Opinion: The Nigerian media and ethical issues

By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu

William G. Mathor, a notable sociologist, once observed that the doctoring of news by newsmen is repugnant .The current trend in the country is similar to what obtained during the “Libertarian Age” where a public officer hardly expects a fair deal from an opposition news organ.

Unfortunately, media organizations in the country have seemingly aligned themselves along interest lines. A typical case is a recent news report by one of the adjudged reputable media organizations in the country on the Abia Governorship Election Petition.

Newsmen, though human beings, are strongly expected to separate themselves from news reports. In the report entitled “ABIA Gov. election petition: Court of Appeal judgment dims PDP’s hope “, the author of the report glaringly and convincingly demonstrated partiality. It is interesting when newsmen demonstrate the ability to separate news from comments; get facts of a story and present same with as much detachment as possible, especially when handling a critical issue such as an election petition.

It is an incontrovertible fact in news reporting that the headline always agree with the body of the story. But in this instance, the author just took off and rambled through the story and finally landed in a destination that has no link with the starting point.

The story borders on the recent dismissal of two appeals filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abia State against the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the April general elections, Dr. Alex Otti, and his party by the Court of Appeal, sitting in Owerri, Imo State.

It will be recalled that the appeals originated from a decision of the Abia State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, sitting in Umuahia, to take all the preliminary objections, filed by the litigants, along with the judgment of the substantive petition.

But dissatisfied with the tribunal’s decision, the party headed for the Court of Appeal, urging it to set aside the decision of the tribunal and compel it to deliver ruling on the pending motions.

In one of the motions, PDP urged the tribunal to strike out Otti’s petition on the grounds that it was not duly signed and that the necessary fees were not paid in compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended.

The multi- million question is “does the dismissal of the appeals dim Ikpeazu and PDP’s hope in the tribunal as suggested by the author of the report?
A lawyer, Ugochukwu Amaraizu in his position maintained that the development has no atom of effect on PDP’s chances at the tribunal.

In his words:”Why did PDP and IKPEAZU go to the Appeal Court in the first place? At what stage of the matter at the Tribunal did they go to Appeal?

“It will be recalled that the said appeals were filed when the Tribunal, after hearing the Motions of all the parties including the Petitioners, decided to suspend its Ruling till the conclusion of evidence. The Tribunal immediately went into hearing by asking the Petitioners to open their case. PDP and Ikpeazu quickly ran to Court of Appeal praying them to Order the Tribunal to deliver Rulings on those Motions.

“Unfortunately, before the Appeal Court could deliver its judgment, even Ikpeazu, PDP and INEC equally opened and concluded their case. At that stage, the purpose of heading to the Appeal Court was defeated. PDP actually wanted the Appeal Court to order the Tribunal to deliver and thereafter know whether it has jurisdiction to proceed into hearing or not. But the Tribunal already concluded hearing on the day the Court of Appeal delivered its first judgment. The Appeal Court relied on paragraph 12(5) of the 2nd Schedule to the Electoral Act to hold that the Tribunal was right to suspend Ruling on those Motions till judgment.

“The judgment of the Appeal Court did not tamper with the Motions already heard at the Tribunal. The Court of Appeal did not make any comment on the propriety and/or otherwise of those Motions. It is the duty of the Tribunal to deliver its Ruling on those Motions.

“If the Appeal Court in its judgment had said that the Motions filed by PDP and Ikpeazu challenging the jurisdiction of the Tribunal were not in order, that is where it would have affected the hope of PDP. And the Court of Appeal could not have done that because those Motions were not before them. They were heard at the Tribunal.

“Appeal Court judgment has nothing to do with the Motions and the judgment of the Tribunal. It is after the Tribunal delivers its Rulings and/or judgment that any of the aggrieved parties may run back to the same Appeal Court to test whatever will be the final decision of the Tribunal. PDP’S hope is still tight. They have nothing to fear at all, “Amaraizu explained.

Balance in news reporting is as important as water is to man. But it was obviously lacking in the report. There are always two sides to a coin, and no oversight could have prompted the author not to capture PDP’s side of the story.

The newsman is expected to discharge high degree of honesty in his presentation of news by according equal priority to a story dealing with his favourite (if there should be any) and his presumed enemy so to speak.

On the other hand, news and propaganda are strange concepts. News is sacrosanct because it deals with truth and nothing but the truth, but” propaganda, according to Adams and Stratton” is the name given to any organized attempt to influence your thinking or your actions “.

The essence of that publication is to manipulate and influence the thinking of Abians, especially the gullible population, nothing more, and nothing less.

Abians are not new to the propaganda efforts of Otti his APGA co-travelers, using some media hireling. It becomes worrisome when a reputable media organization is dragged into this unholy arrangement.

The public repose a lot of confidence and trust in the press and this should not be abused. Similarly, the media owe the public the duty to educate them and educate them properly; and not deceiving them, as the bits of information people gather from the press make them aware of the world around them and build their stock of incidental knowledge which enhance their living.

For Otti and his co-travelers, no level of propaganda has won any war anywhere in the world.

Ukegbu, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Umuahia, Abia State. keshiafrica@gmail.com;keshiafrica@yahoo.com;09052861355.

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