The Spokesperson of the House and Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs addressed the Media Aides and Information personnel of the National Assembly during a two-day capacity-building workshop organized by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) on the 21st of June, 2021. In his address, He emphasized the role of media in governance and leadership, highlighting that effective understanding of the media and its use is key to the success of any legislative assembly. He said:
‘The contrasting views of the above leaders, however divergent, have a common denominator; they confirm that there is an intrinsic relationship between power and communication and that media is key to successful governance. Clearly, effective understanding and use of media is key to the success of any legislative assembly or the National Assembly as an institution for that matter.’
He further added that beyond taking the responsibility of a watchdog, the media serves an important tool in policymaking as stated in section 22 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution.
Highlighting the roles of the government to the media, he stated that the government is responsible for; Preserving press freedom, ensuring that there is a plurality of press, and understanding the role of government as a source of news as inferred by the 5 filters of media as postulated by the American Philosopher and cognitive Naom Chomsky.
‘This means that by virtue of being a routine source of news, the government (in this case, the Legislature), either actively or passively, intentionally or unintentionally, overtly or covertly, by action or inaction, is responsible for how it is perceived by the public at any given time. ‘
The Spokesperson encouraged the media aides to be efficient in their roles of image-making as they hold the mirror through which their principals are perceived, reiterating that asides from policy-making and legislative activities, the media as the fourth estate of the realm is a critical component of nation-building and must play their role in national development in an environment that is free and independent, with fair ownership spread and devoid of Biases, propaganda, fake news and media vices which are dangerous to national development.
He thanked the National Institute on Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) for organizing such a timely workshop and expressed confidence in the knowledge shared will translate into improved information management by the media personnel present.
2- DAY CAPACITY BUILDING WORKSHOP FOR MEDIA AIDES TO PRINCIPAL OFFICERS AND INFORMATION PERSONNEL OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
An address presented by Rep. Benjamin Okezie Kalu, Spokesperson of the House of Representatives and Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs on June 21, 2021.
I must thank the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Study (NILDS) for organizing this workshop as it a clear indication that the Institution understands some of the perception challenges faced by the legislature and the important roles that media aides and information personnel of the National Assembly have to play in addressing them.
In the third century B.C., Emperor Qin, founder of the first unified Chinese state saw the control of ideas as fundamental to his state building efforts. He therefore ordered all persons possessing literature and transcribed philosophical discussion to destroy them; going ahead to slaughter those who resisted.
Over 2000 years later, 3rd American president, Thomas Jefferson, famously said, “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter”.
Key figures such as Lippman and Lasswell believed that, in democracies, management and control of public attitudes and behaviours was an essential task for governments.
The contrasting views of the above leaders, however divergent, have a common denominator; they confirm that there is an intrinsic relationship between power and communication and that media is key to successful governance. Clearly, effective understanding and use of media is key to the success of any legislative assembly or the National Assembly as an institution for that matter.
Beyond its responsibility as a watchdog, as enshrined in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, the media also serves an important role in the context of government policy making and that is what I expect to be the major take home from this workshop.
Concerning its relationship with the media, it is a fundamental role of government to;
- Preserve press freedom
- Ensure that there is plurality of press
There is however, a third and very important role of government which can be inferred from the 5 Filters of Media as postulated by American philosopher and cognitive scientist, Noam Chomsky. This role is the government as a source of news. An understanding of the opportunities inherent in this role is essential to recognizing the role of effective media management in governance.
In his book, Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky argues that “the large bureaucracies of the powerful subsidize the mass media, and gain special access [to the news], by their contribution to reducing the media’s costs of acquiring… and producing, news. The large entities that provide this subsidy become ‘routine’ news sources and have privileged access to the gates where non-routine sources must struggle for access.”
This means that by virtue of being a routine source of news, the government (in this case, the Legislature), either actively or passively, intentionally or unintentionally, overtly or covertly, by action or inaction, is responsible for how it is perceived by the public at any given time.
This realization places a huge responsibility on the Legislature to improve its media management practices to favourably influence the public perception of its policies and activities in governance. Since legislators and the National Assembly rely on Media Aides and Information Personnel Staff to fulfil these responsibilities, this workshop is a welcome project and I thank NILDS so dearly for this initiative.
Media aides hold the mirror through which their principals are perceived. They are responsible for the image monitoring of their principals and are expected to be proactive in managing the information around their principals. As the role may demand, they are sometimes image makers and sometimes spin doctors. It is the duty of media aides to urgently respond to misinformation on their principals while ensuring that the achievements of their principals are effectively communicated through compelling storytelling. Media aides are vital in supporting their principals to demonstrate the ethos of transparency and accountability. Effective image management by all media aides would result in a cumulative boost of the overall image of the legislature.
On the other end of this two-way street, legislators are expected to make the office of the media aides or any of their media managers an important office with access to resources sufficient to market them. Media management does not come cheap. A good budget should be made available by both the Senate, House of Representatives, committees and legislators for the media. This is one of the ways to improve the image of the parliament which has severely been distorted by misinformation.
I expect that by the end of this workshop, attendees would leave with a better understanding of the role of effective media management in the legislative process.
Beyond policy making and legislative activities, the media as the fourth estate of the realm and as a watchdog of government, is a critical component of nation building. They are the gatekeeper of public issues and provide the checks and balances in relation to the three branches of government, as created by Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution. This is why the 9th House of Representatives continues to stand for freedom of speech, recognizes the value of the fourth estate of the realm to our democracy, especially in times like this, and remains committed to protecting free speech and independence of the media and its journalists.
On the other hand, however, the press must play their role in national development in an environment that is free and independent, with fair ownership spread. Biases, sensationalism, propaganda, fake news and media vices are inimical to the media role in national development.
This is why the workplan of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, provides for an annual capacity building for legislators on effective media management; and, as pledged by the House in Section 2.14 of the first Legislative Agenda, the Committee will continually interface and engage the House of Representatives’ Press Corp through capacity building activities to redress the seemingly negative public perception of the House’s activities by ensuring accurate and factual reportage.
Once again, I thank NILDS for this timely engagement. I trust that the quality of knowledge imparted at this workshop would very quickly translate into improved media management by the attendees to the benefit of the legislature and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.