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Nigerian Journalists Agree to Disagree on Election Coverage

The role of the media in almost any election is to facilitate public understanding of the issues by providing fair and accurate coverage of the candidates and their agendas. So as Nigerians get ready to cast their votes for state governors this Saturday and for president on April 21, how has the media played this role in covering the electoral process?

Two Nigerian journalists shared their views with VOA on the media coverage of the Nigerian election. They are Joi Idam, Abuja bureau chief of the Service Newspaper based in Port Harcourt and assistant secretary of the Nigeria Union of Journalists – Abuja chapter, and Na’Allah Mohammed Zagga, editor of FM 92.1, an independent radio station based in Abuja.

“In particular I must give credit to the private media in Nigeria because they have been able to subject the process to critical scrutiny, the transparency and what have you. Now, one of the problems we face here is the issue of the rule of law and the right of candidates to contest the election. Is the PDP (People’s Democratic Party) as the ruling party, which everybody expects to set the standards for decent democratic behavior, allowed to have no regard for the rule of law,” he said.

Zagga said only the private media has asked the tough questions during the Nigerian electoral process. But Joi Idam disagreed. She said both the private and government-owned media have been fair in their coverage.

“I want to say that the media have really done their best. Both the private and government-owned media, they’ve been able to present the cases as it unfolded without fear or favor. And I also want to say that this is the very first time we are experiencing civilian to civilian transition, and you should know that with that, there’s bound to be a few hiccups,” Idam said.

Zagga said the Nigerian electoral process has been short on issues, and that the media has failed to hold the candidates to account.

“I seriously think that this election has not been issues-oriented. It is an area that the media should have seriously taken up. It’s something that ought to have started two years ago in terms of taking the present government to task. What have you promised? Look at the electricity. It cuts across all parts of the country. The Niger Delta issue is something that has been with us for a long time, and quite a number of the candidates don’t have a serious agenda that you can say this is a strategic approach,” Zagga said.

Idam said the Nigerian media would mostly likely improve comes the 2011 presidential elections, and she gave this advice to the media.

“The media should not be sensational in their reports, and the media should stop taking sides. The media is like the referee in a football match. Set the agenda, play by the rules; don’t take sides with any party. Yes, we have tried our best, but I want to believe that there is room for improvement. So we look forward to a better presentation from Nigerian journalists in the 2011 elections,” Idam said.

“I tend to agree with her," Zagga said. "The Nigerian media must be able to identify and also help the Nigerian people elect the right leaders, leaders who would promote our common welfare, not leaders who appeal to our emotions, who have divided us further and further. If we can be in a position as journalists to motivate, to galvanize the Nigerian people, I am sure we can improve much better from what we have done so far,” he said.