By Adetokunbo Abiola
While the Christmas wind blew in the air, forty journalists from the South-Western part of the country descended on Osogbo, the capital of Osun State, for a workshop on election monitoring. The title of the workshop was “Best Practices and Professional Reporting on the Electoral Process”.
The workshop was to deliberate on best practices necessary for successful reporting of the forthcoming general elections. It was to define principles of conflict reporting, gender-balanced articles and journalism tools for effective reporting.
The workshop was organized by the International Press Centre, IPC, with support from the European Union, towards strengthening democratic governance in the country. The workshop had as teachers Professor Muyiwa Popoola of the Samuel Ajayi Crowder University, Oyo, Mr Taiwo Obe of the Journalism Clinic and David Ajikobi of Africa Check.
Kicking off the ceremony, Mr Lanre Arogundade, the Director of the International Press Centre, said the workshop was organized for journalists to share their experiences on electoral reporting and to gain expert network and alliances for opportunities towards gender-based reporting during election coverage.
Arogundade represented by Sanmi Falobi,said such opportunities will also enable journalists to report under-represented people effectively, as well as enable journalists to present balanced and unbiased reports for their various organisations toward strengthening democratic governance in the country.
On the first day of the workshop, Professor Popoola spoke on ways to avoid hate speech during the coverage of the 2019 elections. He said hate speech was difficult to define, but it could be seen through examples in published reports.
According to him, hate speech included any expression that promoted racist, ethnic, discriminatory and invalid tendencies against underrepresented people, politicians and others involved in the election business.
He said that hate speech and political reporting over lapped, and that journalists could avoid hate speech in their articles by being careful about reporting politicians who had a vested interest in an atmosphere of conflict before, during and after elections.
He said politicians interpreted all reports against their interest as hate speech, and that journalists could avoid the pitfalls through balanced reports.
They could also avoid the pitfalls, said Professor Popoola, by identifying the legal implications in their reporting, as a measure against hate speech. They should do proper evaluation before publication, identify original sources and interview them, as well as try to identify shadow parties to political conflict.
Through thorough research, collaboration with other journalists for the right information and use to temperate language, said Popoola journalists could write reports devoid of hate speech.
Ajikobi spoke on the need for journalists to fact-check reports before publication, as there was a link between wrong and deceptive information.
This, he said, makes fact-checking very important for journalists covering the 2019 elections. For effective fact-checking, Ajikobi said journalists should question every information they came across, and that they even have to check the methology of gathering the information they came across.
He identified Facebook, WhatsApp, fake websites and other platforms as sites for toxic information. Journalists should be careful of the sites, as misinformation could be very dangerous.
Even information contained in other platforms journalists came across should be fact-checked, as a thin line existed between facts and information.
Politicians, said Ajikobi, were smart, having the capacity to divulge opinion presented as facts to journalists, thereby provoking crisis though disinformation or misinformation.
In his presentation, Taiwo Obe told his audience that they had to stop placing boundaries on themselves, through the manner they carried out their work. Through the opportunities provided by new technology, journalists could change their lives, or remain static and unable to adapt to the ever-changing world in the practice of electoral journalism.
On the second day, Popoola spoke on ethics and professionalism in electoral reporting. He said journalistic ethics rested on the interaction between the ego, super ego and Id. He said ethical reporting would save journalists from death threats, intimidation and outright liquidation. For journalists to be ethical, they should not rely only on candidates during elections. They should interrogate the electorate, party caucuses, shadowy politicians and other relevant stakeholders. He cautioned journalists against becoming campaign managers of politicians but rather should allow themselves to be governed by ethical and professional considerations they carried out their work.
Once again Ajikobi spoke on fact-checking before, during and after elections. Though they provided means of disseminating toxic information, Ajokobi said Twitter and Facebook were indispensable for the present-day journalist, as they were sites that politicians patronised. However, journalists should not stop at just receiving the information contained in them, they must fact-check them to avoid misinformation and disinformation. He said historical data, comparisons and statistics could be misleading. Journalists should fact-check text, photo, and other statistics. Google, Chrome, Tineye.com, Twitter and other tools were some of the platforms used by Ajikobi to provide ways to fact-check information.
Obe showed journalists how to use information communication and technology tools to aid their work towards a balanced reportage of the next elections. He showed how Google Map could be utilized to check images and how Google could be used to search for the best photography for election coverage. Journalists, he said, should be original and careful about photographs as watermarked ones were for sale.
However, he said Onflash.com could provide journalists with free photos for election coverage, while Google Drive allowed links for stories to be shared. Canvan.com, said Obe, was useful for graphics; Quik.com, Anchor.com and others were some of the other invaluable tools Obe introduced as useful towards the 2019 elections. Throughout, he told his audience they had to be innovative and resourceful in the way they covered elections or the bus shop of technology would inevitably leave them behind. To avoid this, Obe showed journalists lots of other tools that were useful towards electoral coverage in Nigeria.
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