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29.05.2019 Opinion

Role Of The Media In Elections

By Dr. John Idumange
Role Of The Media In Elections
MAY 29, 2019 OPINION

“Good journalism cost money yet it is only good journalism that can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy and a transparent government”

Introduction:
The Social Responsibility theory posits that apart from the traditional role to informing, educating and entertaining the citizens, the media should protect the public interest by exposing the grey areas in government, policies and programmes. This implies that media has certain obligations to society. It must show truth, accuracy, objectivity and balance in reporting issues.

The media has been referred to as “The Fourth Estate” with the important function of being the news media – “the press” – and serving as the eyes and ears of the public. The traditional print and media reporting has been viewed over time as the way to insure the public gets the real scoop on the functioning of government and viewpoints of political candidate.

A free press serves four essential purposes:
Holding government leaders accountable to the people.

Publicizing issues that need attention. Educating citizens so they can make informed decisions, and Connecting people with each other in civil society.

Free media plays an important role in influencing political discourse during elections. When free and balanced, traditional media foster transparency and the determination of important electoral information. The rise of new media provides further opportunities for participatory citizens’ democracy.

Journalists are increasingly turning to social media platforms to follow election news and developments. Referred to as “The Fifth Estate,” this form of “news” media is a socio- cultural reference to groupings of outlier viewpoints in contemporary society, and is most associated with bloggers, journalists publishing in non-mainstream media outlets, and the social media. The new media is a manifestation of the libertarian school of journalism.

Ethics of Reporting Elections
(1) Objectivity: The Social Media constitutes a very dynamic aspect of the mass media. Objectivity means to report an event, or story based on facts and without bias. And without fear or favour. Social Media Practitioners must be objective to avoid libel and its attendant legal challenges. (Okonjo Iweala & Pointblank N1billion Law suit

(2) Strategy: Social Media is a dynamic enterprise that requires investigation, clarity, strategy. Every Social Media Practitioner should be trained to acquire investigation capabilities, research skills, technology of the media and a fairly good knowledge of how governmental institutions work. Social Media actors should be able to define the purpose of posting a story or a report, or publishing news/opinion. Therefore defining the purpose is very critical to social media practice.

(3) Ethical Considerations: Journalism at all levels and in all climes must take account of some ethical issues. Ethical commitment is necessary for all well-crafted and well-researched and responsible journalism. This is why Social Media Practitioners should avoid the use of vulgar languages; the dissemination of obscenity such as pornographic materials on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Google plus, and any other Social media Practitioner should not post or published pictures of people with sexually provocative dresses; nude pictures or sex related videos. Snooping, plagiarism or divulging of official secrets and pornography are inimical to the social media practice.

(4) Genuineness: Communication is like pouring out ones inner intentions. Social Media Practitioners and bloggers always speak their mind outline in matters of socio-economic and political importance. Some comments are usually made without verification, as some verses are borne out of political idiosyncrasies. This has becomes a huge challenge because there are no standard guidelines for bloggers and soon it degenerates into errors not consistent with the principles of accuracy, verifiability and transparency.

(5) Rumours & Unconfirmed Reports: At no platform does rumour and unconfirmed reports spread like wild fire as in the Social Media. On the social media platform, spread puts pressure on bloggers to publish their stories, most often with half-truths, and outright falsehood. False reports circulate the main media with incredible speed via Twitter, YouTube, Face book, blogs and cell phones. Even major news organizations too often pick up rumours online and spread them with amazing speed. Distorted reports and rumours causes panic, accidents and ultimately chaos. This is why Social Media actors should be meticulous. Even the mainstream media engages in entrepreneurial journalism tend to peddle rumours to score political points.

(6) Ethics of Images: With sophisticated technology such as Photoshop, some bloggers manipulate images such as photographs, video clips via wireless technology. Social media actors and bloggers in the cyber space should be weary of capturing, manipulating or transmitting such materials. There are traditional principles of photojournalism that forbids the indiscriminate use of photos, images and videos. The deliberate manipulation of image with a view to bringing a person to disrepute is a crime and actionable in a court of law. This should be avoided.

(7) Anonymity: Anonymity is accepted more readily online than in mainstream news media. Newspapers usually require the writers of letters to the editor to identify themselves. Codes of mainstream media ethics caution journalists to use anonymous sources sparingly and only if certain rules are followed. Many commentaries and “chat” areas do not require anonymity. Online users resist demands from website and blogs to register and identify them. Mainstream media contradict themselves when they allow anonymity online but refuse anonymity in their newspapers and broadcast programs.

(8) Truth and Fairness: Social media comments on essays and postings should meet the same standards of fairness, accuracy and attribution that you apply to your on-air or digital platforms. Information gleaned online should be confirmed just as you must confirm scanner traffic or phone tips before reporting them. If you cannot independently confirm critical information, reveal your sources.

