Here is a tweet from the Ekiti State government handle:
— Govt. of Ekiti State (@ekitistategov) February 8, 2014
I am an indigene of Ekiti State. I am also a blogger (obviously). However, I am not for or against any political party. I am pretty much convinced that both PDP and APC are birds of the same feathers. I have never had any business dealings or connections with the Ekiti State Government. However, I am not averse to doing business with any government in the country. Having made my disclaimer, please read on for my thoughts on this initiative by the Ekiti State government.
1. Government is waking up to the power of social media
For far too long, we users have complained that government at all levels are not engaging with citizens, and especially with those on social media. In the past, the online community has been ignored or vilified by government. Usually, a press conference would be called, or a TV documentary run. This time, a government has recognised the power of bloggers and social media and have created an opportunity to engage. This is a good move. We can expect more state governments to follow suit. The use of technology is taking its place even in governance.
2. The question of propaganda
Some people are rightly bothered that such a forum is just another avenue to push government propaganda. Yes; that is likely so. But here is how it works. Invited bloggers are under obligation to report exactly what they see and hear – even if it is propaganda. That is the essence of reporting. However, you will find that bloggers who so wish will also write editorials and opinion pieces about the forum – and in this case will raise critical issues and questions.
Think of a newspaper. The news crew will attend a state function and report it as news – no opinion involved. Yet, the same newspaper will publish an editorial on the topic. An editorial is an article expressing the editor’s opinion on a topical issue. There is a difference between reporting news and writing an editorial or opinion piece. Bloggers invited to a forum like this should go and report as expected. Then, they can follow up with an editorial, commenting on issues as they deem fit.
3. The question of payment
I have no idea whether or not the invited individuals were paid for the exercise, but I would hope that they were! People expecting bloggers not to be paid are odd. None of them work for their employer or clients for free. If a company or government wants to pull me out of my everyday schedule to cover an event for them, they very well should have a cheque ready for me – if only to cover my expenses, or even better, full remuneration. I will report what I see and hear at the event without inserting my own opinion about it. Where necessary, I can do a follow-up opinion piece. No conflict of interests at all. Business is business.
4. The question of objectivity
This is related to item number 3 above. When someone is hosting you and maybe also paying you, there is the question of how objective you can be. This is where people who understand business have no problems. They can separate issues. As mentioned above, news reporting is different from writing opinion. Separate the two and there are no issues.
As a blogger, I have been paid to cover events (and even promote certain products) by very high profile brands within the fields of technology, banking, and others – and I did just what I was paid to do. Yet, when I had to review their products, that didn’t stop me from highlighting both the strengths and weaknesses of those products. My reviews have remained objective within the limits of human error. All in a day’s work. No products or services are 100% fine. No governments are too. Even the US president and government get criticised. No biggie.
Already, going through tweets by bloggers present at the Ekiti State parley, I have read quite a number of complaints about happenings. For example, Governor Fayemi has been heavily criticised for not showing up for hours at today’s session. Paid or not, some people are staying objective.
Update: The governor didn’t get away with his late-coming!
— Abubakar Sidiq Usman (@abusidiqu) February 8, 2014
5. The question of ethics
Hosting a bloggers’ forum is no more unethical than calling a press conference or having a TV media chat. It is the same thing. Only the platform is different. There is nothing unethical about the Ekiti State Government hosting a social media or bloggers forum.
I am of the opinion that the social media and bloggers forum is a good move in the right direction. How can citizens take advantage of it? If you have questions that you would like to have the governor answer and some bloggers you know are in attendance, tweet at them to ask. Use the opportunity. Demand answers to questions. Don’t just complain. If one blogger does not respond to your prompting, try another. Eventually, you will know which bloggers you can count on to represent you.
Whatever you do, please engage! Don’t beef or grumble. Those have never achieved anything. We make things happen when we embrace opportunities put at our disposal. If you have complaints about how some things have been handled in Ekiti State – roads, water, security, health, education – tweet at your favourite blogger who is there, use the appropriate hashtag, and copy the Ekiti State government handle if possible. Just engage and push for good things.
I am hoping to see other state governments, and even the federal government, copy (and maybe modify) this. We embraced technology and demanded for engagement. Now, what we the citizens have to do is take advantage of it.