Posted by Foster Obi, Lagos | 31 January 2019 | 1,051 times
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has highlighted the critical importance of enlightened collaboration between the media and the military to create a conducive atmosphere for effective national security.
In a seminar organised by the rights group with the theme ‘Urgency of the now for Responsible Security Reporting by Nigerian Media’, where the military and the media were adequately represented, HURIWA canvassed partnership between the two critical bodies for responsible security reporting.
HURIWA National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, underscored the timeliness of the seminar and why it has become more than necessary for the media and the military to have a rapport to uphold the security of the country.
One of the keynote speakers and Executive Head of the Editorial Board of the Guardian Newspapers, Mr Martins Oloja, who praised HURIWA for the interactive session, joined in the call for collaboration between the two arms that have hitherto lived in suspicion.
His paper was quite lengthy but incisive.
In his critique of a seminar paper on ‘Conflict Reporting’ by Dr. Jide Jimoh of the Lagos State University, Oloja noted that there is a long history of distrust between the media and successive governments in Nigeria, adding that a measure of adversarial relationship between the media and government can be gauged by accusations of bias, mischief, sensationalism, lack of objectivity and general irresponsibility levelled against the media by various government officials during the military and civilian governments.
Citing a constantly used illustration of the colour of the suspected distrust, he noted that few months into his appointment as the National Security Adviser (NSA) to President Goodluck Jonathan, Col. Dasuki Sambo (rtd.), commented on the role of the Nigerian press in the several violent conflicts ravaging Nigeria in his time:
“My experience with the media has so far not been a good one… In most of the places I visit, the media have been one of the problems and it is all this idea of sensational journalism that everybody wants to publish a story that is not necessarily a story, to make good headlines.”
Dr. Jimoh, he said, also noted that similar statements could be found in pronouncements of other government officials from the colonial administration to the current Fourth Republic.
Oloja said that the media see themselves as doing a professional job by reporting what government officials and security authorities would like to hide “and classical definition of news is this: what somebody, somewhere is trying to hide, the rest is advertising
“Interestingly, civil society and some prominent members of the public also sometimes blame the Nigerian media for unprofessional conducts. Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah in an interview with Nigerian Tribune noted that, “the media are constantly misleading people about Christians bombing churches or Muslims bombing mosques. The denomination of the person who is involved in a crime is not important,” Oloja highlighted.
“Despite all these challenges, it has been difficult to get many stakeholders in the developing world to understand that the press/ the news media is actually the fourth arm of government. That is why it is called the Fourth Estate of the Realm. Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution legalise that. Other powers need to know that the mass media practitioners do not need to have constituency offices and agencies or executive, judicial or legislative bodies as other arms before recognising the role of the press as a constitutional one,” the Executive Editor of The Guardian, said.
“(The) recent strain between a section of the press and military authorities arising from the reportage of military operations in the North East in the last few weeks has necessitated another debate of the age-long intricate relationship between press freedom and state security. Specifically, it is quite relevant for today’s event. Which triggers a critical question: will there be an end to this despite so many seminal papers on conflict reporting?
“The need for this evaluation rests on the truism that development and peace can only take place when there is security, just as there can be no freedom where there is no state.
“Let’s face it, events such as reported clampdown on and arrest of suspected members of the Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), harassment of and destruction of property belonging to members of the Abia State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) as well as reports from Amnesty International indicting the Nigerian Army of suppression of freedom and human rights violation, provide the context for critical appraisal of this complex relationship.
“As human rights watchers have observed, the tension playing out in Nigeria is consistent with a growing global trend by state authorities to use anti-terrorism laws to punish journalists and gag the press under the pretext of state security. According to a 2012 Human Rights Watch report, since the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States, 144 out of the 195 countries in the world have passed new counter-terrorism laws; laws which permit searches, arrests and detentions without warrants. For Nigeria, which has also passed and amended the anti-terrorism law, this is a dangerous addition to the Official Secret Act of 1962, which forbids public disclosure of classified information or any information prejudicial to the security of the country.
