Ahead of Bayelsa State governorship election slated for November 11, 2023, media practitioners and stakeholders in the industry have said the press would be pivotal to the conduct of free and fair elections.
At a two-day roundtable on Bayelsa governorship elections organised by International Press Centre (IPC), participants also raised the need to interrogate and examine interconnections between the public, media and the electoral processes towards developing an agenda that strengthen the role of the media and the citizens in fostering credible electoral process.
In her welcome address, IPC Programme Manager, Stella Nwofia, said not only must media take a lead role in ensuring that citizens are adequately mobilized, they should also ensure that the entire process is accountable by being open to public scrutiny.
Nwofia said the aim of the workshop is to bring required professionalism and inclusivity to bear on the coverage and reportage of the ongoing electoral process in the state to enable the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deliver on free, fair, peaceful and credible Bayelsa governorship elections.
To do this requires journalists providing balanced coverage of the issues in the campaigns, document the campaign promises for post-election follow-up on their fulfilment and provide appropriate education for the voters so that they can be well informed about the candidates and their programmes and the voting processes.
She highlighted role of the media as: relaying information to citizens that enable them make informed judgments; monitor government and others and reveal abuses of political power; report politics day-to-day as well as during election campaigns; provide information about registration and voting; crystallize the main currents of public opinion; give a voice to wide a range of interest groups and provide the forum within which the public debate takes place.
Dr Titi Osuagwu of the University of Port Harcourt, who spoke on bringing the gender perspective to bear on the reportage of Bayelsa governorship elections, said through agenda setting, the media should ensure equal representation of women and men in the coverage of election beats.
She suggested that journalists must apply the five basic news elements: Five Ws and One H. For instance, Osuagwu said journalists could ask questions such as: Who are the people to be focused on? What are the issues to be projecting in different categories? Why should their issues merit reporting? Where will you find them as sources of political news, when to report and how?
Speaking further, she added the media could set the agenda to make the wolf and sheep lie together, tilt the dominance and balance the sphere.
She advised female journalists to take more interest in election-related issues. For example, she stated female correspondents in election reporting would serve as conduits for political change by providing specific women perspectives that could transform discriminatory structures.
To her, “female journalists should be deliberate in searching for stories with women as players/ protagonists. Examples of such are reportage about women contenders as gubernatorial candidates and deputies. Follow their activities and get their success stories to inspire other women.”
Founder of the Journalism Clinic, Mr Taiwo Obe, who spoke on ‘Impactful Reporting of the elections: Focusing on people-interest issues and Telling Stories That Matter and Covering the Bayelsa Elections using digital tools and apps,’ described reporting as finding answers to something. He provided the acronym for every journalist —(RUSH) Report Until Something Happens.
Executive Director Institute for Media and Society (IMS), Akin Akingbulu, also described the media as one institution that occupies an important position in the conduct of elections.
For the media in Nigeria to continue to continue to perform its responsibilities, he said practitioners must continue to re-equip.
In his advice, Police Public Relations Officer, Bayelsa State Command SP, Asinimsu Butswat, advised journalists on need to be aware and conscious of the environment and ensure to dress smart when covering election.
IPC Executive Director, Lanre Arogundade, said the workshop is one of the activities being implemented by IPC, as lead partner, and the Institute for Media and Society (IMS) under Component 4: Support to Media of the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGNII) project.
While noting that citizens consume news from the media to make informed decisions, Arogundade told journalists to be professionals, especially when covering election. He said it is your professionalism that would bail you out of poverty and not incentives.