By Kodilinye Obiagwu
THE importance of the media industry in the sustenance of the nation’s democracy have been stressed yet again by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The commission noted that the integrity of its elections depends on the quality of reporting and broadcasting.
At the 2018 Nigeria Broadcasting Council (NBC) summit, Monday, in Enugu, the chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, restated the readiness of the commission to conduct the 2019 elections as it aims to build on the “successes” of off-season elections.
The INEC boss, who was represented by Enugu State Resident Electoral Commission (REC), Emeka Onanamadu, said, “from the cumulative impact of the out of season elections, like the Ekiti State governorship election, and the impending election in Osun, it is obvious that INEC is ready for the 2019 general elections.”
Pointing out that a well prepared election can deepen our democracy, he said that “while reckless broadcasting can truncate our democracy, careful broadcasting can promote our democracy. Today, INEC will be glad to embrace ‘zero reckless’ broadcasting bearing in mind that the media can help the country and INEC to conduct a good election.
“When there is tension around an election, it leads to low turnout and we cannot afford low turnouts at elections because when the conduct of elections improve, it leads to an improvement of democracy.
The Governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, declared open the summit, themed, “Broadcast Content Development: Deepening Democratic Culture in Nigeria.”
In his address, the NBC Director General Is’haq Modibbo Kawu explained that the NBC annual summits are held with a realization of a sense of responsibility to the country, and the “themes are directly related to the socio-economic and political life of Nigeria. These include such themes as issues of peace and national security, health care, food security, the environment, conflicts over resources, and so on.”
On this year’s summit, he stated that “nineteen years down the line, since the transition from the transition to Civil Rule in 1999, Nigeria has continued to make steady progress, despite often very daunting challenges of underdevelopment and poverty, and other related indices. There has also spiked in recent years, various forms of conflicts, related to the fault lines that define Nigerian existence.
“At the NBC, we believe that the deepening of the nation’s democratic culture can only redound to the benefit of all us; as professionals and as citizens. The types of content that we produce, can either help to reinforce the nation’s democratic credentials, or can also negatively impact upon the democratic consolidation, that we all desire. The dialectics are very profound indeed.”
He noted further that, “over the past two years, we have gradually begun the tortuous walk on the path of the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. Digital broadcasting is opening newer opportunities for our broadcasters and independent content providers, to challenge themselves, to extend the horizons of the content that would populate our broadcasting in this new, digital era.”
Governance without media participation
THE chairman of the board of NBC, Alhaji Ikra Bilbis Aliya, lauded the timing of the summit. According to him, “this third edition is in tune with the political realities of the nation as political and democratic activities are the issues on the front burner. We just witnessed Ekiti Governorship Election and very soon it will be the turn of Osun State and of course we all know that February 2019 has been penciled down as the time for general elections in Nigeria. Ekiti polls has come and gone and we are reaping the positives of that election.
He noted that the summit is aimed at ensuring “that broadcasters play their fundamental role in the enthronement of democratic culture in Nigeria. The idea of sustainable development and governance will be a mirage without effective participation of the broadcast media.
“Political democratization will be unattainable if the citizens are not actively engaged in the political process. To achieve this goal, the broadcast media in Nigeria must live up to expectations in the critical role of advocating for citizen understanding and participation in the electoral process.
”The media can achieve the goal of enthronement and sustenance of a credible democratic culture in Nigeria, when they focus towards deepening democratic culture instead of engaging in anti-democratic tendencies that are detrimental to democratic development of Nigeria. The broadcast media should therefore develop content that will contribute positively to Nigerians democratic culture, content that will ensure active participation of the citizenry in the democratic process.”
He charged “broadcasters, content producers and programmers to engage in production of broadcast content that will educate and inform the citizens of their expected role before, during and after any election.”
The chairman, Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation, Suleiman Adokwe described the summit as an agenda setting by the NBC “considering that Nigerians again in few months’ time will march to elect their leaders. The media, being an important player in any democratic process should ensure that they perform their traditional roles of informing and educating the electorates. Also the media has the responsibility of holding the political leaders accountable. This role should be performed with all sense of responsibility and maturity.”
He charged the media not to ignore media ethics and principles but to keep their broadcasts in line with the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, as they carry out the role of information dissemination and education.
He lamented that that the media industry is flooded more by political owners rather than professional ownership.
Meanwhile, he noted that, “the National Assembly shall ensure that good laws are enacted to create an enabling environment where freedom of expression and opinions are upheld. We shall ensure that suitable appropriations are made to enable the NBC carryout its regulatory functions.”
Broadcast stations owe NBC N4.2bn
WORRIED by some developments in the broadcasting industry, Kawu revealed that NBC was being owed over N4 billion by television and radio stations. The debt had arisen from the failure of the stations to renew their broadcasting licences over many years.
He warned that the commission will have no option but to embark on a debt drive, especially as NBC was expected to generate revenue for the Federal Government.
According to him: “NBC will soon begin to sanction the stations indebted to the commission. We are supposed to be generating funds for the Government, and N4.2billion is a lot of money. When we sanction, it would be because we need to sanction.”