“Sadly, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA 2011) does not in any way repeal the Official Secrets Act provision in the 2004 National Security Act.
“And so, since the present democratic dispensation, both the Official Secrets Act and other State Security Laws have been used to crack down on journalists, invade settlements and violate the rights of people. An instance to recall is former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s infamous invasion of Odi in Bayelsa State and Zaki-Biam in Benue State as well as the former president’s indiscriminate public humiliation of perceived critics.
“The brazen impunity with which public office holders treat subordinates and citizens, and the manner state governors have selectively construed state security with the intention of emasculating perceived adversaries, are all odious manifestations of the abuse of state security laws. All these clearly contravene the right to freedom of expression and the press as stipulated in Section 22 of the Constitution.
“When facts on the ground conflict with interpretations provided by military intelligence, especially in an age when social responsibility of the press has been markedly challenged by the emergence of the social media, it becomes difficult to conceal even inconvenient truth,” Oloja noted
“Authorities everywhere should note that it is even morally despicable for journalists who should cover events in public interest to cover up such state of affairs.
“How can a journalist understand what state security means when there are varied interpretations to mismanaged security issues in the country? This is where synergy between the military and the press comes in. Since information is not only a fabric of human existence but also a necessity for mankind to be free and self-governing, the military should endeavour to give information that should lead to trust building, provision of peace and rest of mind,” the top journalist stated.
Canvassing the power of relationship building beyond periodic briefings, Oloja said that aside from periodic sessions with editors and senior managers of public information, embedding journalists into military beats and operations should be greatly encouraged. This is a normal global best practice to build relationships and trust in operations.
“Professionally, this would forge mutually benefiting discussions about how to recalibrate the balance between state security to which the military is committed and the ideals of human rights, which inform journalistic practice in this democratic age.
“Besides, it would enable the press to understand the perspectives of the military when interpreting observable facts and properly manage truth in the interest of the common good, which both professions serve.”
Using the military invasion of Daily Trust as a case study, he said that despite the conciliating reactions of some commentators to the invasion of the Daily Trust newspapers by soldiers the other day, it needs to be stated in unequivocal terms that the way soldiers raided the newspaper was needlessly ruthless, ill-advised and illegal. Such bully tactics, which came without warning, was an infringement of the rights of firm and persons involved and such can only enhance hostility.
“Since the arrest of the regional editor of the Daily Trust, Uthman Abubakar, and reporter, Ibrahim Sawab, in Maiduguri, Bornu State, as well as the raid of, and seizures of equipment, in the Maiduguri and Abuja offices of the newspaper, the military had received more condemnation than sympathy for their alleged action. Long before a Boko Haram attack on the agricultural town of Baga, in Bornu State, Daily Trust had published a scoop of an “impending’ Boko Haram attack on that town. As it turned out, the attack was carried out to the surprise of the military. Shortly after, the military descended on the newspaper and then came the jibes.
“In its denial of the allegation of muzzling the press, Director of Army Public Relations, Brig-Gen. Sani Usman, stated that Daily Trust newspaper had revealed details of planned military operations against Boko Haram insurgents, classified military information whose disclosure undermined national security. Did Daily Trust publish classified military information as the army claimed? Do the military authorities have evidence of this claim? The answers to this question could be blowing in the wind because the story in question contained interviews with military authorities, among others.
“The import of the condemnation of the raid does not lie in the support for the Daily Trust reportage, but rather in the assault on press freedom and in the impunity with which the military brutalise people and their estate.”
Oloja said it was unacceptable for soldiers to wantonly attack a business outfit without recourse to the law of the land, adding that if the military felt offended by the report of the newspaper, all it needed to have done was to seek legal action through the Attorney General of the Federation or the other hand, if the military establishment wanted to be nice, its officials could have contacted the editors to address the matter professionally.
“However, that the press provides information for people to be free and self-governing, should not make journalists rivals and soft targets to constituted authorities. There should not be any fear of the press speaking truth to power and holding state authorities accountable to the people who elected them.”
