We spoke to journalists, whose countries are having their upcoming elections on what tips they can give journalists on how to cover elections.
Reagan Mashavave is a Zimbabwean freelance journalist who covers Zimbabwe, Africa & global news. He previously worked for AFP and Daily News.
- Accreditation: Journalists must get accredited to cover elections to avoid harassment and unnecessary trouble.
- Dress code: If possible avoid wearing political party colours. Wear clothes that easily identify you as a journalist. This includes jackets or shirts inscribed “PRESS” in bold letters. Unless you are doing an investigative piece then you may avoid clothing that identifies you as a journalist.
- Safety: Your safety is key every time. If the situation is becoming tense please go to a safe zone. Avoid being close to fighting parties. You should have contacts of media lawyers and police on you every time. Working with other journalists in difficult situations can help you be safe. A basic first aid kit is important too.
- Plan your coverage: You should have the plan of your coverage a day before. Knowing diary events is key from rallies, election officials’ press conferences, observer missions etc. But always know that new things can come at very short notice. If you want to interview a presidential candidate always contact his/her team on time to avoid being denied an interview.
- Rough terrain: In some cases, if you are going to a rally in an open space carry a cap or sun hat. Be prepared to sit on the ground at times for long hours under the sweltering sun waiting for candidates to address their supporters. The network can be bad in some areas and it’s important to know or plan how you will send your story to your newsroom or publication. Carry water, juice, fruit or a sandwich.
- Election results: Always get results from official election officials who are mandated to do so. The collation and counting of election results can take longer than anticipated. Wait for the official results, do not write on speculation.
- Report correctly: An election is a contest. The highest journalism standards are required when you are covering an election. Show balance, fairness and accuracy in your reports. Get your facts right.
Zimbabwe’s election date is between July 26 and August 24
Bettie Kemah Johnson-Mbayo is a Liberian journalist who has worked in different areas of the journalism industry since 2010.
- Be credible and balanced in your reports: as a journalist, the public relies on you for factual information. In that case, nothing should hold you back from reporting in the public interest that will hold the powerful accountable and tell the public what is ongoing, as the choices voters make will predominately be on the reports you do as a journalist.
- Do not choose a side: I am one person who thinks that journalists in elections must choose no side. This has been a bit of discussion in my country as people who work for the political institution are in a space to sell the funders through their platforms. If you are a journalist, journalism’s ethics must not be suspended because of the electioneering period.
- Beware of your social media posts and comments– social media are one of the fastest ways of communication as the world is evolving. However, it is essential as a journalist to refrain from commenting and posting against or for a political party that will dampen your career. While many blogs and pages are attractive, journalists must have self-confidence and avoid commenting or posting for a politician.
- Verify: Politicians are known for tricks, spreading mis- and disinformation, and as a journalist, do not verbatim report what they say; if there is a claim, it is your responsibility to verify. This is one of the most challenging tasks, but your institution and career will be on the line if a politician accuses his opponent of murder, which is reported as he has said. Don’t allow politicians to see you as a medium for spreading false or fake information.
- Abide by the law: Every country in which a journalist is reporting has rules; during elections, journalists are targeted either by the ruling establishment or the opposition. When you report, it is crucial that you review the timetables for the election and how you can align the timeframe with your reporting. If the election body or political parties gives out passes granting you access to do your work effectively, don’t let go. Go for it. Don’t be a violator because you are a journalist.
Liberia’s election date is October 10, 2023
Fidèle Kitsa is a journalist, photographer, and videographer based in Goma, Republic of the Congo and he is the co-founder of Congo Sauti, an online publication.
- High standards: during the election period, the journalist must adhere to high standards, i.e., remain professional to ensure he does not lose credibility when the news is published.
- Prepare beforehand: Journalists must always prepare their work and their interviews with politicians and even if they have to improvise, they must make sure that they know the subject and the material.
- Trust: Journalists must build a relationship based on trust with their sources without allowing themselves to be manipulated by them, they must tell the truth, especially because during the elections many candidates want to manipulate journalists for their own interests, and they must also preserve their independence.
- Be neutral: Regarding information, a journalist should not have a position or a bias, they should observe certain neutrality and give a voice to all stakeholders, thus favouring freedom of expression, not just relying on one political tendency.
- Inform: the main role of the media is to inform the public, to make them aware of politics and to explain simply to the voters how the election is conducted, what is at stake, how to participate, what conditions must be met to vote, and who can run. The work of the journalist is also to present all the candidates and their programmes, to question them on their programmes and their results, and also to provide responsible, balanced, neutral coverage, without inciting hatred or violence, respecting the privacy and dignity of each person.
- Be impartial: finally, the journalist must ensure that he or she is providing impartial and balanced information and must also refuse gifts or money from politicians, as this is psychological manipulation.
- Be transparent: during the election period every candidate wants to have an advantage over their opponents, the journalist should not allow themselves to be manipulated, especially by doing what politicians say for their own interests. The journalist should not use unethical ways to obtain information, i.e., recording the other party without his or her authorisation, one should always ask for permission, and inform people that they are recorded to avoid problems in the long run.
DRC election date is December 20, 2023
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