BusinessDay

Reps task media on fourth estate role media in democracy

...call for issues-based reports as campaign for 2023 kicks-off

Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker of the House of said the media is the fourth and last pillar of democracy, and the press must ensure that the exercise of state and economic power is fair and proper as well as in service of the greater good.

According to him, the role of the press in a democracy is multi-faceted as it informs the public and educates them about the law and government, politics and governance; records history as it happens and preserve the national memory as a guide and warning for the future.

Gbajabiamila also said media hold power to account, ensuring that those who are chosen to serve the public interest keep faith with the citizens who depend on them.

The speaker who stated these at a capacity-building workshop for journalists covering the House in Abuja on Saturday, also said democracy will not long survive without a vibrant, independent, innovative and patriotic press.

He said: “Unfortunately, far from giving voice to the aspirations of our nation, or holding the powerful properly to account, sections of journalism in Nigeria have become an endless pursuit of clickbait through the careless writing of falsehoods and malicious publication of half-truths.

“I understand the commercial pressures that result in such outcomes. However, you will agree with me that this too has led to the devaluation of the press and the media in the eyes of the public.

“We can all do better. And we are obliged to try especially in this defining moment in our nation’s history when the choices we make today will determine if we get to have a country and what kind of country we get to have.”

Gbajabiamila acknowledge that quality journalism does not happen in a vacuum, it requires resources to train and equip staff, and invest in technology to improve content quality and broadcast capabilities, amongst other things.

“For generations, these resources have come from the sales of newspapers and magazines and from advertising and subscriptions. For the last two decades, the proliferation of online sources has decimated sales and precipitated a drastic and rapid decline in advertising income.

“Like all other businesses, the imperatives of commerce and profitability cannot be ignored as they are critical factors affecting the quality of service and the utility of outcomes.

“Consequently, we are called to confront an existential question – how do you finance a quality press without access to the income sources that ensured viability for so long? This is a question that media managers all over the world are struggling with, and are trying to answer through innovation and experimentation, with different degrees of success and inevitable failure,” he added.

Similarly, Benjamin Kalu, spokesperson of the House said the media are very often we refer to the press as the fourth estate of the realm because they are vital component of democracy with the explicit capacity of advocacy and the implicit capacity to frame political issues, not just for social discourse but also, for the information and consideration of the legislature and other policymakers.

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“Indeed, the press is at the centre of a successful governance overseeing the synergy of governance and communication. In the practice of policymaking, it is a standard rule that public policy must be evidence based.

“The legislature, like all other policymakers, is guided by press reportage on the pulse of the nation when making laws. The media’s investigative reportage is often a tool for evidence gathering to help in formulation of laws, policies and oversight of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the government. Simply put, media reports serve as a whistle blower which we leverage for efficient delivery of our mandate.

“Therefore, beyond its responsibility as a watchdog, as enshrined in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, the press also serves an important role as a veritable source of information in the context of government policy making and that is what I expect to be the major take home from this workshop,” Kalu said.

The lawmaker also said as the country enters the election season, with the campaign taking off on September 28, the press should centre its reportage around issues and not persons.

Kalu said: “The press should avoid being misused as tools for character assassination. The press in this period should only project things that advance the trust in our democracy.

“The press should showcase only campaigns that tell the electorate about the candidates, their antecedents and their objectives to enable electorate get educated on why they should vote for any candidate.”

In his remarks, Yahaya Danzariya, the clerk to the House said the media are the eye and voice of the people in a democracy as they are central to the success of any democracy and any legislature, because the Media represents the people when it provides them with information on activities in governance and representation.

Yahaya said without the Media, there cannot be a functional democracy or political participation in any democratic society, lamenting the activities of quacks and citizens which are causing havoc to the legislative institution and Nigeria’s democracy.

He said: “As you reflect on the issues, I wish you the best and hope that there will be better relationship with the media as we prepare for our national elections to welcome Members of the 10th National Assembly.”

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