Oloja, however, did not spare the media. According to him, owing to this pivotal role of the military in the defence of the state, “It would be irresponsible of any journalist, who in search of news, sniffs around for classified military information and publishes same just because he wants to inform the public. That journalists also play a prominent role in informing the public should not provide any licence for irresponsibility and unprofessional conduct that would undermine national security.”
On the role of the online journalism, Oloja noted that given the complexity of the global information order and the techniques of the new media, the nature, flow and management of information have become so fluid and multidimensional. Notwithstanding the threat of ‘fake news’, the new media has made information flow seamless, swift, unfiltered, more detailed and more efficacious. It is this complexity that should concern journalists and soldiers, who are desirous of managing information in war and crisis situation.
“As it has often been stated on this issue, there is need for conflict-sensitivity and capacity building from both ends to harmonise the objectives of the military and those of the press through stringed interactions between the two institutions. In crisis or war situations, more regular sessions with reporters, editors and senior managers of public information and embedding journalists into military beats, would enable each party to understand the other’s world.”
He gave a checklist of things to consider when covering conflicts, stressing that good journalism requires that you do a conflict assessment to understand who all the parties are and what role they are playing in the situation.
“What are the underlying causes of the conflict? Disputants often frame the conflict in relatively simple (and often self-serving) terms. Very often the sides see the underlying causes as very different. Sometimes they don’t even know what they are, as the conflict has gone on so long and become so embedded in the culture, that raw emotions: fear, humiliation and anger overlie earlier substantive concerns. Good journalists will explore both the superficial, but also the underlying causes of the conflict from all points of view.
“What are the full effects of the conflict on different constituency groups? Conflict participants, particularly those most directly involved in the struggle, often don’t really understand the full cost of the conflict and the potential benefits of settlement or resolution. Doing an assessment of the human, as well as monetary costs, of the conflict on primary parties, the bystanders (people caught in the middle) and on allies and neighbours of the disputants often reveals an overlooked picture of the conflict situation.
“Where are you getting your “facts?” Factual disputes are rampant in complex, intractable conflicts. Sometimes this occurs because facts are hard to obtain or understand; sometimes it occurs because each side claims different “facts” are true and the opposing sides' facts are false. Journalists should take care to do balanced and careful fact-finding before believing any facts about what is or has been going on.
“Are your stories contributing to conflict escalation? Media coverage often contributes to escalating conflict. Sometimes this is desirable; constructive escalation is sometimes the best way for lower-power groups to gain power to effectively advocate for themselves. But often, escalation gets out of control, and leads to increasing polarisation, violence and costs to all sides.
“What can I do to help de-escalate a conflict? Though media coverage often serves to escalate conflicts, there are ways that journalism can be used to de-escalate conflicts and make them more constructive.
“In conclusion and closing remarks, he noted that there should be genuine relationship in marketing this model. “There should be sincerity of purpose in understanding the importance of each other’s role in nation building. To attempt to arrest reporters of conflict because the reporter is not conflict sensitive will engender more hostility. There should be ways of resolving conflicts too. National security reporters should get out of their cocoon too to build relationship. They should carry themselves respectfully not as beggars.
“In the same vein, the authorities should not build relationship through (only) periodic meetings. That should be in and out of season.”
He called on both parties to learn to sustain relationships in a way that both will become each other’s brand ambassadors.
“Let’s, therefore, go back to school of the digital media and learn how to strengthen relationship in pursuits of development goals in our great country. Let’s manage our relationships better as we keep our country more secure! Let’s touch base every day. Let’s stay in touch. That is the new strategy. It’s simple but powerful,” he declared.
•Photo by Femi Adebesin-Kuti shows Acting Commandant, Nigerian Army School of Public Relations and Information, Col Mustapha Anka (left); Legal Practitioner, Barrister Chris Onwubiko; Executive Head, Editorial Board, The Guardian, Martins Oloja, and Chief Executive/National Coordinator, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko at the Interactive season on partnership between Media and Military in promoting responsible security reporting in Lagos on 28/1/2019.
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