For two days, the House of Representatives’ leadership hosted the media at a training workshop themed “Deepening legislative knowledge through critical reporting”, in Abuja. PHILIP NYAM reports.
Last weekend, the leadership of the House of Representatives through the media unit of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila’s office organised a two-day training workshop for journalists covering the lower chamber. The workshop tagged “Deepening legislative knowledge through critical reporting” was graced by Speaker Gbajabiamila; chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu and his Legislative Agenda counterpart, Hon. Henry Nwawuba as well as the Clerk to the House, Dr. Ibrahim Danzaria and other members of the House. Three papers were presented at the occasion with the former Special Adviser to late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and chairman of This day Newspapers Editorial Board, Mr. Segun Adeniyi, speaking on “The role of the Nigerian media in national development: The legislative perspective.” While Hon. Nwawuba presented a paper on the “9th Assembly: Role of the media in the attainment of legislative agenda,” an aide to President Muhammadu Buhari, Tolu Ogunlesi, spoke on “Reportage in the age of social media: Facts vs fiction (Balancing news speed and accuracy in reporting the legislature.” Adeniyi, in his presentation, stressed the need to engage the public more with the activities of lawmakers. Nwawuba and Ogunlesi, on their part, maintained that the media must be abreast with the provisions of the Legislative Agenda to be well equipped for comprehensive reportage and the need for balancing and accuracy in reportage.
No media, no democracy, says Gbajabiamila
In his address to declare the workshop open, Speaker Gbajabimila said democracy is a fragile construct and will not last long without the media. His words: “Democracy will not long survive without a vibrant, independent, innovative and patriotic press. The role of the press in a democracy is multi-faceted. You inform the public and you educate them about the law and government, politics and governance.
You record history as it happens and preserve the national memory as a guide and warning for the future. And you 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 noted that through the years, “technological advances, the rapid increase in access to internet services, and the growth of social media have changed the way we receive and interact with news and information. What we understand as the professional press – newspapers and magazines, television and radio – are now in competition with every member of the public with a smartphone, access to the internet and the inclination to participate in the public discourse.” Speaking further, he said the landscape within which the media operates has changed in dramatic ways and the duties of the press but the public expectation remains the same.
“We expect journalists and media organisations to maintain a high level of professional conduct; we demand accurate reporting and detailed analysis of public policy and expect the media to continue to defend citizens’ rights, hold the powerful to account and promote the public good through the honourable practice of journalism,” he said.
Gbajabiamila added that “democracy is a fragile construct and “It depends on the support of the electorate; it requires active participation by an informed citizenry; it demands competence, capacity, and integrity from those who oversee the affairs of the state, and it will not long survive unless both the leaders and the citizens operate within the rule of law. Democracy also requires careful tending and robust defence as a matter of course.” He further averred 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.
His words: “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. However, the essential functions of a free press in a democracy demand that all of us – citizens and leaders alike– must participate in helping to find answers to this question.
“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? Often lost in the conversation is the fact that after all is said and done, media is a business. Quality journalism doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it requires resources to train and equip staff, and invest in technology to improve content quality and broadcast capabilities, among other things. “For us in Nigeria, the obligation is ever more powerful, and the consequences of failure are potentially too high to contemplate. Ours is a complex and complicated country where an inaccurate public broadcast, whether done maliciously or carelessly, can just as easily spark public debate, or lead to blood on the streets. In fact, a broadcast doesn’t need to be false to lead to bloody conflagration.
Sometimes, it is merely a matter of timing or misunderstanding. “The surest safeguard against such dire outcomes is to have media organisations that are unbiased purveyors of objective truth. We need journalists we can rely on to be our islands of accurate information and context in a sea of misinformation and propaganda manifesting as journalism. Having such organisations and individuals may in time to come, prove the difference between progress and regression and between peace and strife.
“The media is the fourth and last pillar of democracy. It is the role of the press to ensure that the exercise of state and economic power is fair and proper and in service of the greater good. 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 click bait 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. Our highest task and our most pressing ambition must be to safeguard this democracy. If we fail in this regard, nothing else will matter, nothing else we do will count in our favour when the tally of history is settled. We have it in our power to improve our nation’s future and leave this world better than we found it. So, let us do that, and let us do it together.
Spokesman for the House, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, who spoke virtually from Australia, called for a synergy between the media and the legislature. He said: “Very often we refer to the press as the fourth estate of the realm because the press is a vital component of our 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. Indeed, the press is at the centre of successful governance overseeing the synergy of governance and communication.” He noted that only through the preservation of the media that democracy could be nurtured effectively and urged the media not to be used for negative reportage.
Clerk’s goodwill message
The management of the House represented by the Clerk of the House, Dr. Yahaya Danzaria, in his goodwill message said: “There was a need to ensure a more organized, effective and unified communication channel for the National Assembly to curtail not only the litany of erroneous or sometimes completely false reportage of news about the activities and actions of the National Assembly but also to protect the integrity of the reporting media houses.” He emphasised the need to ensure a more organised and coordinated Communication channel to reduce the incidence of false reportage on the activities of the National Assembly.
After the workshop, the Press Corps came up with a communique. Before then, the chairman of the corps, Grace Ike, promised that the corps would work closely with the management of the National Assembly and the Nigeria Union of Journalists to rid the profession of quacks. The communiqué read in part: “The leadership and members of the House of Representatives Press Corps commended the speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila for organising the capacity-building workshop on: ‘Deepening legislative knowledge through critical reporting,’ as well as the chairman, House committee on media and public affairs, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, the special adviser to the speaker on media and publicity, Mr. Lanre Lasisi and others members of the Speaker’s Media Team for facilitating the workshop, as well as the resource persons for in depth presentations.
“They tasked the 9th House of Representatives on the need to sustain the passage of outstanding critical bills, such as Audit and Budget bills as well as other legislations that will improve the security of lives and property, power sector, health, education and other socio-economic as encapsulated in the Legislative Agenda of the 9th House of Representatives, which is currently about 60 per cent achieved.
“Participants underscored the need to put a legislative mechanism in place to ensure implementation of relevant laws passed by successive Assemblies by strengthening the House committee on legislative compliance; “Participants also stressed the need for the House and indeed the National Assembly to ensure adequate representation as stipulated by relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) on lawmaking processes as well as the attraction of developmental projects to their respective federal constituencies as a way of addressing low turnover rates of lawmakers.
“Participants further underscored the need for the leadership of the Assembly to ensure consideration of the reports of various standing and ad-hoc Committees that have concluded their legislative works and ensure immediate transmission to the Executive for implementation while ensuring that the House Committee on Legislative Compliance carries out its function. They also commended the 9th House of Representatives under the leadership of Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila on the passage of key bills such as the Petroleum Industry Act, Electoral Act, and Police Reform Act, among others. “In a bid to enhance the successes achieved so far by the 9th Assembly, participants task the leadership of the House on the need to synergize with the Senate with a view to fast-track the passage of bills passed by the House and transmitted for concurrence.”