“The media needed to wear its conscience at this time not to be looking for money. The money that the big political parties or the legacy parties are giving you, they were not the money that they made themselves. They were money stolen from the public.” - Omoyele Sowore, AAC Presidential Candidate
The media plays an important role in society. It sets the stage for political news, manages their agenda, sources and controls information. It's a window to the outside world. It possesses the ability to shape and share public knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.
As we approach countdown to 2019 presidential elections, the role of Nigeria media becomes more critical and indispensable to mediate fairly, honestly, and truthfully by giving equal coverage to all presidential candidates of all the major political parties. Sadly, the Nigeria media is still in denial in their reporting as if we have only two political parties – APC and PDP.
Few days ago, Omoyele Sowore, African Action Congress (AAC) presidential candidate took on Nigeria media on the issue of bias coverage. Sowore accused the media of not reporting campaigns and political events of AAC but instead devote its time to covering Buhari and Atiku presidential candidates of APC and PDP respectively.
In a rare chastisement and raw indictment of Nigeria media, Sowore didn't spare the journalists. Here's Sowore in his characteristic bluntness without mincing words: “The Nigeria media must wear its conscience. Gentlemen, we cannot continue to reward people whose only career has been only to fail Nigerians from time to time within the political circles. It is time for people who have the capability, who have the ability, who have the exposure and also the capacity to run this country. The media needed to wear its conscience at this time not to be looking for money. The money that the big political parties or the legacy parties are giving you, they were not the money that they made themselves. They were money stolen from the public. You have a duty to cover people who have messages and not people who have money.”
“You're not talking to the real people. You're still talking to the talking heads in the society and they're becoming fewer and fewer and less influential... I warned the media several years ago that their relevance and influence is going to wane based on their GREED (mine emphasis). That's exactly what happened in 2015. Don't forget while all of you guys are sitting in Kogi State and the candidate who won the election had died, you couldn't report it because the media wasn't prepared for that kind of style of reporting. The news of Audu's death, remember, and all the media were there. We, for example, were in Kano a few days ago and we had a massive rally. The media didn't report it. When I arrived Nigeria from the US, I think a few days ago, there was a massive rally at the airport and the media didn't report it. But you're reporting somebody who is in Dubai on holiday, Atiku, you're reporting the president who didn't physically attend the rally in Kano. This is what we're talking about. You're not reporting what the society need, you're reporting what you think the society should hear. You guys are my colleagues I cannot lie to you, you're failing the society.”
Time and time again, Nigeria media has proven that they are not true watchdog of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. If I were to do a content analysis of news coverage of Buhari, Atiku, and Sowore, the result will show that more column inches were given to Buhari and Atiku than Sowore. The fact that Sowore is a unique candidate with a unique political revolutionary message, at a unique time in our political history, coupled with his willingness and audacity to say and do things that have never been done before by any presidential candidate of our era, things that other candidates would never dream of saying or doing, should make Sowore inherently appealing for generous coverage.
Journalists who are assigned to cover presidential candidates and their campaigns in my view should go for workshop on political reporting. At Temple's top rated Journalism School, my professor of news writing and investigative reporting drilled into our heads some important elements of good journalism discussed below. Nigerian journalists covering the presidential race will find these elements instructive for fair, accurate reporting and balanced coverage for all the presidential candidates of the major parties.
Journalism's first obligation is to the truth. Reliable and accurate facts must be put in a meaningful context. Media's first loyalty is to citizens. Journalists must strive to put public interest and the truth above their narrow selfish interests. They must show ultimate allegiance to citizens. Journalists must adhere to a discipline of verification. They must be neutral, impartial, unbiased. They must scrutinize their information, seek out multiple sources, and ask various sides of information. Discipline of verification separates and differentiates journalism from all other forms of communication such as propaganda, advertising, fiction, or entertainment.
Journalists must maintain independence from those they cover. In journalism, independence is a cornerstone of reliability. Journalists must not be seduced with money, sources, or intimidated by power, or compromise their professional ethics. They must posses intellectual fairness and ability to inform not devotion to a certain group or person. The media must serve as an independent monitor of power. Journalists posses the unique capacity to serve as watchdogs over those whose power and position most affect citizens.
The media also serves as the voice of the voiceless. The media is a carrier of public discussion. It must provide an outlet for discussion. It must elevate and improve the quality of debate. It must strive to keep the significant interesting and relevant. Journalism is a story telling with a purpose. Journalists must keep the news comprehensive and proportional. Journalism creates a map for criticisms to navigate the society. Journalists must exercise their personal conscience. Journalism involves one's moral compass and demands a personal sense of ethics and responsibility.
Let's go there!