Law News
2015 elections: Legal and ethical issues in media reporting

A MEDIA report may be defined as a means of communication reaching a large number of people through means such as television, newspapers and radio. Media reporting would therefore mean, all forms of communication including the social media to connect with, and keep the general public informed. Apart from reports and adverts in the newspapers, television and radio the social media has been inundated with information and misinformation on the 2015 General Election.

According to the timetable published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last year, the 2015 General Elections are scheduled to hold next month. In order to conduct fair and free elections the Constitution and the Electoral Act have charged the mass media with the responsibility of mobilising and sensitising the electorate. In ensuring that the onerous responsibility is discharged by the media without running foul of the law the Mass communication department of the Lagos State Polytechnic has decided to examine “The Legal and Ethical Issues in Media Reporting in Nigeria vis-a-vis the 2015 General Election. “

Possible postponement of general election 

In recent time, there have been calls for the setting up of a transition government or interim national government under the pretext that a war on terror is being prosecuted by the federal government. Since elections are conducted in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and other war zones the suggestion that elections be cancelled on account of the war against insurgency is of no moment. More so, that the people of the north east zone including over a million internally displaced persons have asked the INEC to respect their legitimate right to participate in the election.

Sometime last year, the Senate President, Senator David Mark declared that “there is no question of election. It is not even on the table now. We are in a state of war.” At a public lecture in London last week, the National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd) asked for the postponement of the election by at least three months to allow time for the distribution of the permanent voters’ cards by the INEC. Since both General Mark and Col Dasuki were part of the Ibrahim Babangida junta which annulled the results of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election their calls for the postponement of the election should be taken seriously by Nigerians.

In dismissing the calls for the cancellation or postponement of the election the INEC has continued to assure the nation that every voter would be furnished with a PVC ahead of the election. However, amidst rising fears that the election dates might be shifted the United States’ Government has read the Riot Act to the political class in Nigeria. While meeting President Goodluck Jonathan and his main challenger, General Mohammadu Buhari (rtd) in Lagos on Sunday the U.S Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry insisted that the Obama Administration would not accept a postponement of the election. He also announced a visa ban on members of the political class who might be involved in electoral violence.

Media Law, Ethics and political reporting 

Media ethics is the code of conduct for protecting media professionals and for regulating the profession. The ethics of the media profession have been drawn up by the various bodies in the media, including the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Guild of Editors and the Nigerian Proprietors Association of Nigeria. The media council is charged with the duty of maintaining standards in the profession. No doubt, there are differences in the various codes. But they share common elements such as objectivity, impartiality, accuracy and truthfulness.

These principles are however shaped by the interests of publisher or the class interests of media organisations. While the public owned media is biased in favour of the government the private media protects the interests of the proprietors, most of whom are politicians with vested interests. Hence media reporting on the 2015 general election has been influenced by the political interests of the proprietors which are for the sustenance of the status quo. The social media has however successfully challenged the control and manipulation of information by the bourgeois media.

Duty of the media to promote public accountability 

The Constitution has imposed a duty on the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media “to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in Chapter of the Constitution and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.” (section 22) In discharging the constitutional duty the press is required to place public interests over and above commercial considerations. To facilitate access to information from public institutions the Freedom of Information Act has imposed a duty on all public officers to make information available upon demand. Instead of publishing stories that are based on rumours and speculations the media should take advantage of the law by demanding information from public institutions including political parties and candidates.

On account of the significance of the fundamental objectives section 224 of the Constitution states that the programme as well as the aims and objectives of a political party shall conform with the provisions of Chapter II of the Constitution. In reporting the electioneering campaigns the media should extract undertaking from political parties to implement the fundamental objectives. In Amaechi v. INEC (2007) 1 MSCJ 1 at 207 the Supreme Court held that elections are won by political parties and not by candidates.

At this juncture it is pertinent to examine the relevant provisions of the fundamental objectives. Since the republic is said to be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. (Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution). To promote the welfare of the people the State is obligated to secure full residence rights for every citizen in all parts of the country, ensure the control of the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen and the distribution of the material resources of the nation to serve the common good.

In furtherance of the social order the State shall direct its policy towards ensuring employment opportunities for all citizens, adequate medical and health facilities for all persons, equal pay for equal work, protection of children, young persons and the aged, public assistance in deserving cases, provisions of adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and provisions, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled. To eradicate illiteracy and enhance national development there shall be free education at all levels including free adult literacy programme.

• This is a Paper presented Falana SAN, at the 1st Annual Public Lecture Series of the Mass Communication Department, Lagos Polytechnic, Ikorodu, Lagos State, January 27, 2015.

Click here to read from source.

You must be logged in to post a comment.