Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, says the Nigerian media is “bullying” the government.
The minister spoke on Tuesday at a session of the Nigerian Economic Summit on the topic: ‘Fourth Estate: Holding Power Accountable’.
Mohammed described the Nigerian media as one of the most vibrant in the world, adding that the government is contending with its “endless bullying”.
“Let me start by saying that the media is indispensable in building a virile democracy, especially by holding power accountable,” he said.
“This much was recognised by the framers of our constitution, in which the role of the media is unambiguous. Section 22 of the 1999 constitution is clear on this role: ‘The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media to, at all time, be free to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people’.
“The watchdog role of the media is globally acknowledged, more so in the advanced democracies. The Nigerian press has a rich history of holding power accountable. This is not a surprise, considering that the Nigerian press is one of the most vibrant in the world. Yes, I didn’t say that as a joke! Our experience as a government confirms this assertion.
“Whereas in many countries, the press is worried about being bullied by the government, here in Nigeria, it is the government that has to contend with endless bullying by the press.”
The minister also said the media have not lived up to its expectations in recent times.
“This concern is due to a number of factors. One is bias. For example, there is a national television station here in this country that has, as one of its anchors, a partisan, a known opposition party man. Yes, the said anchor is also a journalist,” he said.
“But what kind of objectivity can we expect from such an anchor? No matter how professional he seeks to be, his partisanship will always be a blur. Can such anchor or his medium be trusted to objectively hold power accountable?
“Another is the increasing propensity of the media in Nigeria to undermine their watchdog role. Today, it is not uncommon to have media organisations hold annual award ceremonies. In most cases, their awardees are top officials of the same government they are supposed to hold accountable.
“Such awards include governor or governors of the year, minister or ministers of the year, politician or politicians of the year. Let’s even forget the fact that the criteria for giving such awards are dubious, at best. Let’s forget that some of these awardees support the awarding organisations in one form or the other, especially during the awards. To what extent can such media organisations hold their awardees, most of them top officials of government at all levels, accountable? Is this not antithetical to the watchdog role prescribed for the press in the constitution?”
Mohammed also raised concern that new media platforms have made it easy for fake news to be spread.
“Unlike the traditional media where gatekeepers ensure proper scrutiny of what goes out, most of these online papers churn out the news that is neither verified nor balanced. And the society believes this fake news or misinformation and runs with it,” he said.
“Can you be a watchdog when you are a dog of fake news and misinformation? Is it not said that he who must come to equity must come with clean hands?”
Mohammed added that the media must “engage in self-scrutiny in order to remove those things that inhibit its ability to perform its constitutional role”.