Nigeria is only two weeks and a fraction of some days away to the most important General elections in the twenty first century. The political gladiators are touring the Country canvassing for votes so as to earn the mandatory legitimacy of the electorate to govern the Political space known legally as the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Even whilst political contestations have assumed frenetic dimension, the Country is yet to actualize a holistic degrading, decimation and ultimate crushing of the nation’s most virulent security nightmares constituted by Boko Haram terrorists and other elements backed logistically by the globally rated most feared terror group- Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Whereas the armed security forces spearheaded by the Nigerian Army under the most competent and professionally excellent Chief of Army staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, are busy battling the scourge of these deadly terror campaigns, patriotic Nigerians are also constructively engaged in working out ways and means of assisting the armed combatants to actualize a comprehensive goal of bringing the war against terror to a successful end and bring the perpetrators of these range of war crimes against humanity to effective and efficient prosecution in compliance with the extant Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is in the light of this national necessity that the human rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) hosted some journalists to an interactive session in Lagos on responsible security reporting and the platform fortuitously got some of the finest brains in the media and legal sectors to interface with security reporters based in Lagos just as these scholars comprising the Executive Editorial Head of The Guardian Newspapers Mr. Martins Oloja; a Constitutional lawyer of over three decades based in Lagos Mr. Chris EneChukwu Onwubiko and many others at a session that witnessed high level participation from the Nigerian Army represented by a Senior Colonel Anka who stood in for Brigadier General Sani Kukesheka Usman the Director of Public Relations and Media of the Nigerian Army at the Nigerian Army headquarters. Participants including the membership director of Human rights Writers Association of Nigeria in the South West of Nigeria Comrade Femi Ajala went home satisfied with the qualitative discussions that took place including the well written presentation by the Nigerian Army’s Spokesman. Representstives from frontline Briadcasting, Print and Online media participated.
The veteran Legal practitioner Chris Onwubiko who spoke on Media laws vis a vis National Security stated that Nigeria like all other modern nations is a country governed by the Rule of Law. In order to avoid chaos, uncertainty and even anarchy, every nation must have a set of Laws governing various aspects of its national and private life. Thus, you have different sets of Laws governing say, Banking, Oil and Gas, Elections into public offices, and the Mass Media, the subject matter of this paper, etc.
There is no country in the world without Media laws. Every country has some form of regulation or the other, guiding media practitioners, be the members of the print media (Newspapers, Magazines, Periodicals), or the electronic media (Radio, Television, Cinema). The new media, more generally known as the Social Media, is still somewhat problematic in this wise.
Before we go into the details of Media Laws in Nigeria vis a vis National Security, let us examine some definitions of the basic concepts of the paper, namely, Law generally, Media Laws and National Security. Then we would try to tie it all up, into “Responsible Journalism”, the theme of this get together.
Concept of Law.
Let us begin by briefly looking at the Law as a concept, before we zero in on Media Law proper, as that would definitely assist in bringing our subsequent discourse of the subject into proper perspective. Law can be defined as a set of Legislations, Rules and Regulations guiding the conduct of the Affairs of the men and women in any given Society. Absence of Laws in any Society, is a clear prescription for anarchy and will fit Thomas Hobbes “State of Nature, where life is “… solitary, nasty, brutish and short…”. Whether written or unwritten, consciously or unconsciously, observed or violated, Law exists in every Society, albeit in varying degrees.
According to Oyakhilome (2009) “Law controls regulates, enforces and punishes…”. In summary therefore, Law protects individuals and the State, preserves life and property, promotes the administration of Justice and Social welfare.
This branch of the Law, does not refer to a uniform piece of legislation or regulation, but is rather a collection of a variety of Laws and Ethical Standards that influence the work of the Media . Also different types of Media are subject to different pieces of laws and regulations. Nevertheless, there are universal rules to be respected by all journalists when practicing their profession.
Press or Media Laws are legislations made by the government in power at the Federal, State and Local Government level, to control and regulate the activities of mass media practitioners. However, given that the freedom of expression, is basically a constitutional provision, the Laws governing the mass media, are only those which seek to protect the Fundamental Human Rights of individuals and ensure the maintenance of peace and tranquility, in the community.
