Participants of a two-day media workshop organised by the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) have agreed to set up a Network to foster information/experience sharing and coordination of professional reporting of elections for the entrenchment of democracy in West Africa.
In a Communiqué at the end of the workshop held 29-30 October in Abuja, the participants also called on the ECOWAS Commission and development partners to as a matter of urgency, intensify efforts at capacity strengthening of journalists to enable them to play their widely acknowledged roles of information, education and sensitisation of citizens on their civic responsibilities, in support of credible elections and consolidation of democracy in the ECOWAS region.
A minimum standard of capacity, coupled with an environment of unfettered freedom and good working condition, is required for media professionals to perform effectively as gatekeepers and critical stakeholders in the delivery of credible elections, the Communiqué stressed.
It also recommended the creation of Regional Guidelines or Codes of Conduct to ensure effective media self-regulation for professional reporting of elections in the ECOWAS region.
The participants expressed their total support for an ECONEC initiative to institute regional Awards to recognize/acknowledge Best Election Reporters under various media categories – print, electronic, online and new/social media platforms.
The Communiqué challenged media workers to keep abreast with relevant instruments governing electoral processes at the national, regional and international levels, and ensure that citizens are adequately and properly informed for them to make informed decisions in the choice of their leaders.
Apart from national Constitutions and various Electoral Laws/Codes, the communiqué also cited relevant instruments such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; the African Union Conventions/Instruments on Democracy and Human Rights, and various ECOWAS Protocols on democracy and good governance, as guiding texts.
It stressed that election reporters should also be guided by professional ethics and codes of conduct related to crisis inciting reporting, to ensure balance, neutrality and peace building in their reportage, while avoiding sensationalism or reports that could undermine the rights of individuals, or national and regional security.
The Communique urged journalists to diversify and ensure authenticity of their sources of information. They should also structurally engage with other political stakeholders, including election management bodies (EMBs), political parties, security agencies, civil society and the electorate to ensure that everyone played by the rules and also to hold each stakeholder to account.
The Communique further called on the media to take into account, in electoral reporting, issues and data on political inclusivity, gender balance, participation and representation of women, youth, minorities and persons with disability.
Journalists from the traditional or conventional media are also called upon to leverage the benefits of the new/social media, and work to avoid, identify and eliminate the negative impacts of the social media, especially fake news.
Thirty-six media professionals from the 15 ECOWAS member States attended the workshop, which was supported by the German Agency for International Cooperation, GIZ as part of ECONEC’s activities under the 2016/18 Action Plan.
A series of the training workshop is planned by ECONEC to develop sustained media interest in the delivery of credible, transparent and peaceful elections in the ECOWAS region, with the media playing their key functions as a medium for public information, education and dissemination of useful and factual reports for political inclusivity.
The Abuja engagement featured six presentations on Introduction to Normative Instruments Governing Democratic Elections (Global, Continental, and Regional); Understanding Elections as a Process with Different Phases; The Social Responsibility of the Media during Elections; Sourcing Credible Information on the Electoral Process; Strict Adherence to the Media Code of Conduct in Election Reporting and Leveraging the Benefits of New/Social Media in Election Reporting.
There was also a Role Play session which involved the participants attempting to break Barriers to Access Information during Election, and ending with discussions on Building Effective, Collaborative Partnerships with the Media to ensure Credible Electoral Processes in West Africa. Participants were presented with Certificates.
In his welcoming address to the opening ceremony of the workshop, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, president of the ECONEC governing board and Chair of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said: “The media remains the most reliable instrument through which electoral issues involving participation and inclusivity are encouraged.”
He therefore urged election administrators and journalists to carry out their responsibilities with a high sense of duty and professionalism, to avoid a repeat of the “havoc poorly conducted elections and provocative reportage have caused in our region.”