, their sustainability and abilities based on their past performances in positions they had held.”
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