Rev. Fr Patrick Alumuku, Director of Communication, Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, has urged media practitioners to shun sensational reportage that would compromise security before, during and after the general elections.
Alumuku made the appeal at a zonal conference organised by Zone D of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), on Thursday in Makurdi.
The conference was on ‘The Role of the Media in enhancing peaceful election and democratic participation’.
Alumuku who is also the Director Catholic Television of Nigeria, said the call was imperative in view of the nexus between elections and national security.
“This implied that reporting elections needs to be handled with an eye on conflict sensitivity and national peace and cohesion,” he added.
He said that the conference was apt, and would help Journalists to face the elections with patriotism.
“As journalists, we are to set an agenda today for a peaceful elections, which would in turn help in national development,” Alumuku, who chaired the occasion, added.
He therefore urged the media to focus on promoting peaceful, transparent and credible elections in the country.
“The role the media will play will go along way in sending strong messages for a better nation
“This would be achieved by creating motivation for those who are participating,” Alumuku said.
The director also spoke on the imperative of democratising the media space to drive citizens participation in governance and national development.
“We need to further advance discussion about media participation. Part of why Nigeria is still backwards is because the media has not been democratised,” he added.
The media, he said, has a critical role to play, if the nation must record free, fair and credible election.
“The media must be ready and willing to play it’s important role in the next few weeks by telling Nigerians how to go about exercising their franchise”.
The clergyman also warned against fake news and the need to resist the temptation of reporting unverified news.
“One false report that goes viral may have the potential of triggering a breakdown of law and order in a part or the whole of the country,” Alumuku said.
According to him, it is in the interest of the country for the media to always seek for official clarification on serious national issues, especially when electoral matters are involved.
He further urged the media to play their roles in a professional manner aimed at ensuring credible elections.
“Delivering free, fair, peaceful, safe and credible elections should be viewed as a shared responsibility and partnership by all stakeholders,” he added.
In a key note address, Prof. Andrew Ijwo, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mass communication, Benue State University, said that the media must seek to to explain the consequences and implications of issues and proffer solutions.
Ijwo was represented by Hangeior Degar, a PhD student of the Department.
He explained that in political communication, the aim was to mobilise citizens to do that which was desirable of them as part of a political process or programme in any democratic society.
“It is aimed at enlisting their compliance and participation in the democratic process,” he added.
Ijwo said: “We owe the society responsible journalism; the unity, peace, survival of the society supersedes freedom to publish or report anything and it overrides every other interest.
“Reporting elections requires special skills and understanding of the centrality of election to Nigeria’s survival as a federal democracy where incontrovertible facts devoid of speculation, grandstanding and political maneuvers are more likely to be more helpful.”
The lecturer said as the country moves closer to the general election, the media must avoid the breaking news syndrome.
“Some of the mainstream media are gradually gravitating towards online journalism with the attendant quest for breaking news, which are sometimes not properly verified and processed.
“The media must be circumspect in casting headlines and the thirst for sensational headlines.
“Sometimes, people look at the headlines and draw conclusions without looking at the body of the report,” he said.
He also urged journalists to avoid tilting stories towards religious and ethnic narratives, which could trigger conflicts.
The NUJ President, Chris Isiguzo, who was represented by the National Auditor, Mrs Ladi Emmanuel urged journalists to keep to the truth and ethics of the profession.
Isiguzo appealed to politicians to desist from unnecessary harassment of Journalists in the line of their duties.
He regretted that journalists who fought for democracy have been relegated to the background by politicians.
In his remarks, the Commissioner of Police in Benue, Wale Abbas said the command had received logistics and conducted training for its personnel to ensure hitch-free elections in the state.
Mr Chris Astaka, Vice President, NUJ Zone D, thanked all participants and said the conference was part of the union’s contributions to free and fair election.
He advised media organisations to keep up the good work and shun negative activities that may derail the elections.
Also, a professor of law, Fr. Ambrose Amue, said while the Church preaches the truth, the media has the task of promoting truthfulness for the society to imbibe the virtues.
“As we prepare for the forthcoming general elections, the society will be relying on media content for accurate information,” he said.
He however said journalists would not be forgiven if they failed to tell the society the truth.
The Governor of Benue, Mr Samuel Orton, was presented the ‘Courageous Leader’ award by the NUJ.
Ortom was represented by his Special Adviser, Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr Kenneth Achabo.
The conference was attended by NUJ members from all the states in North Central and the FCT.(NAN)