It has been established that there is a very strong relationship between media performance and the conduct and vibrancy of politics and political activities in democracies. It is often said that in democracies, “the media have a complex relationship with sources of power and the political system” (McQuail, 2005). Both politics and the media have the singular aim of promoting the individual and collective interests of the general society.
Thus, while politics serves as a route and means of uplifting the society through good governance, protection and advancement of people’s rights, and the creation of an enabling environment for democracy to thrive; the media on their part operate within the prevailing environment to engage in the public sphere thereby expanding the frontiers of freedom and enabling the citizens to have access to quality information that will influence their judgments and decisions for sustainable democracy. Stated differently, the media in a democratic context “distribute entitlements to speak and to be heard”, even if unevenly (Keane, 1993).
From the foregoing, it is clear that the existence of a vibrant media system is quite fundamental to the enthronement and sustenance of a credible democratic process in a setting like Nigeria. As one scholar had argued:
A responsible nationwide democratic system requires a media system which is coterminous with it and which can generate discussion of issues of public concern in a way which does not favour partisan interests; whether these be the interests of particular political parties, the interests of media bosses or media professionals (Boyd Barrett, 2001).
In Nigeria, the performance of the mass media in the democratic process at various phases of our history has been well documented (Omu, 1978; Ogbondah, 1994; Yusuf, 2001 and Nwosu, 2003). Arguably, the mass media have remained in the forefront in the struggle to promote the rights of our people through a credible democratization process. After all, the media too find it quite difficult to operate in a non democratic environment. However, this is not to suggest that the media have been perfect in all circumstances. They have been severely criticized for complicity in truncating and subverting the democratic process at various times. For instance, Enahoro once observed that “whoever and whatever ruined the first republic did so with the active connivance and collaboration of the greater part of the Nigerian press”. Similarly, James (1984) had decried the high degree of professional rascality exhibited by the media during the second republic as manifested through “character assassination, false accusations, blackmail and misrepresentation of facts ….. to the extent that facts were muzzled and whole media organs became megaphones and machineries of propaganda to political parties and vested interests to the extent that the unity of this country was shaken to its very foundation”. Several other writers and scholars have expressed similar opinions (Pate, 2003; and Akinfeleye, 2004).
However, irrespective of such hard assessments, the basis of our argument is that the media are part as well as facilitators of the public sphere described as the “distinctive discursive space within which individuals combine to assume the role of a politically powerful force “(Ernst, 1998). It is our contention in this paper that the Nigerian media, particularly the broadcasting channels with their advantages of reach, cost, timeliness, and acceptability have played and will continue to perform critical functions in the promotion of a sustainable democratic system in the country. Thus, in this presentation, we shall examine the issues involved, some of the challenges and the way forward in the relationship between the broadcast media and the strengthening of a viable democracy in Nigeria.
Democracy as a system of government thrives on constitutionality, citizens’ participation, respect for the rule of law, delivery of services and the advancement and protection of individual and collective freedom. These elements are the fundamental pillars that differentiate democracy from other forms of governance. Indeed, the “essence of democracy is that citizens must be able to ventilate their views through unrestrained debates and that there should be active citizens’ participation in governance as well as unrestricted communication between the government and the governed” (IDEA, 2001).
Here in Nigeria, we have embraced the democratic option for the greater development of our people and nation. With it came the enthronement of the democratic process characterized by the existence of the three arms of government, regular elections, increased citizen’s participation in public affairs, founding of democratic structures like political parties and an active civil society sector, among others. However, this is not to suggest that the present democratic experimentation is totally healthy. Many of us believe that the system can do better in terms of enlarging citizen’s participation in governance and the respect for individual and collective rights through service delivery, free and fair elections, accountability and respect for due process.
Perhaps, the deficits experienced in our young democratic system can be attributed to two separate but inextricably linked factors. These are the prolonged militarization of the polity and the poor and low level of the people’s political education and consciousness.
For the period Nigerians lived under military rule, the psyche of the political elite and the general population has been infected with the militarist and regimented culture of arbitrariness characterized by executive fiat, absence of accountability and wanton disregard for the will of the people. Equally, the general population tended to be subdued into silence, resignation and apathy, appearing disabled to query the unacceptable state of affairs in some quarters within the system. Negative acts of political misbehaviors eloquently manifested in electoral malpractices, tyrannical attitudes, bad governance, disregard for the rule of law, massive stealing of public resources, increased deprivations, personal appropriation of state power, and gross ineptitude by elected officials seem to combine with debilitating poverty to overwhelm the general population that they can do nothing other than to raise their hands in supplication to the Almighty Allah for solution. Indeed, the democratic space is increasingly being demonized by its immediate beneficiaries, the politicians.
In the present situation, what should be the role of the broadcast media to ensure that the democratic ship sails through the rough seas successfully?
THE BROADCAST MEDIA IN OUR DEMOCRACY
The driving force of the democratic engine is vibrant politicking based on principles, plurality of ideas, electoral discipline, diversity of audiences and respect for law and order. Thus, one can safely say that politics is the heartbeat of democracy. Simply put, politics is about power--the struggle to possess, use and retain same. It affects everyone and everything in the society.
On the other hand, the broadcast media are the channels of mass communication like radio and television that are actively engaged in the gathering, analyzing and disseminating issues of and about politics. Politics is very important in the lives of the people and the democratic process. Because of this centrality, the media justifiably focus their attention, in fact accord high priority on the government and those in it. In the process, the media are partly expected to expose and criticize bureaucratic incompetence, dictatorial tendencies and abuse of power among officials. In the words of Curran and Seaton (1994), the media become an agency through which citizens reconstitute themselves to exercise informal supervision over the state.
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