By Wale Akinola
No evidence of hate speech was observed in Nigerian newspapers’ reports monitored between July and September 2019, according to a survey.
The survey comes against the backdrop of the controversial Hate Speech Bill currently in the works at the Senate.
The bill, which has outraged many Nigerians, provides for the death penalty for anyone who utters hate speech that leads to actions that cause death.
The sponsor of the bill is the Senate Deputy Chief Whip, Senator Sabi Abdullahi.
The counter argument against the bill is that there is no misdemeanor it seeks to redress that we do not already have under our current laws including defamation laws, sedition laws and the Cyber Crime Act, and that it may be targeted at those in opposition to government.
The survey also found that no negative portrayal of women was recorded during the period of exercise while media reporting continued to be skewed in favour of the two leading political parties: the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Whereas men dominated as sources that the media contacted and whose voices were mainly reflected according to the survey, women, People Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) and youths continued to get lower media coverage.READ ALSO: Gov. Akeredolu criticises proposed capital punishment for hate speech
The survey, which monitored print and online newspapers reporting of the 2019 electoral process, analyzed trends in reportage of the 2019 post- election issues by 12 print/online newspapers namely Vanguard, Thisday, The Punch, The Guardian, Daily Sun, Nigerian Tribune, The Nation, Leadership, Daily Trust, BluePrint (online version), The Cable (published online only) and the Premium Times (published online only).
Also monitored were the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC’s twitter handle (https://twitter.com/inecnigeria) and INEC website https://www.inecnigeria.org).
The purpose of the survey, according to the International Press Centre, Lagos-Nigeria, is to provide evidence-backed information on state of media performance in the coverage of the electoral processes and the 2019 elections, highlighting observed gaps and shortcomings, and using the outcome as a tool for continuous engagement with journalists, media managers and media gatekeepers on the need to ensure media professionalism.
The survey established that, of the 4,217 news/editorial found relevant to the media content monitoring exercise in the 12 newspapers, whereas 27 parties were mentioned, media reporting continued to be skewed in favour of the two leading political parties, APC and PDP, as major news source with the two political parties getting a combined 92.32% of the total media coverage given all the political parties.
“While APC got 781 media mentions amounting to 48.39%, PDP got 709 mentions which account for 43.93%. However out of all the other 89 parties, only 27 parties, representing 8%, had media coverage, and this showed a consistent pattern as had been witnessed in previous media monitoring that focus on the pre-elections and the election period”, the report of the survey said.
“The two other political parties that came third and fourth in the scale of media coverage are much far behind in terms of the scope of media coverage they got: while Social Democratic Party (SDP) got 32 mentions or 2%, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) got 30 mentions at 1.86%”.
According to the report, with the general elections over, the media coverage expectedly shifted to the election petition cases with 1,548 reports published on this issue.
“This (election petition) took 49.22% of all political and governance issues reported. This is encouraging as the media paid attention to the right of the public to know what was happening at the election tribunals and the courts”, the report said.
On women, People Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) and youths, the report said they continued to get lower media coverage compared to men, a trend which, it claimed, had been observed since the beginning of the monitoring project.
“Of 3,143 reports monitored within this period on governance issue, a total of 36 items (1.14%) were published on youths; 81 items constituting 2.6% were published on women; and 20 relevant editorial reports representing 0.64% were published on PLWDs”, it stated.
“As sources of relevant editorial items, men also dominated as sources that the media contacted and whose voices were mainly reflected. Men’s perspectives were captured in 3,578 reports or a whopping 91.62% whereas women were contacted as sources 126 times or 3.22%; youths were used as sources 33 times constituting o.85% and PLWDs in only seven instances, constituting 0.2%”.
Noting that the absence of hate speech in the monitored newspapers and the degree of conflict sensitivity shows impressive compliance with the provisions of the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage relating to avoidance of hate speech and being conflict sensitive, the report said, “Unfortunately, there was no substantial compliance with the provisions of the Code on equitable access for parties and candidates, women, youths and PLWDs”.
In its recommendations for the media, the report said: “It has consistently been emphasised the elections and democratic governance reporting should be all-inclusive. “The female folks and the youths constitute meaningful percentage of the Nigerian population; so also PLWDs, who also have their special needs and need adequate media space to project their issues.
“For these and other reasons, there is also a need for conscious consideration for these sets of stakeholders in media reportage so that their issues are properly bought into the limelight to ensure that they are not consigned to the backyard of national discourse and political representation. It is therefore imperative for the media to inculcate inclusive diversity into the reportage of political and governance issues.
“Media managers need to sit with their editorial teams to strategise on the best ways of ensuring inclusive political and electoral reporting and equitable coverage of all political stakeholders, especially the political parties and candidates”.
For INEC, the report recommended the need for the election management body to issue press releases regularly in response to the concerns of parties, candidates, the media, civil society groups and the citizens, etc, while also striving to ensure that such press releases and other information dissemination are more evenly reported in the media through monitoring.
“INEC should strive to bridge the observed gaps in its engagement of followers on its twitter handle. It is worrisome that while there are about 1.4 million followers of INEC on twitter, engagement of its post generated only 3,045 retweets; 11,189 ‘likes’ and 1,687 comments, despite the large followership.
This may, however, be an indication that 305 tweets were not much for a three-month period or that the tweets were not of much importance to its followers”, the report said.
“There is the need for INEC to conduct an administrative appraisal on its information dissemination strategies, both in the mainstream and on social media platforms.
“To the extent that the monitoring report also shows very minimal or almost passive utilization of the INEC website, particularly the Press Release and INEC news sub portal for information dissemination, there is the need for INEC to rejig its information dissemination approach, especially in utilizing its website as priority information dissemination channels for its press release and news update information”.
In his speech at the public presentation of the report of the survey in Lagos, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director of the International Press Centre, Lagos-Nigeria, said the survey marked the continuation of a 24-month media monitoring activity covering the pre-election, election and post-elections cycles under component 4b: support to media of the EUSDGN project.READ ALSO: Hate Speech Bill: UN condemns death penalty
“As this report and subsequent ones will show, this phase is very important not only because we are beaming torchlight on the trends of reportage but also because there are emerging critical post-election issues such as conflicts, outbreaks of violence and killings (as seen in the recent Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections), tribunal/court cases and campaign finance, which the media must contend with”, Arogundade said.
“In dealing with these issues, it is our contention that the media must continue to be ethical and conflict sensitive in their reportage. Thus, the report serves as a reminder to the media on their role in preventing insecurity and violence during and after elections through fact-based, independent, transparent, accountable and impartial reporting.
“We expect that the identified strengths and weaknesses in the coverage of the political process by the concerned media outlets will be vital for our deliberations and further recommendations, not just to the concerned media outlets but also others that were not covered by the monitoring exercise.
“Ahead of this, let me once again remind all journalists and other media professionals that the provisions of the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage require us to be ethical, professional and socially responsible and conflict sensitive; especially through the avoidance of hate speech in the coverage of electoral issues.
Let us also be reminded that the Code expects us to give prominence to the inclusive issues of women, especially female candidates, youths and persons living with disabilities”.
In his review, Dr Tunde Akanni, Senior Lecturer, School of Communication, Lagos State University, said he found the report invaluable for research and considered it as “indispensably didactic for the media, INEC and the rest of us.”