Media Law can then be defined as that area of Law, that relate to legal regulation of the Print and Electronic Media, which include newspapers, radio and television telecommunications industry, Advertising, the entertainment industry, film and publications censorship, internet and online life streaming etc. The principal target of media laws and regulation are the Press, Radio, Television and Cable networks, but may also include recorded music, cable satellite storage and distribution technology (discs, tapes etc), the internet, mobile phones etc.
The basic foundation of the principles of Media Law can be found in the Constitutions of many countries, Specific national legislations and international conventions. Malemi (1999) identified four (4) formal mechanisms of the Mass Media Laws as follows;
- Constitutional provisions, in the case of Nigeria, The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 1999.
- Statutes, for example, the Official Secrets Act, Laws of sedition, contempt, obscene and harmful publications Act, Defamation, Copyright, Advertising Laws, Media Council Decree etc.
- Ethical guidelines and
- Informal restraints.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS FOR THE MASS MEDIA.
Every profession has its do’s and don’t’s, which guides the activities and operations of such profession, including the Media.
The organization, structure and mode of operations of media practice is partly spelt out in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
Section 39(1) of the aforementioned Constitution provides as follows; “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”.
Section 39(2), provides thus, “Without prejudice to the generality of subsection 1 above, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions. It then went on state in other subsections the conditions for the ownership of the media outfits as aforementioned.
Subsection 3, more or less took away with the left hand what was given in subsection 1 with the right hand. It provides as follows;
“Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society,
(a). For the purposes of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematographic films;
(b). Imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other government security services or agencies”.
Section 36(2), “Without prejudice to the foregoing provisions of this section (dealing with fair hearing) a Law shall not be invalidated by reason only that it confers on any government or authority, power to determine questions arising in the administration of a law that affects or may affect the civil rights and obligations of any person, if such Law;
(a), provides for an opportunity for a person whose rights and obligations may be affected, to make representations to the administering authority, before the authority takes decision, affecting that person and;
(b) Contains no provisions making the decision of the administering authority final and conclusive.
SOME LEGISLATIONS AND REGULATIONS AFFECTING THE MEDIA
The first media Law in Nigeria was enacted during the colonial era and came into force in 1903. This was amended by the first Governor General of the then newly amalgamated Nigeria, Lord Lugard in 1917, to curtail what he considered to be the excesses of some local newspapers at the time.
Unfortunately, this rather repressive Press Law, formed the basis of subsequent press laws, enacted long after independence, even till date. Some of the said Press Laws, include the following;
- Public officers (Protection against false Accusation) Decree 4, 1984.
- News watch (Proscription and Prohibition) of circulation Decree 6 of 1987.
- Nigeria Press Council Decree 59 of 1998.
- Nigeria Broadcasting Commission Decree 1992.
- Newspaper Registration Decree 43 of 1993.
- Treason and Treasonable Offenses Decree 39 of 1993.
- The News Magazine (Proscription and Prohibition) from circulation Decree 33 of 1993.
- Offensive Publications Prohibition Decree 35 of 1993.
- The Concord Newspaper and African Concord weekly magazine (Prohibition and proscription) from circulation Decree 6 of 1994.
- The Punch Newspaper (Prohibition and Proscription) from circulation Decree 7, 1994.
- The Guardian Newspaper (Proscription and Prohibition from circulation) Decree8, 1994.
- State Security Detention of persons (Amendment) Decree, 14 of 1994.
- Freedom of Information Act 2011
The foregoing are instances of the Constitutional and Statutory Provisions affecting Mass Media outfits and the Practitioners, in one way or the other.
A REVIEW OF SOME CASES UNDER THE ABOVE PRESS LAWS
For reasons of time and space constraints, let us examine very briefly, three rather notorious cases tried under the aforementioned laws namely;
- THE CHIKE OBI’s CASE. In 1961, Dr. CHIKE Obi a renowned mathematician of his time and leader of a small party, called the Dynamic Party, published a pamphlet titled, “Thee People: Facts that you must know, which was considered seditious by the powers that be. He was charged to court and was convicted by the trial judge, which sentence was affirmed by the Supreme Court, for according to t, criticizing the government “… in a malignant manner…”. (Okonkwo & Naish).
