Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has charged the media to operate with a nationalist ideology, especially during difficult period in the country.
The Minister disclosed this on Tuesday in Abuja when he participated as panelist at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group program 2021.
The theme of the session attended by Alhaji Mohammed, was tagged ‘’The Fourth Estate: Holding Power To Account.”
Indispensable in Building
He said the media is indispensable in building a virile democracy, especially by holding power accountable.
He went further and cited how the framers of the Nigerian Constitution saw the wisdom of making the role of the media a constitutional one.
He said the role of the media was unambiguous; in particular, Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution is clear on this role:
“The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media to, at all time, be free to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.”
The Minister affirmed that the watchdog role of the media was globally acknowledged, more so in the advanced democracies.
“The Nigerian press has a rich history of holding power accountable. This is not a surprise, considering that the Nigerian press is one of the most vibrant in the world.
Our experience as a government confirms this assertion. Whereas in many countries, the press is worried about being bullied by the government, here in Nigeria, it is the government that has to contend with endless bullying by the press.
In Nigeria, however, there is an increasing concern about the ability of the fourth estate to hold power to account. This concern is due to a number of factors. One is bias. For example, there is a national television station here in this country that has, as one of its Anchors, a partisan, a known opposition party man.
That same Anchor is also a journalist. But what kind of objectivity can we expect from such an Anchor? No matter how professional he seeks to be, his partisanship will always be a blur. Can such Anchor or his medium be trusted to objectively hold power accountable?”
Alhaji Mohammed decried the increasing propensity of the media in Nigeria to undermine their own watchdog role. “Today, it is common to have media organisations hold annual award ceremonies. In most cases, their awardees are top officials of the same government they are supposed to hold accountable.
He cited examples of such awards as; Governor or Governors of the Year; Minister or Ministers of the Year; Politician or Politicians of the Year among several others.
“Let’s even forget the fact that the criteria for giving such awards are dubious, at best. Let’s forget that some of these awardees support the awarding organisations in one form or the other, especially during the awards.
To what extent can such media organisations hold their awardees? Most of them, top officials of government at all levels, accountable? Is this not antithetical to the watchdog role prescribed for the press in the Constitution?”
The Minister’s intervention about the social media era, suggests growing concerns about the freewheeling role of some New Media platforms.
“Today, there are hundreds of online newspapers. However, unlike the traditional media where gatekeepers ensure a proper scrutiny of what goes out, most of these online papers churn out news that is neither verified nor balanced.
And the society believes this fake news or misinformation and runs with it. For example, during my recent.
Official trip to the US to engage with the international media, one online news website published that the purpose of the trip was to engage with Twitter. This fake news was published without recourse to my office to even double-check the purpose of the trip. And of course, many gullible people believed it.”
The Minister posited that any media organisation that engages in information disorder, known as fake news cannot uphold the Constitutional role prescribed for the media.
In her contribution as a virtual panelist, Kiki Mordi called for a better collaboration between the state and the media.
She said the government was being left behind in the social media space.”The government needs to go there and struggle for space,”she stated.
She further stated that there was an information vacuum, making people to consume whatever they find on the easiest platform, which is the social media.
“Instead of the government to contemplate shutting the social media space, it is better to go and grab the space there so that the voice of the system can be heard appropriately.”
Dilemma of Balancing
The Editor in Chief of Daily Trust newspaper, Nasiru Makailu said the media was always in the dilemma of balancing between the bad and the good news. He said both sort of stories were good for the society.
Meanwhile Tokunbo Afikuyomi who also participated virtually said government must rise up to the occasion and meet up with 21st century media engagement.
He said some policies of government were not necessarily bad but absence of citizen engagement and awareness often makes such policies look inadequate.