(9) Accountability & Transparency: We should not write anonymously or use an avatar or username that cloaks your real identity on newsroom or personal websites. You are responsible for everything you say. Commenting or blogging anonymously compromises this core principle of objectivity. We need to be careful when registering for social network sites. Pay attention to how the public may interpret Facebook information that describes your relationship status, age, sexual preference and political or religious views.

(10) Do not report at the Polling Unit
The rise of new media has complicated the political media system. Conventional media consisting of established mass media institutions that predate the Internet, such as newspapers, radio shows, and television news programmes, coexist with new media that are the outgrowth of technological innovation. While legacy media maintain relatively stable formats, the litany of new media, which includes websites, blogs, facebook, video-sharing platforms, digital apps, and social media, are continually expanding in innovative ways.

Mass media designed to deliver general interest news to broad audiences have been joined by niche sources that narrowcast to discrete users (Stroud, 2011). New media can relay information directly to individuals without the intervention of editorial or institutional gatekeepers, which are intrinsic to conventional forms.

Watchdog Press or Politicians’ Mouthpiece
The notion of the press as a political watchdog casts the media as a guardian of the public interest. The watchdog press provides a check on government abuses by supplying citizens with information and forcing government transparency. Public support for the media’s watchdog role is substantial, with a Pew Research Center study finding that 70% of Americans believe that press reporting can “prevent leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done” (Chinni and Bronston, 2017).

New media have enhanced the capacity of reporters to fulfill their watchdog role, even in an era of dwindling resources for investigative journalism. Information can be shared readily through formal media sources, as local news outlets can pass information about breaking events to national organizations. News also can be documented and shared by citizens through social networks.

The media act as a mouthpiece for political leaders by publicizing their words and actions even when their news value is questionable.

Rules for reporting during an election
1. Do not publish, broadcast or transmit election survey results on Election Day if those results have not previously been made available to the public. This rule also applies to websites, email and social media.

2. Cameras are not allowed in voting locations to ensure the secrecy of the vote.

3. Electronic communications devices, including cell phones, are not allowed inside voting locations without prior permission from the returning officer, or unless being used to show proof of identification or as an accessibility device.

4. Media can film inside a voting location while a candidate is voting. Candidates must make arrangements for the media event in advance, with the returning officer. Please note, no one else may vote while media is present.

5. Media are also allowed at returning offices and satellite offices after polls close on Election Day.

6. Please contact the returning officer to make arrangements.

7. Media can request the following information from returning officers after the close of polls:

Numbers of polling locations reporting
Number of votes cast for each candidate
Cumulative totals
Media may not post information to social media while in the voting location. Please remember that results reported on election night are unofficial.

1. Think citizen. Covering an election is much more than reporting on candidates and their issues. Citizen’s issues matter most. Find out voters’ top concerns, then send their questions to the political parties to address. The reverse shouldn’t happen with only candidates’ issues being presented. Citizens are the crucial players in elections: they vote.

2. Know the election laws. They are the road map for how parties can form, who can run for office, what boundaries make up electoral districts and how election violations will be handled.

3. Follow the money. Track how the election is being funded, where candidates and parties are getting their support and whether election laws on party and candidate financing are being followed.

4. Study voter registration procedures. Know how lists of registered voters are being drawn up and if voters left off can get on the list with proper identification. Compare procedures to international standards. Investigate whether restrictions have been placed because of a citizen’s gender, race, family or religion, and whether a fee is required to register.

5. Fact check everything. In campaigns, candidates and parties spew all kinds of statistics. Take nothing at face value; check every statement. Develop a contact list of trusted experts and institutions early in the game - domestic and international -- with whom to check candidate and party assertions.

6. Treat polls with caution. Public opinion polls are a staple of campaign coverage, but reporters must ask many questions when reporting on surveys, including: who commissioned and paid for the survey, what polling group did it, when and how was it conducted, how many and who were surveyed, what was asked and what is the polling margin of error? Reporters should also question news value and ask whether all responses are included and if the new results are different from other polls.

7. Examine the ballot: Is it simple to understand? Do voters who cannot read have ballots with party logos or candidate pictures to help them vote? Show the ballot days or even weeks before the election so voters will be familiar with it.

8. Be especially alert on Election Day: Talk to citizens waiting to vote or coming from polling stations. Ask if they were pressured to vote a certain way. Question whether there are enough ballots, ballot boxes and officials to observe the voting and ballot counting. Look for sealed voting boxes, unscreened voting booths, and people with valid voting papers being turned away. Know how ballots are being tallied and transported and if this is being monitored by nonpartisan election monitors. If voting projections are made, question by whom they are done and how.

9. Start early. Don’t wait until the campaign period to plan election coverage. Much research and reporting can be done in advance of the frenzied campaign period. Analyze and compare parties’ platforms, start candidates’ profiles, begin citizen surveys of key issues and plan for questionnaires on those issues to go to candidates. Map out story schedules for running election features, plan for election specials or sections, and decide who will cover what and whom.

Elections are the centerpiece of democracy. Through voting, people can voice their opinions, express their hopes and aspirations, discipline their leaders, and ultimately control their nation's destiny. According to democratic theory, elections are the public's source of power, but in order to use its muscle effectively it has to know where candidates and parties stand on public policy issues. Besides the people themselves, two groups have major responsibilities in this regard.