- THE AMAKIRI AFFAIR. Where a journalist in July 1973, had his beard and hair shaved forcefully and given 24 lashes of cane by aides to the governor for simply reporting that the Rivers State teachers had threatened to go on strike! The trial judge awarded him a princely sum of N10, 760.00 damages, in 1974.
- THE ARTHUR NWANKWO’s CASE.A book titled “How Jim Nwobodo Ruled Anambra State, by Arthur Nwankwo, a gubernatorial candidate in 1982, was considered seditious and he was charged to court and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment by the trial judge, but was discharged and acquitted by the Court of Appeal, which stated that “… sections 50 and 51 of the Criminal Code were anachronistic, in the light of constitutional changes and National Sovereignty”. (Ekwelie, 1986).
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT, 2011
Let us briefly examine the FOI Act 2011, to see whether it in fact, cured some of the serious defects of the previous legislations and shortcomings of the presumed Constitutional guarantees.
Accessibility to information is a sine qua non for the actualization of the Freedom of Expression enshrined in section 39(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. This Right drew its existence from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights of October 21, 1986.
The origin of the FOI Act can be traced to one Ande Adams Chydenius, a Finn, about 250 years ago. Ande Adams’ activism at the time, led to the enactment of the Freedom of Information Law in Sweden, which from 1776, became part of the Swedish Constitution.
The relationship between the media practitioners, particularly members of the print media, with the various Nigerian governments dating back to the colonial era, has been anything but cordial, due to frequent clashes between the two, over the propriety or otherwise of releasing some information or the other, to the public, without the authorization of the government of the day. It was against this background that the aforementioned enactments, all aimed at curtailing the accessibility of Journalists to information, considered too sensitive for public consumption.
The foregoing state of affairs led to serious agitations and clamour, by media practitioners, non-governmental organizations and the civil society groups, for the promulgation of a Freedom of Information Act, culminating into the signing of the Freedom of Information Bill into law, by the then President Goodluck Jonathan, on May 28, 2011.
Section 1 of the Act, guaranteed the accessibility to the citizenry of information held by government and its agencies. The Act allows anyone denied access to information to approach the law courts for a review, whereof the onus is on the government to show cause why the information, would not be released to the applicant, who this time, does not have to prove ‘locus standi’ to request access to the information.
The Act however made provisions specifying circumstances under which, application could be denied as follows;
Section 11. Any information considered injurious to the conduct of international affairs and defense of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Section 12. Information that adversely affect ongoing enforcement proceedings.
Section 14. Personal information and matters of personal privacy.
Section 15. Trade Secrets.
Section 16. Professional privileges, such as lawyer /client, doctor/patient relationships etc.
Section 17. Research papers.
Section 19. Library records, examination data etc,
Section 20, makes provision for a judicial review in case of a denial.
Section 27, deals with the protection and non-disclosure of whistle blowers.
All in all, though the FOI may not have solved all the problems impeding the media practitioners in the performance of their constitutionally assigned role, it is a significant improvement on the status quo ante.
Having looked at the first arm of the paper, which is the substance of Media Law, let us now turn to the other arm which is National Security.
Let us preface this discourse with a look at a Constitutional provision that is germane to National Security and that is Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 to the effect that “…the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. This demonstrates in practical terms the importance of National Security in the running of the affairs of the country.
On the other hand, the same Constitution, provided in section 22 thus; “The Press, Radio, Television and other agencies of the mass media, shall at all times be free to … uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”. This also clearly demonstrates the primacy of the mass media in the scheme of things in our national affairs, which is probably why, they are referred to as the 4th estate of the realm.
This then takes us to the question, What is National Security? National Security can be said to be the protection of a state and its human and material resources against both internal and external aggression. According to Elias, State Security refers to all the means at the state disposal for securing and protecting the State from danger of subjugation, either by an external power or through internal insurrection.
Another good definition of National Security is “… procuring the safety of a nation against threats, such as terrorism, war or espionage, and ability to protect itself from these threats”. In summary Governments all over the world, rely on a range of measures, including political, economic and military power as well as diplomacy to enforce National Security. Providing National Security is the protection of the State and its citizens through a variety of means including military might, economic power, diplomacy and power projection. This is the standard United States model.
Imobighe identifies three models for defining National Security as follows;
- “A formidable military defense to protect the territorial integrity of the State, from both external and internal violations.
