By Ekpali Saint
Although the media plays a critical role in ensuring a free and fair election, covering elections can be challenging especially in Nigeria with a history of violent elections. For instance, the country’s last general election in 2019 was marred by violence from security forces and political thugs. And now, there are concerns that the current wave of violence in different parts of the country can undermine the electoral outcomes.
Nigeria’s political culture is prone to violence. So journalists who will cover the country’s forthcoming general election on February 25 need to equip themselves with the right tools and information to help them stay safe while working to file first-hand and credible reports. Below are some tips for reporters who will be in the field to give live feeds.
There are ethical principles that guide journalists during reporting. During elections, information about political parties and candidates is circulated across different platforms including ones purported to be credible news outlets. But voters rely on mainstream media and journalists for credible and quality reports during elections, which in turn helps them make informed choices. What this means is that journalists must consider the profession’s ethical principles and standards during reporting.
“Do not take sides; that’s one of the ethics of journalism. You have to be balanced,” says Yusuf Akinpelu, a data journalist with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). “Do not say because you have a preference for a particular party or candidate, and then you begin to show that preference very glaringly such that people would see you as being biased in your reporting [and] approach.”
During election periods, political parties, candidates, and sometimes supporters, churn out all kinds of statistics, photos, and statements just to push a political agenda. It is the duty of the reporter to fact-check claims or statements made during the election period to avoid misleading the public. And to help reporters determine whether these claims are true or false, they must be familiar with websites and online fact-checking tools that can be used to check the authenticity of photos, statements, and statistics of election-related information.
In addition, reporters covering elections should develop a list of reliable experts, institutions, and platforms that fact-check statements. For journalists working in Africa, Dubawa and Africa Check are great resources.
As in many places in the world, elections in Nigeria are prone to violence. This is why as a reporter; you must be smart and security conscious. You must know the electoral process, including how ballots are being transported. You must know the officials who are observing the polling units and those for ballot counting. More so, you must be smart enough to monitor possible cases of vote buying and party loyalists who may be creeping around to set off violence.
“So it’s just being smart and ensuring that you are very careful. You [should] put your safety first,” Akinpelu, who covered the 2018 Osun state election in southwest Nigeria, said. That period, Akinpelu said when he noticed the environment was becoming tense, “I had to pull off my press jacket so that I could blend with the locals and not be any different from the other person.”
He adds that “If you feel unsafe, it’s always good to leave there as soon as you can [and] if you are in a place where the people are challenging you not to take pictures or they don’t want you to do something, it’s always good to adhere and if you are able to [win] them over, good, but if you are unable to, it’s better you put your safety first.”
Work in a group
“It’s always good when you work in a group,” Akinpelu urges journalists planning to cover Nigeria’s forthcoming general election. He stressed that journalists covering elections should not work with those from their newsrooms alone but also team up with colleagues from other newsrooms, which according to Akinpelu, would contribute to a better reporting experience.
Akinpelu also advocates a support system for reporters covering elections. He said newsrooms must have on their speed dial, the numbers of authorities, the police, and the electoral commission. This is important “such that if any of their reporters run into trouble, they could be able to reach out to the [authorities] to put in a word for their reporters,” he said.
Know the voting procedure
Prior to election day, journalists should familiarise themselves with the voting procedure. This will not just guide journalists during reporting, but help them easily identify when something goes wrong.
To get relevant information such as the voting procedure, journalists should visit the official website of the Independent National Electoral Commission, which is responsible for organising elections in Nigeria.
Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab