The first Bridge Media and Elections workshop in Abuja, Nigeria, was supported by the Democratic Governance for Development (DGD II) Project and its international partners – EU, DFID, CID and UNDP. For most of the participants of this Bridge Course For Media and Elections, the initial feeling was that of reservation and anxiety. How did the organizers intend to pull off a week-long programme that parades a series of seminal lectures without getting the participants, who are adults, bored? How did they intend to engage the audience for one week when it seemed at first blush, and on the first day, that the content appeared pedestrian and intellectually unchallenging?
Some of these apprehensions would soon be dispelled, to both the participants’ and facilitators’ relief. The lectures were given in short takes, accompanied by exercises. For good measure, ice breakers and energizers were deployed, thus cleverly creating a relaxed learning environment reminiscent of the kindergarten and primary schools of yore. Suddenly, the tedium evaporated and the anxiety was assuaged and participants were able to come to terms with the now enlivened programme. And, by and by, the course assumed a more intellectually rigorous and demanding tenor.
If the programme was enlivened with energizers, ice crackers and the easy-going disposition of the facilitators, not to talk of the uncommon enthusiasm of the participants, the audience – made up of EMB (in this case, Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC’s) Public Affairs staff) and reporters drawn from sundry media organizations – it soon came to the crux and climax of the programme. The participants appreciate, profoundly and soon enough, that the EMB and the media need to partner and collaborate so that transparent, credible and sustainable elections can be delivered to the Nigerian people.
Unfortunately the two – the EMB and the media – who have a compelling need to collaborate, appear to work at cross purposes. Each, carried away by lack of understanding and its ego, fails to realize that democracy will be better served if they were to work in tandem and synergy.
As if this flaw were not fatal enough, it soon becomes clear, to the participants that both are handicapped. The EMB is sometimes not prompt and proactive. And the media work in difficult, if not, suffocating environments. Their renumerations are poor and sometimes not forthcoming. And the codes that undergird the work of journalists – last written in 1998 and within a military context – need to be reviewed, updated, strengthened and made robust to accord with our young democracy and modern trends. The regulatory framework, especially for the print media, needs to be strengthened so that sanctions can be vigorously visited on reporters who are in breach or comport themselves unethically. Professional publications and journals need to be encouraged which would comment on journalistic practice with a trained and competent eye.
On the part of the EMB, there is the need for it to continue to build on the capacity of its staff, to carry the media along, to be up front with the media and for it to appreciate that public relations is a management function. Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) therefore deserve to take the front seat, to observe and listen to how policies are formulated by the Commission so that they can inform their stakeholders or publics, especially the media, from an informed premise.
At the end of the interesting week-long concourse, certain resolutions were reached by the EMB staff and the media,they are:
• That the EMB and media must partner at all times;
• That there is continued need for the EMB and media to interface and engage with each other;
• That only such a continuous interface can foster understanding and engender transparent and credible elections;
• That there is an urgent need for a synergy between the EMB and the media as that would lead to seamless elections;
• That the local media should report candidly, accurately and fairly so that the foreign media, which are prone to sensation, can take their cue from them;
• That for the EMB to succeed and to carry the media along, it must understand the expectations and needs of the media at all times;
• That the two – EMB and Media – should appreciate their mutual expectations;
• That they should appreciate their mutual challenges as that would make them to be on the same page;
• That the EMB should be willing to give out information as at when necessary through constant, periodic briefings of its activities;
• That the media should be accurate, fair and promote the national interest in their reports;
• That the EMB should be transparent, fair, and impartial at all times;
• That the EMB should provide a level playing field to all stakeholders, especially the media and political parties;
• That the EMB should assist the media to build its capacity, and where possible, facilitate coverage of elections;
• That the Bridge course be extended to other Public Affairs Officers and journalists as that would foster better understanding and strengthen the bond between the EMB and the media.
Prepared on behalf of editorial committee by Nick Dazang, INEC.