- Protection, not only from military threats, but also from economic vulnerability, ecological threats and natural disasters.
- Freedom from or elimination of the threats, not only to the physical existence of the State, but also to enhance its ability for self-protection and development and the promotion of the general wellbeing of the people.
The first model is the most commonly practiced in Africa where dictators and sit tight presidents hold sway. A good example of the application of this model is a definition of National Security, given by a onetime Nigeria’s police chief, Mohammad Gambo, thus; “… protection of life and property of the people from various forms of threat, be it internal or external and is concerned with identification of potential and actual threats and mobilization of resources to confront and crush it.
THIRD WORLD LEADERS AND NATIONAL SECURITY
The truth of the matter is that the leadership class in most developing countries, including Nigeria equate National Security, with their personal security and those of their immediate family members! They therefore consider any probing of their governance records, as a “threat to National Security”, hence the frequent and sometimes fatal confrontations between journalists and security agencies of government.
THE MEDIA AND NATIONAL SECURITY
The Media by virtue of its functions are always prone to being accused of breaches of National Security, by those in authority, particularly in Africa and the third world generally. These peculiar functions according to Harold Lasswell (1948) include the following;
- Surveillance of the environment.
- Correlation of parts of the society, in responding to the environment.
- Transmission of social heritage from one generation to another.
In discharging the above functions, the press inevitably steps on powerful toes. Another aspect of the modern media that seems to set the press against the political class, is the ability to cut across national boundaries in real time online basis, via the ubiquitous internet and its concomitant social media. The recent high wired assassination of the United States based Saudi born journalist, Mr. Kashogi, at his country’s embassy in Turkey, is a case in point.
MEDIA PRACTITIONERS AND SEDITION.
A paper on Media Law vis a vis National Security cannot be complete, without some discussion of the law of Sedition, no matter how briefly. This is because media law and national security find their most practical expression in the act of treason.
Every society strives to protect the Freedom of Expression as enshrined in its country’s constitution, whilst at the same time making sure that the Right to free speech is not overreached, in such a way as to bring the government of the day, into disrepute, contempt, hatred or opprobrium and / or excite or incite people to rise against the government in power, with a view to removing it from office. Whoever does this is guilty of an offense of Sedition under section 5 of the Criminal Code and is liable upon conviction in the first instance, to a term of two years imprisonment and / or a fine of N200.00.
According to Oshinbajo and Forgam, “The role of the court through the years has been to hold the balance between fair criticism, designed to cause public disorder or disaffection against the government in power”. They went on to say that the Law of Sedition constitutes a lethal weapon in the hands of government officials and agencies, who out of fear of having their weaknesses, corruption or ineptitude uncovered, interpret every criticism, as calculated to bring down the government”.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE MASS MEDIA IN ENSURING NATIONAL SECURITY.
It is in the enlightened self-interest of media practitioners to contribute, as well as protect National Security. Although as members of the 4th estate of the realm, the performance of the Nigerian press has been commendable overall, there have been instances of what is euphemistically referred to as yellow journalism, betraying undisguised partisanship, corruption and outright prejudice.
The activities of some journalists, particularly in the so called new or social media, have undermined National Security , in the reckless way and manner, they go about their duties by sometimes openly seeking to bring down a government, whether they are legal or not, elected or unelected.
Therefore the press must be faithful to its code of ethics. Truthful and honest reporting must be the order of the day. Press partisanship must be avoided at all costs. There should be no display of primordial tribal and ethnic considerations, religious fanaticism and corruption via the demand and acceptance of the so called brown envelopes. Fake news and hate speeches should be ‘no go areas’ for any responsible media practitioner.
National Security in the true sense is of utmost importance and editors must carefully scrutinize what they put out in their newspapers and / or newscasts, as the case may be, in order not to jeopardize the peace and tranquility of the nation.
- Karibi-White AG, (1969) Seditious Publication in Nigeria Press Law.
- T. O. Elias (Ed) Edinburgh,University of Lagos and Evans Brothers Limited.
- Oshinbajo Y and Fogam, K (1991), Nigeria Media Law, Lagos, Gravitas Publishers.
- Seditious Libel, The Free Legal Dictionary.
