International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos-Nigeria, with the Institute for Media and Society (IMS) are implementing partners within component 4 (Support to media) of the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria-Phase II (EUSDGN II) project.
The project is conceived under the overarching framework of strengthening the role of the media in promoting democratic governance through Fair, Accurate, Ethical and Inclusive Coverage of Electoral Processes & Elections in Nigeria. The project therefore has the overall goal of further supporting the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria with the media (broadcast, print and online media) playing pivotal roles in engaging the process through professional coverage and reportage of the electoral process. This includes, but is not limited to, the professional dissemination of electoral information and activities of institutional stakeholder groups (the electoral bodies and related organs of government, the political parties and candidates, civil society) as well as issues affecting the electorates (such as inclusive participation, voter education information dissemination and sensitization, etc).
The activities of the actions are focused on the period between 2022 and 2027. This period covers a broad electoral cycle which includes the pre-2023 electoral period, the 2023 general elections, post 2023 general elections, off cycle elections in 7 states and the pre-2027 electoral periods, the 2027 general elections and the immediate post-2027 electoral period.
The media is a central stakeholder in the democratic governance processes in Nigeria. It serves as the societal watchdog and the constitution in section 22 obligates it to monitor governance and hold the government accountable to the people by stating that: “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people. (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chapter 2, Section 22)1.
The Nigerian media has a rich history of robust engagement with the political processes but its capacity to advance credible, peaceful and inclusive elections needs to be constantly strengthened in the light of some key gaps identified in the monitoring of media content during the 2019 elections. Such capacity building and other forms of intervention are necessary to take advantage of the dynamism of the Nigerian media landscape as a fast-growing industry now comprising 462 Radio stations, 162 Television stations channels and over 400 print media titles. There has also been rapid expansion of the Online media and citizen journalism platforms that could be strengthened to actively facilitate discourses on politics and elections. Another aspect of the dynamism of the Nigerian media is its diversity. The broadcast and print media operate at the federal, state and community levels while they are either publicly or privately owned, with government ownership more dominant in the broadcast sector.
While the print media is largely private owned, there are, however, few government-owned titles that are still active in this space. In this mix, the circulation of newspapers tend to follow a pattern which favours geographical space-sizes-community, state and zone niches. However, the emergence and embrace of digital innovation by radio, television and print media has disrupted traditional models and “liberalized” the media landscape.
The regulation of the broadcast and print sector is respectively undertaken by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigerian Press Council (NPC). However, there are outstanding issues of concerns associated with the regulatory frameworks. For example, the NBC is yet to attain independence from political interference in the performance of its regulatory functions, a situation that has led to friction between it and media stakeholders. Over the years, amendments proposed to alter the NBC and NPC legislations have been criticized by stakeholders for reasons which range from lack of independence for the regulatory bodies to the danger of the laws being used as gag instruments against the media.
Aside contentious legislative issues, there are challenges with the working environment and ownership structures of the Nigerian media industry. While the government-owned media often are tilted to serving the allegiance of government in power (due to inherent government policies and secrecy legislations like the Official Secrets Act and the Public and Civil Service Rules), the private media, which is supposed to be independent, must contend with partisan interests, political ownership and staff welfare issues. These challenges faced by both the government-owned and private-owned media, constitute obstacles to attainment of the desired professionalism of the Nigeria media including editorial independence during electoral processes and elections.
Beyond the roles expected of the media as enshrined in section 22 of the Nigeria Constitution, the conduct of the media during elections is also guided by the Electoral Act. Recently, amendments to the Electoral Act put additional responsibilities and set additional standards to be observed by the media. For example, the new Electoral Act requires public media to give equal coverage to all political parties and candidates and imposes stricter penalties for non-compliance, with the sanctions of fine or jail term expending to media managers – a worrisome development for press freedom advocates. Complementing the statutory regulations, are self-regulatory instruments such as the Media Code of Electoral coverage (a document endorsed and adopted by media umbrella professional groups and several other media stakeholders) and in-house guidelines developed by individual broadcast organisations to guide the conduct of the media during elections.
Within the context of the inherent issues and challenges of the Nigerian media industry as outlined above, there is a strong rationale for this project towards achieving the specific objective that “the media, including new and social media, provides fair, accurate, ethical and inclusive coverage of the electoral process.”
Equally, the justification for this new phase is strongly linked to a recently completed project implementation i.e., EU-SDGN Component 4 (2018-2022) with the same objectives. A number of changes and impact which need to be reinforced can be traced to the concluded EU-SDGN component 4 implementation. This includes for example, changes in the percentage of news items on elections promoting fair, accurate and ethical reporting showing significant improvement in the areas of balanced reporting and coverage of youths. This is traceable to activities which exposed participants and stakeholders to scientific methods which helped them to understand their audiences as well as a continuous enlightenment on other critical issues affecting the professional performance of the media through the dissemination of enlightenment resources and other forms of engagement during this earlier project implementation.
Also, more collaborative work is gradually emerging across the media landscape, with the project facilitating networking in various zones of the country. Media Managers across different media organisations are having more conversations on issues around election coverage through new channels and arrangements. Equally, additional media stakeholders have emerged and are being coordinated in continuous conversation on media coverage of the electoral process and broader democratic governance issues. These gains need to be sustained and built on through the new action.
The project and the enumerated activities derive from the successes and lessons learnt from the implementation of Component 4: Support to Media of the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN). Findings from previous evaluation reports on the project and the detailed reports on the specific activities shall guide the implementation. Also, the final report of the EU-EOM which identified gaps in media coverage and reportage of the 2019 elections will inform the design and implementation of the new action. Generally, it is considered important to build on some of the important foundations already laid, so that the media can contribute to the credibility of the electoral processes and elections through strengthened professionalism and enhanced inclusivity of election reporting, among others.
Expected Results (ER)
To achieve the objective of the action, the following results are expected:
Result 4.1: Professionalism of media practitioners, especially women is enhanced.
Result 4.2: Media professional capacity to deal with electoral misinformation/disinformation strengthened.
Results 4.3: Media platforms ability to diversify, deepen the coverage of the electoral process and deliver civic and voter education is enhanced.
Result 4.4: Media awareness and use of FOI Act for increased accountability improved
Results 4.5: National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is strengthened to perform its mandate.
Results 4.6: Media engagement in promoting women, youths and marginalized groups in politics is improved.
In order to achieve the expected results, the design of the project will include a series of activities in various locations across the country integrating lessons learnt from previous similar actions.