The Battlefield of ‘Conflict Sensitive Reporting’ By Mukhtar Ya’u Madobi

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By Mukhtar Ya’u Madobi

In recent years, our dear country, Nigeria, has been battling security threats such as kidnapping, armed banditry, separatist agitations, militancy, Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgency, farmers-herders clash, cultism and cybercrimes, among others.

Amid the unprecedented rise in insecurity, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), in October last year organized an ‘All-Nigerian Editors Conference’, themed; “Media in Times of Crises: Resolving Conflict, Achieving Consensus.”

The event was held in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

The parley was aimed at analyzing the insecurity situation in the country and to identify how the media can be engaged in tackling the country’s security woes.

The conference called for a healthy collaboration between the media and security agencies in the fight against insecurity as one of the vital steps towards containing the situation.

By undertaking such a giant stride, it is obvious that the role of media as ‘watchdog of the society’ as well as the ‘Fourth estate of the real’ can never be downplayed when it comes to issues relating to national security and nation-building.

This is apparently right, as section 22 of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended, empowered “the press and other agencies of mass media to always uphold the accountability and responsibility of the government to the people.”

The media is also well recognised for its gatekeeping function. In exercising this role, the media choose what the audience will read, see or hear. In fact, the media is also powerful in deciding what people will pay attention to and think about through their agenda-setting function, as well.

To that effect, the media, as an institution, has a significant role to play in boosting the security architecture of any country especially in a heterogeneous society like Nigeria. The issue of ‘conflict sensitive reporting’ through developmental and responsible journalism is one of the most important angles to begin with.

There is no doubting the fact that insecurity is one of the major challenges facing Nigeria today. The entire country is engulfed in one form of crisis or the other. Every day, front pages of newspapers are replete with headlines bordering on insurgency, banditry, kidnappings on the highways, villages and schools, farmers/herders clashes, as well as the activities of known and unknown gunmen.

Meanwhile, giving this publicity to the criminals has been increasing their vigor, while on the other hand dampening the morale of our troops and making citizens lose hope in them.

In such regards, the media should be meticulous and diplomatic in publishing activities related to bandits, terrorists and other criminal elements currently disturbing the peace of the nation as well as threatening its continuous corporate existence. The exaggerated manner in which the situation is being reported has been doing more harm than good to the country and populace.

Because, when conflict situations are reported in a hyperbolic mode, the citizens mind and thinking will be distorted and their emotions be raised while. Similarly, fear and uncertainty will be their guests and this might represent a great setback to national security.

The information disseminated by the media could be harmful or useful depending on its contents. This is where the issue of national security comes in. The media transmit messages about a particular society and no one else can play this role. The information is passed across a destination to achieve a goal.

The Nigerian press, like any other country, is always made to be seen at the centre of any national crisis, mainly due to its roles in informing and educating the masses. In the light of this, issues pertaining to culture, religion, security and tradition should be treated with utmost care more-so that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic state.

Thus, the media should always treat information meant for public consumption meticulously.

The content of the Nigeria’s National Security Strategy (NNSS) 2019, a document released by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), retired Major-General Babagana Monguno noted with dismay that; “Violent non-state armed groups have continued to rely on media and communication platforms to target our national values and people.

“We will therefore seek to dismantle illegal communication platforms through appropriate laws and partnerships. In all our communications, we will emphasize our core national values and the promotion of the national interests in diverse ways.”

At this juncture, the NNSS has recognized the critical role of media in national security, policies and strategies and over the years the ONSA has been engaging the media in the conceptualization and implementation processes of national security activities. These include; the National Security Strategy, National Counter-Terrorism Strategy (NACTEST), Cybersecurity Policy and Strategy, National Defence Policy, Policy Framework and National Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, and other current or future government policies, programmes, strategies and economic plans.

The technological advancement and the advent of social media has now made it easy and very cheap for every individual to disseminate information and personal opinion. Most of the time, contents such as fake news and hate speeches which are capable of inciting violence are often released to this media space. This depicts a great threat to national security.

On the whole, it is good to note that the media have the capacity to contribute a lot in restoring the security situation in Nigeria through the process of developmental journalism. Therefore, it is recommended that security operatives should collaborate with media practitioners as watchdogs of the society in discharging their functions of protecting the lives and properties of citizens.

The media should rise to their expectation and use their power judiciously or else national security will continue to be threatened. In essence, they are expected to always feed the public with information capable of promoting peace and development.

Mukhtar writes from Kano