- Seditious Publications, Sections 50-52, Criminal Code, Cap 77, Laws of the Federation, 1990.
- Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
- Brown S. (2008) Crime and Law in Media Culture; New York.
- Oloyode B (2008); Free Press and Society; Dismantling the Culture of Silence.
- Oyakhilome G I (2009), Introduction to Law, Kaduna, National Open University.
- Black J; Steel B, Barney R (1999). Doing Ethics in Journalism.
- Bowles D & Borden D. (2004), Creative Editing, 4th edition, Belmont, Thomas Wadsworth.
- Caster H (1983) The problem of Ethics in the mass media, A paper presented at the Nigeria Press Council workshop, Lagos. (2001).
- Okoye I, (2008) Media Law and Ethics, Lagos, NOUN.
- Frost C (2007), Journalism, Ethics and Regulation, (2ndEdn) Essex.
- Mathias Oluwole Dawodu, An Overview of the Freedom of Information
Act, 2011. The Chairman of Editorial board of The Guardian spoke on Press freedom vis a vis digital journalism and national security. He began with sets of questions thus:
When will there be relationship and mutual trust?
Who will manage frogs in a wheelbarrow?
How do we touch base and stay in touch?
Oloja then proceededmethodically as follows:
Thank you HURIWA and its partners for the invitation to address this bad ulcer that continues to thrive on the medications applied to it under the theme: ‘Partnership Between The Media and Nigeria’s Military for Responsible Security reporting’. I have shortened my topic to: ‘Between Press Freedom and State Security in This Digital Age’ for simplicity.
The news media have a powerful influence on how people view the world. Newspapers, radio, television and the new media (social media) dominated by citizen journalists are frequently the only link to events happening outside of one’s neighborhood. A reporter’s or citizen journalist’s story on a conflict can be the sole information available to his audience. The way the reporter frames the conflict can cause bias (in the audience) in favour of one party, or one solution over another; it can escalate the conflict, or defuse it. That is why it depends on a critical factor: management.
When you think about it, most news is “conflict” and journalists are participants in the conflicts they cover. Though they usually make every effort to be “objective,” – to fulfill social responsibility to one’s nation, this is most times difficult and controversial.
Sometimes attempts to present both views equally is actually favouring one over the other, if the story doesn’t illustrate that one view is much more predominate, or another, while commonly believed, is incorrect.
Complex conflicts are full of pitfalls for journalists, but the more one understands what is really going on in a conflict, and the role of the conflict journalist, the better coverage one can do. In other words understanding what is going on in a conflict zone is critical in managing this often complicated relationship.
Many difficult and intractable conflicts involve whole communities or nations. People get their information about what is going on in these conflicts through the media, so the media plays a critical role in how these conflicts develop and change.
The Partnership Between the Media and Nigerian Military for Responsible Security Reporting
History of distrust
In a seminal paper on ‘conflict reporting’ by Dr. Jide Jimoh, of Lagos State University, there is a long history of distrust between the media and successive governments in Nigeria. A measure of adversarial relationship between media and government can be gauged by accusations of bias, mischief, sensationalism, lack of objectivity and general irresponsibility leveled against the media by various government officials during military and civilian governments.
This is a constantly used illustration of the colour of the suspected distrust: 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. His words:
“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.”
(The Punch, July 6, 2012:1-2)
Dr. Jimoh also noted that similar statements could be found in pronouncements of other government officials from the colonial administration to the current Fourth Republic.
On the other hand, 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.” (Sunday Tribune, March 18, 2012).
‘Understanding legal responsibility of the news media’
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 recognizing the role of the press as a constitutional one.
‘Between Press freedom & State Security: understanding the times…’
Recent strain between a section of the press and military authorities arising from reportage of military operations in 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 amendment 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.
FOIA, not helpful?
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 crackdown 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.
However, whilst the Official Secret Act puts a check on the irresponsibility resulting from unbridled and reckless use of this right, glaring cases of official conspiracy, unjustified silence and disregard for people’s lives and property place a heavy burden of truth-telling on the news media.
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.
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.
