By Murtala Agboola
To ensure that the forthcoming governorship election in the state of Osun on September 22 is conflict-free, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) organised a 3-day workshop on the role of media practitioners in ensuring a conflict free election.
The UNDP in collaboration with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs brought together about 120 journalists and Media Groups at the Event Hall, Kakanfo Inn, Ibadan, between August 6th and 10th.
Participants were drawn mainly from journalists in Osun and some neighbouring states like Ondo, Oyo and Ogun.
The main objective of the training was to effectively equip journalists and media professionals with requisite cognitive skills in covering and reporting elections in a conflict sensitive manner especially in a multicultural society like Nigeria.
Dr. Austin Onuoha, an Owerri-born resource person was at home with the overview of the media and elections. He traced the genesis of the roles played by the media during elections.
Onuoha, who worked with the Guardian Newspaper in Lagos, shared his cognate experience with participants. He also discussed the lessons from media coverage of elections in Nigeria in the 4th Republic (1999-2015) including the just concluded Ekiti gubernatorial elections.
The existing conflicts in Osun State which politicians could exploit were also examined in all ramifications. Also, the merchants of violence were critically looked into with their godfathers and the people providing protection for them.
The formal and informal channels for the prevention of violence during and after elections were also highlighted. Political thugs and their sponsors and the moles within security agencies that give cover for them were seriously condemned. Some influential citizens and traditional rulers had condescended to aid or abet electoral malfeasance.
Media reportage, it was emphasized should be objective while downplaying violence. It was submitted that the role of the media to either exacerbate violence or reduce its effect cannot be over emphasized.
Trainees shared their various experiences in the coverage of elections in the past and the role expected of the media.
In her own presentation, Mrs. Olutoyin Falade, the only female resource person made distinction between conflict and conflict sensitive reportage. She highlighted the meaning, causes and types of conflicts. She emphasized the role of good journalism to help resolve conflict rather than exacerbate it.
At the resumption of activities on the second day, Dr. Emmanuel Mamman did an assessment of media and elections while Dr. Gbemisola Animasahun explained the principles of conflict sensitive reporting.
Media practitioners were advised to be mindful of the choice of words and expression not to inflame passion.
Conflict-sensitive reporting was defined as “a deliberate practice to prevent and de-escalate conflict while consciously maximising the prospects of peace through one’s report”.
The Do No Harm framework for conflict sensitive reporting during election stresses the fact of “how you say it and not what you say”. The way, report is put across can either cause conflict or not.
There were seven steps to conflict sensitive reporting which dealt with analysis and understanding issues such that crisis or conflict would not erupt after reading, listening or viewing the reports.
Essentially, Do No Harm principle on CSR is meant to be socially responsible. The resource persons stressed the fact that media ownership should be seen as a public trust which must be truthful, accurate, fair and objective so as to stay relevant at all times.
It was generally agreed that the electoral process in Nigeria is too cumbersome and unwieldy with the registration of political parties and voter registration.
In spite of all these even with the deployment of technology such as Data Capture Machine, there are still hiccups. The process of using our Permanent Voter Card is still problematic given the experience on Election Day. Corruption persists while we close down business activities all in the name of voting.
A new expression has now entered the political lexicon of Nigeria “see and buy” which means voters show how they voted to be remunerated after voting. Security challenges, thuggery, violence and corruption still persist.
Mamman was in charge of impacts of New/Social Media including blogging on elections in Nigeria. Again the whole trainees were divided into three groups where the roles of bloggers otherwise called citizen journalists were critically examined.
It was generally agreed that while they can help to push forward news swiftly, they sometimes gives out false news because they are not guided by the traditional rules and regulation of journalism.
They are not trained in the art of journalism, hence, it was generally agreed that reporters should not make bloggers their source until they are able to verify and authenticate their reports.
On the third Day, the media personnel were urged to get documentation on the electoral process such as the Electoral Act. They were also tasked to verify all information and report facts only in a timely manner. All candidates should also be given platforms to project their policies and programmes. Media practitioners were encouraged to give voice to all political parties.
On the last day, Dr. Animasahun was at home with Rethinking Communication/Training conflict news, where reporters were enlightened on how to frame conflict sensitive issues in a way that it would not degenerate to conflict. As usual, Onuoha was at his best with challenges facing the media in covering Osun election.
Issues like Osun West Agenda, Lagos and Local Politicians, imposition of candidates and modulated salary for civil servants were brought to the fore as issues to dominate electioneering campaigns in the elections.
On the whole, the workshop was a veritable opportunity for reporters and other media groups to equip themselves with the task of conflict sensitive reportage on the Osun election taking place in September. The training would no doubt become invaluable for participant during the election.
The workshop was attended by the Country Director of UNDP, Mr. Matthew Alamu who welcomed all participants to have a well fulfilled training. Osun State Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, Dr. Yinusa Olalekan who traced how he was able to get the state government to key into the programme when he got a hint of it in Abuja on an official visit.
He disclosed that the state government is committed to training and retraining of media practitioners in the state with a view to ensuring they are equipped with the best of skill to deliver on their responsibility.