UNDP, online publishers dialogue on peaceful elections
Ahead of the 2015 general elections, the United Nations Development Programme on Tuesday brought together members of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers in Abuja, to dialogue on peaceful elections. The dialogue, anchored by Toyin Gabriel, UNDP’s media expert, focused on three critical areas that are germane to peaceful conduct of elections. Delivering the first lecture on: “Agenda setting: Citizen engagement and contributions of online media to peaceful elections,” Dapo Olorunyomi, the Editor-in-Chief of Premium Times, said about 73.5 million Nigerians are now actively engaged on the internet, making the country eighth on the global engagement scale. Olorunyomi said online is the future of journalism, but hastened to add that the good news about the huge number of internet users comes with its own ethical challenges.
He said: “The first question to be resolved is what ethics will guide our practice in an age where the traditional consumer of journalism has herself become a producer of journalism via newsletters, blogs and other aggregation strategies and is even able to draw significant eyeballs far beyond the traditional media? “What degree of responsibility or norms will be in demand from a platform of delivery that is based on social media and algorithms? The so-called algorithm accountability. “What happens to stories advancing community, democracy, accountability and which challenge citizens toward informed choices but find no economic support? “With the advent of the citizen journalists as news gatherers, how do we take care of critical concerns about sourcing, authenticity and, above all, fairness? “What happens to verification in the wake of the now relaxed editing standards that come with digital first via social media and twitter in particular?” Olorunyomi, however, proffered the way forward, suggesting the need to organize the community of online media around platform specific issues as currently happening in many countries.
He cited the example of the Online News Association in the United States of America. He also spoke on the need to formulate strict and strong professional, ethical and accountability principles as well as the need to provide support through trainings and professional resources. Olorunyomi submitted: “In promoting the credibility of journalism also, the value of transparency has also acquired a new status calling on us to show how reporting was done and why people must believe it. It should articulate journalistic approach and acknowledge mistakes and errors in a timely manner.” On her part, Stella Jibrin from the Nigerian Press Council said the body has been monitoring and analysing on a daily basis the coverage of the 2015 elections in newspapers, focusing on news stories, articles, opinions and photographs. Another speaker, Y. Z. Yau, made a presentation on hate speech or dangerous speech, charging online publishers to be guided by the overall national interest when reporting stories laden with hate speeches. Yau posited that media practitioners should always take on those who make hate speeches, citing the recent example of the Katsina State Governor, Ibrahim Shema, who referred to opposition as “cockroaches”.
The last presentation was by the Deputy Director of Publicity at the Independent National Electoral Commission headquarters in Abuja, Nick Dazang. It focused on the INEC Citizen Contact Centre and preparedness for the election. Dazang gave an insight into how the Citizen Contact Centre with dedicated staff works. According to him, the centre has helped INEC to get the feelings of the people. He said it has also helped the Commission a great deal in addressing the identified challenges. Dazang used the opportunity to dispel rumours circulating on the social media that the INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, has been asked to proceed on terminal leave. On the part of the participants, the online publishers, they made robust contributions on each of the presentations made towards ensuring peaceful elections in March and April.