This role is perhaps the media's major challenge. All news is important, but campaign coverage is crucial because of its capacity to empower the electorate. What voters know about campaigns comes to them almost entirely secondhand from newspapers, television, and magazines. In reporting on campaigns, the news media bring their usual procedures and tendencies to the campaign trail.

Safety of Journalists on Election Day
1. Know the Election laws
2. Study Voters registration Procedure
3. Fact-Check everything.
4. Treat Polls with Caution
5. Start Early
6. Examine the ballot
7. Be vigilant in crowed areas
8. Do not cluster
9. Dress responsibly but do not adorn any political attire

10. Do not buy drinks or snacks around polling stations

2. Situational Awareness: know your environment
2, Secure Apps such as location and use WhatsApp for secure communication

3. Drop all your personal worries and concentrate on the job of reporting

4. Use local laws or your judgment in deciding whether to make your press card visible or not. Use handkerchiefs to cover your face.

5. Use a brown tape on your camera’s and other electronic devices to make them look older. This will prevent thieves during a period of unrest.

6. Stress Management: Election coverage is a rigorous job. Journalists should do stress management exercise. Sleep and eat well.

7. Do not be too friendly with security people. Remain neutral and avoid confrontations. Watch conflicts from aside. If you find youself in the middle of a conflict, do not run, move away.

8. Install SOS or any type of emergency communication. Put emergency contacts on speed dial. You can memorize some security numbers.

9. Solidarity: Never travel alone, always inform your colleagues and family before traveling

Election Coverage: The Social Media Angle
McLuhan (1948) visualized that the world would be a global village via the use of informatics. In the early 1960s, McLuhan wrote that the visual, individualistic print culture would soon be brought to an end by what he called “electronic interdependence”: when electronic media replace visual culture with aural/oral culture. In this new age, humankind will move from individualism and fragmentation to a collective identity, McLuhan’s coinage for this new social organization is the global village.

1. Everyone can be a journalist and there are no gate keepers

2. It democratizes the playing field of journalism. As citizen journalism fills the gaps of mainstream media, it attracts more eyes and ears of the community.

3. There is speed and spread in the dissemination of information.

4. Helps to cover the hyper-local news that concerns people’s lives, which mainstream journalism, have no resources to cover.

5. Citizen journalism covers areas which the traditional media misses. This is captured in the blogs, facebook pages and Youtube, instagram, whereas the mainstream press kept quiet over it.

6. It is less expensive: Most organizations are now constrained by dearth of financial resources to close their news bureaus and cut back on the number of staff. The implication is that news coverage on all fronts has suffered tremendous set-back and this is where citizen journalism provides succour by filling the gap created by the mainstream.

(1) REACH: Reaching a global audience
(2) ACCESSIBILITY: Social media tools are generally available to the public at little or no cost.

(3) USABILITY: Anyone can use the social media. This is why the social media is subject to horrendous abuses.

(4) IMMEDIACY: The time lag between communications produced by industrial media take days, weeks, or even months compared to social media, which is capable of instant responses; only the participants determine any delay in response.

(5) PERMANENCE: Conventional media, once created, cannot be altered (once a magazine article is printed and distributed changes cannot be made to that same article) whereas social media can be altered almost anytime by comments or editing.

With the signing into law of the freedom of Information, Act on May 28, 2011, we are now faced with the challenge of deploying the new media platform for effective management and dissemination of information. In fact, there is so much information in the cyber space that our basic challenge now is how to manage it to sustain good governance.

References:
Eric Leake (2012): The Open Gates of the Fourth Estate; Civil Literacy Meets Citizen Journalism http://compositional forum.com/issues/25/civic Literacy-Citizen Journalism. Php

Freedom of Information Act, 2010.
Glaser, M. (2004). “The New Voices: Hyperlocal Citizen Media site want you (to write) November 17th 2004. OnlineJournalism Review.

Thomas Patterson, The Mass Media Election (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1980) p. 119. Go back

Ibid., p. 22 Go back
See, for example, Michael Robinson and Margaret Sheehan, Over the Wire and on TV (New York: Russell

Sage, 1983) pp. 147-48. Go back
Doris Graber, Processing The News 2nd ed. (New York: Longman, 1988) p. 78; and Marjorie Randon

Hershey, "The Campaign and the Media," in The Election of 1988, edited by Gerald Pomper (Chatham,

New Jersey: Chatham House, 1988) pp. 96-100. Go back

Alfred B. DelBello, "Campaign Reporting," New York Times, March 22, 1984, p.23. Go back

Thomas Patterson and Richard Davis, "The Media Campaign" in The Election of 1984 ed. by Michael

Nelson (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1985) p. 124.

Also see S. Robert Lichter, Stanley
Rothman, and Linda S. Lichter, The Media Elite (Bethesda, Maryland: Adler and Adler, 1986) p. 111. Go back.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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