By Diana Omueza
Benson Olugbuo, Executive Director, Cleen Foundation, a non-governmental organisation posits that access to information during political campaigns and elections is cardinal to the credibility of such elections.
According to him, the public should be well informed about the electoral processes and to hold views and express opinions about government’s activities.
He observes that access to information from credible sources about electoral processes in that regard remains the right of the public for democracy to thrive.
“The public ought to have unhindered access to accurate, up-to-date and full information about the programmes and policies of contesting political parties and their candidates.
“The issues being canvassed and the arrangements of the elections should be expressly made public and, of course, with robust feedback’’ he says.
This, according to him, will further enhance the African Charter on democracy, elections and governance that enjoined African Union member countries to ensure fair and equitable access by contesting parties and candidates to state owned media, especially during elections.
In the light of this, he says the media is strategically placed to reach a wide audience within the shortest possible time through trained journalists.
He, however, observes that hate speech and misinformation by media remain critical factors and potential threat to elections.
Mr Olugbuo, therefore, urges the media to avoid sensationalism, fake news, discrimination or misinformation of the public before, during and after the elections.
He calls on the media regulatory bodies to monitor and apply appropriate sanctions against erring media practitioners and outlets.
In the same vein, analysts also note that during elections, the media serve a major vehicle for a two-way communication between the political parties, candidates and the citizens.
In this manner, according to them, the role of the media is to inform and educate the citizens about all the processes involved in the elections to enable them to make informed choices.
They insist that this role is critical to Nigeria’s situation where democratic elections have consistently been challenging in the area of media coverage.
In his opinion, Prof. Etannibi Alemika, Faculty of Law, University of Jos, says the importance of reporting and coverage of elections is to keep people informed about the conduct of the elections, time of arrival of electoral officers, security and monitors or observers and commencement of voting, among others.
“The reporting or media coverage of elections educates the voters when to register, how to register, where to register, how to locate a voting centre, the process of accreditation, the vote, counting of the votes, declaration of results; conveying of ballot boxes and results, compilation of results and declaration of winners’’, he explains.
Similarly, Jaye Gaskia, an anti-corruption campaigner, observes that the United Nations Draft General Principles on Freedom and Non Discrimination in the Matter of Political Rights provides freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
According to him, in addition to that, the draft stipulates that the freedom and the access to the facilities and means for their exercise shall be ensured to all persons at all times.
“General guidelines and regulations on election media coverage should be designed to ensure fair coverage of the electoral and political processes such that opposing political parties and candidates have a fair access’’, Mr Gaskia says.
He states further that equitable access to the media is important to providing a level- playing ground for all political parties and candidates taking part in elections.
“This applies to the allocation of time, coverage of campaigns, participation in political debates and the length of time space allotted to the airing and publication of views and activities of parties and their candidates’’, he observes.
He cautions reporters to avoid using offensive language and images, show restraint in reporting figures and identities of casualties of violent conflicts and stick to the facts in their narratives.
“Hate speech and incitement are capable of igniting violence that could threaten the electoral processes and democracy.
“Therefore, media organisations are enjoined to disallow or reject statements, advertorials or documentaries classified as hate speech or which are capable of inciting violence.
“In anyway, democracy cannot thrive without a free and vibrant press, so there ought to be synergy between the media and other stakeholders’’, he advises.