The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has said the National Assembly and legislature in other parts of the world is the most misunderstood organ of government. He said this is why the Committee on Media and Public Affairs is critical to the House for enlightening the public on its activities.
Gbajabiamila made this known in Abuja on Monday at the opening of a two-day capacity-building workshop for the committee.
He noted that the committee plays a major role in the activities of the House as it is the intermediary between the lawmakers and the public. He added that that committee’s work goes a long way in shaping the perception that the public has of the House and correcting any misinformation that is in the public sphere.
The Speaker said, “I took time out to actually look at the dictionary definition of media. If you look at that definition you will understand the importance and critical roles the House of Representatives has to play in defining or reframing the narrative of the House of Representatives, in giving direction to the legislature, in propelling policies of government and indeed, that is why many of you who practise in this field of endeavour, the institution is referred to as a 4th Estate of the Realm.
“The House of Representatives or the National Assembly in general, like every legislature in the world, is perhaps the most misunderstood institution in the world. Some of that misunderstanding is unintentional, based simply on lack of knowledge; some of that misunderstanding is intentional and sometimes it is political.
“Some of that misunderstanding, unfortunately, is pure ignorance and lack of interest in finding out the truth.
“It, therefore, falls on the media committee to begin to educate the public and change the much-needed narrative because we are not aware of the unforeseen consequences of what will happen when a small committee or an institution such as the National Assembly is misunderstood or misjudged. It has the possibility of snowballing into a larger and more dangerous effect on our democracy.”
The Speaker, therefore, said the committee should not be looked at from a narrow prism but as a committee “that is so strategic to the survival of our democracy; not the survival of the National Assembly but the survival of democracy.”
Gbajabiamila also said, “Before I continue with my speech; it has been mentioned already but it is worth mentioning again; I want to note that the Vanguard Newspaper reporter in the House of Representatives, Tordue Salem, who has been missing for some weeks now, is still yet to be found.
“I and indeed the House have been in contact with the leadership of the Press Corps since the matter came to light. I want to encourage the security agencies not to relent in their efforts to locate Tordue and bring him back to his family. Anything that forces one, torches on all of us.”
Chairman of the committee, Benjamin Kalu, in his address, noted that the 21st Century media environment is dynamic and continues to develop in novel, sometimes in unanticipated ways that have serious consequences for democratic governance.
Kalu added that the new media has radically altered the way that government institutions operate, and the way that political leaders communicate and engage citizens.
He said, “The media today disseminates a tremendous amount of political content, most of which are trivial, unreliable and polarising. The media’s watchdog role, hitherto performed by trained journalists and gatekeepers such as established mass media institutions, has evolved in the face of technological innovation.
“Today, every actor with a smartphone is able to disseminate information and frame political issues in their various spheres of influence. The press has been decentralised, with oftentimes destructive outcomes. But such is the price that we must pay for the beauty that is democracy and the exchange that we must uphold for freedom of speech- the inalienable right of every Nigerian.”
However, Kalu said, “The 9th House of Representatives continues to stand for freedom of speech, recognise 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.”