By Waheed Odusile
As the institution most likely to be involved in any form of internal security operation or low/high intensity conflict, it is good for the Nigerian Armed Forces as a body to know what role the media is expected to play in the reportage of such conflict and its own responsibility to the media toward achieving a fair reportage.
Understanding the media
The media thrive on information and whoever provides that information, that is the source, is the reporter’s friend. The reporter does not have a permanent friend or enemy whoever it is that gives him that information to write his report (story) is his friend, and if he/she is such a reliable source, could be his friend for life, even outside the call of journalism.
In collecting the information, the reporter will have to crosscheck for its accuracy and fulfill all the other demands of the ethics of the profession, including balance and fairness. There are times he has to ascertain the motive of the source of the information first to know whether to believe or not.
If he suspects the motive of the source, he may need to crosscheck over and over again with other sources who may know before filing his report.
He needs to do this to convince himself that the report he is about sending to his editor is correct, accurate, truthful and fair. He has to convince himself that the story is true, because his editor relies on him, and whatever report he filed would be believed by the editor, any other report to the contrary will be circumspected by the editor.
The reporter, whether print or broadcast, works with deadline, he has to send the report on time, especially in this era of breaking news. He doesn’t have to wait for the time allotted to the news. What this means is that you must take the peculiarities of the medium into consideration when dealing with a journalist.
A reporter wants the information immediately, even the emergence of online publication means that he also needs to file in his report immediately to meet the deadline. In reality, to both the print and broadcast reporter, time is of the essence.
How to work with the media
Knowing how to work with the media to get your message across is also important in getting to achieve your goal. In a situation of low intensity conflict, insurgency or internal security challenges as we currently have in Nigeria with the Boko Haram situation, members of the Nigerian armed forces especially those at the theatre of operation need to know how to work with the media, including the much maligned social media to get the message across to the society.
Making the information clear and unambiguous and on time to the reporter, is very essential to achieving your goal. There is no point denying the obvious. For example, it makes no sense denying there was no casualty in an explosion where corpses of the dead litter the area or where the number of the injured clearly overwhelms the medical facilities.
You can make the best of a bad situation by coming out clean, explain how and why it happened, in spite of your best efforts, and seek the understanding of the media. If the military fails to give journalists the correct and accurate information, they will get it elsewhere and it might not help the cause. Try to cultivate the reporter so as to have his ears always.
Integrating the media into the fighting forces could also be a way of getting the best out of the media in the coverage/ reportage of conflicts. Made famous by the Allied Forces in the first Iraqi war, embedded journalism as the practice was later to be known, gave western media first hand access to the theatre of operation during the war and afforded them the opportunity of reporting the conflict very well and bringing it vividly to the home of everybody around the world.
This afforded the audience back home to know/see and appreciate the efforts being made by their soldiers to bring the conflict to a quick end. It not only boosted the image and prestige of the military, it also gave them a large say/influence in policies back home.
Nigeria tried it with ECOMOG during the Liberian civil war, but unfortunately the Nigerian media lost some of the reporters that were so embedded, particularly Messrs Kris Imodibe and Tayo Awotusin of The Guardian and Champion newspapers respectively.
May their souls rest in perfect peace. But the appetite for embedded journalism has not waned and even some journalists are embedded by the military in the current fight against the Boko Haram insurgency.
Conflict sensitive journalism/peace journalism
One of the cardinal principles of peace journalism is how media professionals can use the media pro-actively to help the complex process of conflict management and transformation to peaceful co-existence, and that while examining the ethical issues involved in reporting conflict, how can the media best play a constructive role in conflict and Post Conflict Scenarios?
Journalists should develop a thorough understanding of conflicts and convey that understanding to their audiences and readers in a way that reflects the truth of the conflicts in all their complexities.
Similarly they should identify common ground, examine and evaluate any effort made at resolving such conflicts as well as the dynamics at play, and in doing so, they should know that their audiences and readers need to be provided with a foundation upon which to make informed judgments about the parties involved and in the process help to deescalate tension and help the government in taking meaningful decisions. Journalists should strive at all times to give accurate representation of the causes of conflicts whenever and where ever they occur.
Media professionals must brace up for the challenges ahead, especially since they are expected to participate in the process of social reconstruction and democratization in the aftermath of any conflict by providing a positive and participatory forum for the exchange of ideas, democracy and nation building.
