Journalists covering the on-going National Conference in Abuja have been advised to be sensitive to Nigeria’s diversity and idiosyncrasies as expressed at the Conference and aim towards building a truly united and cohesive country.
Veteran journalist and a delegate to the Conference, Mr. Ray Ekpu, said in Abuja on Friday that journalists must first understand the purpose of the conference and report events with the understanding that Nigeria must come out of its present dilemma characterized ethnic and religious tension.
Ekpu stated this at a one day media roundtable organized by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) for editors and correspondents covering the National Conference.
He said, “I would like journalists to show extreme sensitivity about the tough issues that this Conference will have to deal with.
“How they cover controversial issues such as ethnicity, religion, structure of government, resource control, fiscal federation, rotational presidency, devolution of powers, etc., will determine whether we want a united country or not.”
Ekpu asked reporters to demonstrate patriotism, “show a little more sensitivity to the wrangling, the flashes of temper, the disputations and the partisan oratory that you may experience in the coverage of the Conference.”
He said when this happens, “You will be contributing your own quota to the efforts that the Conference will be making to solidify the unity, cohesion and integration of the country.”
Minister of Tourism and Culture, Chief Edem Duke described the Conference as the building block for the Nigeria of the future and that its success would no doubt reposition the country for accelerated growth and development.
In this regard, he said the Nigerian media remain very critical in the effort in view of its proven capacity to inform, educate, mobilize and influence opinions; and that the Conference and what it stands for calls for a higher sense of patriotism and professionalism by the media
Duke said it must be understood that those calling for moderation in the coverage of the Conference are not calling for censorship.
He explained, “The media has a professional responsibility to report all issues freely, fairly and objectively within the ambit and orbit of the law; however, what is paramount to all Nigerians in this Conference, is our national interest.
“The issue of national interest is particularly germane to the coverage of proceedings of the National Conference because of the volatile and contentious issues at stake.
“If arguments (on) the floor of the Conference are not carefully and professionally reported, they are capable of sending the wrong signals and igniting explosive reactions from members of the public. This will be a great disservice not only to the Conference but to the nation at large.”
Director General of the National Orientation Agency, Mr. Mike Omeri said the media roundtable was put together to sensitise the media on the importance of their role as a veritable link between citizens and the National Conference.
It was also meant, according to him, to re-emphasise the need for patriotic agenda-setting and promotion of national interest in media reportage of the Conference; and create a forum for exchange of ideas on the Conference between the media and officials of the Conference.
He stated, “It is our firm belief at NOA that media coverage of the National Conference with objectivity and nationalism is the right thing to do, bearing in mind that posterity will judge us all by our contributions to nation-building at critical moments of our national history such as this.”
Head of Media and Communication at the National Conference, Mr. Akpandem James, said the media roundtable was put together as a reminder to journalists that they have a role as a group and as a people entrusted with the responsibility of building a sound society.
He appealed to journalists covering the Conference to do their job in such a manner that they are not harassed by people who may feel hurt by their reportage.
He maintained that in such a large assembly of elders and young people, there would be incidents by the sides, “but I still appeal that we apply high sense of responsibility in what we do.”
A traditional ruler, the Etsu Karu, Luka Panya Baba reminded journalists of their role as the mirror of the society and demanded that every report should be a fair and accurate representation of things that happened.
“We see the media as the voice of the people. We depend significantly upon the media to be well informed about what is happening,” said the traditional ruler.
Speaking on agenda-setting, Tunde Rahman, the managing editor of Western Post, said journalists at the Conference could force attention to certain issues in a systematic way by aggregating the views of the delegates on core issues.
Such issues, he said include resource control, federalism, regional structure, devolution of powers, role of traditional rulers, among others; adding that journalists must be able to maintain a sense of balance between conflicting views and interests.
He said unlike most of the delegates who have ulterior motives, “our interest as journalists, I think, must be the interest of the people, the survival of the nation.
“I think that in the role of chroniclers of history and agenda setters, the media have assumed immense responsibilities for the next generation. This demands that we must be patriotic. We must eschew our prejudices about the Conference and keep an open mind.”
Edith Ohaja of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said that journalists have a lot of latitude in Nigeria today to do what they consider to be morally justifiable and to publish what they consider important to the survival of the nation.
She noted, “What they need is the willingness to act right, to see the desirability of pursuing higher goals in their work and to operate beyond the level of crass commercialism.
“Journalists need to rekindle the nationalistic fervor through which the Nigerian press was birthed and nurtured and contribute to the emergence of a stronger, united and prosperous nation.
“They cannot do this if they consistently promote the cause of rabble rousers and people seeking relevance and pretending to be mavericks and stirring endless controversies.
“This is the time to make Nigerians proud of their journalists again as we were during the pursuit of independence and the fight by some media and activists to dismantle military dictatorship.”
Another speaker at the roundtable, Joseph Ari, said the media would create a lot of positive impact regarding the Conference if journalists paid attention to issues rather than personalities.
He said most times, uncomplimentary utterances by delegates could be altered to change public opinion and to mobilize for national cohesion rather than divisive tendencies.
Ari stated that although the Conference bears the main task of fostering national integration, peace and unity, “the configuration of a collective memory requires the involvement of the media to encourage consensus making.”