Any attempt to deviate from the ethics of the profession will not augur well for the nation. Since the role of the media in Nigeria’s emerging democracy is central, media professionals must maintain the highest possible standards in their practice.
Peace building is a continuous exercise needing “constant investment, re-investment and counter-investment”. Journalists must guard against hate journalism and rather embark on development journalism.
The role of the media in peace promotion or conflict escalation has been heightened by a number of factors which include ownership and funding, editorial policy and the regulatory agencies. We recommend to participants peace journalism as an instrument to promote peace and reduce conflict to the barest minimum.
The military needs to partner with the media in giving out information that promotes peace. The media in managing conflicts have a vital role to play in nation building, because they are veritable instruments and are therefore central to any input-output functions of any political system.
The constraints of the media in this regard include, lack of conducive environment, mass poverty, and lack of adequate training and anti-media laws.
The FBI definition of terrorism says that “terrorism is the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce government, the civilian population, or any segment therefore, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
Terrorism therefore essentially tries to negate the existence of political power.
What do terrorists want from journalists?
With their objectives not often clearly spelt out, terrorists demand of journalists to publish their side of the conflict without question. In most cases these are mere propaganda. They want their atrocities broadcast/published just to strike fear into the populace and perhaps force the hands of government into either negotiating or surrendering.
This is often a difficult proposition for the journalists because it runs counter to the provisions and demands of the ethics of the journalism profession but he nonetheless has to navigate this treacherous terrain to get his story across. At times it results in fatal consequences.
What does the government want from journalists?
To the government, the journalists should blackout whatever is coming from the other side or at best give it a minor mention. But how do you report a large terrorist attack that claimed hundreds of lives in a minor way?
Definitely, this is not possible or even realistic. So the reporter is between the devil and the blue sea. To be “patriotic” by siding with government or be fair to both sides, by bringing the truth to the public, not minding whose ox is gored, in accordance with the ethics of the profession and the code of practice.
This is a tricky terrain and the reporter has to rely on his experience, training, sense of patriotism and dictates of the ethics of his profession to know what to write/publish and what to leave out. Both the government and the terrorists are competing for his attention understanding and support. In the face of all these, journalists need protection
Protecting journalists in a dangerous and changing world
Journalists are exposed to more danger in violent armed conflict than in peace and stable situations. Threats and attacks against the media are aimed at inducing fear and self censorship. These are the basic strategies of authoritarian regimes and not democracies like in most African countries.
The recourse sometimes to fierce and lethal counter reactions to reports by journalists who would challenge the status quo or reveal discomfiting truths would not augur well for democracy. The systematic, flagrant and widespread violations of international law in situations of armed conflict constitutes a threat to peace and security, especially the deliberate targeting of journalists, media personnel and associated personnel which is a violation of international law.
Governments must remove obstacles to journalism. They must not restrict unnecessarily, the freedom of movement of journalists or compromise the right of news media to gather, produce and disseminate information in secure and safe conditions.
People must keep their hands off media. Everyone should respect the physical integrity of journalists and media staff at work. Physical interference with filming or other journalistic work must be prohibited. It should be made a point of duty to include training on safety and security in the curricular of Schools of Journalism in the country.
Journalists who are practicing must equally receive training and retraining on safety and security as a deliberate policy if we desire to reduce the prevalent rate of impunity against media professionals and media equipment.
The media as the conscience of the nation cannot be neglected, abused or frustrated. It is therefore very important to call for a comprehensive welfare package for journalists which should be enshrined in well negotiated conditions of service that will include a comprehensive insurance cover.
The media should help prevent the circulation and broadcasting of propaganda, inflammatory materials, hate materials and damaging rumour, which can destroy communities and prevent the building of trust.
Journalists are advised to give accurate and unbiased representation of facts in a conflict situation, just as they are expected to participate in the process of social reconstruction and democratization in the aftermath of any conflict.
We advocate for the promotion of community/ rural media, so that more people will have access to media information. Timeliness should not be an excuse for unbalanced report as journalists should ensure that they uphold truth, justice, objectivity and accuracy in their reportage. Irrespective of media ownership, journalists must always uphold and abide by the ethics of the profession.
Odusile is the National President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).