Furthermore, the ambiguity about what constitutes state security has put the press in a perplexing state of moral judgment. On one hand, military authorities are more assiduous in intervening in incidents that are perceived to infringe on state security, whilst on the other hand, they tend to overlook other horrendous events, which are capable of breaching the peace. In a situation whereby the government of the day is suspected of using the military to promote an inscrutable resurgent colonialism through religious bigotry and fractious ethno-cultural relations, the citizens cannot trust such a government enough to define security for them.
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.
As auxiliary guardians of the state, they should ensure that, loyalty in terms of communication is not solely to the powers that be, but primarily, as it ought to be, to the people whose territorial integrity and internal security they vowed to safeguard. The implication of this information-disseminating function, which duty imposes on the military in times of war and crises, is that the military owes its first loyalty to the citizens, that is, the civil populace.
Owing to this fundamental loyalty, managers of military information are obliged to tell the truth when relating with citizens; yes, truth that should be managed with utmost sense of responsibility bearing in mind the common good. In this regard, they would need to be predisposed to civility and decency, as well as careful selection of the wording of their language when informing the general civilian populace about state security matters.
All this suggests the need for capacity building for persons managing information in the Nigerian military to purge them of the condescending expressions and dismissive posture characteristic of military language. We are in a democracy and that is classically the government of the people – from whom government derives sovereignty.
Far from being one-sided, the capacity building procedure should also involve educating the press about the world of the military.
Because journalists and other arms of the media over-rate the empowering role of news-telling and information dissemination, they tend to see the world from only their professional lenses and arrogate unjustified powers unto themselves and their profession. Often this leads to clashes of interest in their perceived roles in the state.
The power of relationship building beyond periodic briefings:
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.
Military invasion of Daily Trust as a case study.
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 Realtions, Brig-Gen. Sani Usman, stated that Daily Trust newspaper had revealed details of planned military operations against Boko Haram insurgents, a 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 brutalize people and their estate.
In a new world order that recognizes the autonomy of an individual’s moral choice, press freedom has availed itself as a pillar of democracy. Riding on the crest of this privilege, the press has assumed the ombudsman of the state. Appropriately tagged as the Fourth Estate of the Realm as constitutionally protected, the press has opened itself up as the most reflective organ in society to hold other arms of government to account. The same organic law empowers the press to monitor governance at all levels. As a watchdog of sorts it could be the last bastion of security, when it checks intra-government conspiracies against the people.
Besides, it is unacceptable for soldiers to wantonly attack a business outfit without recourse to the law of the land. If the military felt offended by the report of the newspaper, all it needed to have done was to seek legal action though the Attorney General of the Federation. On 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.
Don’t get it twisted, news media managers recognise the fact that national security is of primary importance in safeguarding the integrity of a country.
Irrespective of the differences in interests, languages, religions, customs and traditions of the many people, which make up the country, these differences do not run at cross purposes with the people despite the fragile nationhood we live with. It is indubitable, therefore, that a country’s military occupies a very vital position when it comes to maintaining national security. As auxiliaries in the state, the military have the liberty to operate in a world within a world, with their own philosophy and paraphernalia of existence, out of which comes their ideology, strategies, mode of operations. Being guardians of the state in a certain respect, they occupy a space in state administration that must be guarded jealously for fear of compromise. The media recognise all these elements but there has been poor management of relationship.
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.
‘In this disruptive digital age’
This is not the first time that matters of press freedom and national security have put journalists and soldiers at loggerheads in service of the nation. 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 have 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.
The effect, as stated earlier, would be this: “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.
Similarly, that will 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.
It should be clear that soldiers are primarily civilians who have chosen to be in the armed forces. They are persons with civility before becoming soldiers. It is not for nothing that the word ‘civilian’ shares the same root-word with civility. The common value of civility should be brought to bear in the resolution of the perennial tension between the military and media organizations over matters of press freedom and national security.
Checklist of things to consider when covering conflicts
- Do you really understand what is going on?Deep-rooted and intractable conflicts tend to be very complex. 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 a 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.
Conclusion and closing remarks:
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 periodic meetings. That should be in and out of season. Do simple but significant things: mark birthdays for your friends in the media. De-emphasise cash transactions…More important, give data and facts, let the defence reporters and editors have knowledge of the system as authorities such as Juliet Ukabialas, Madu Onuorahs, Peter Akparantas, etc of this world on the old defence and police beats. They should borrow from modern managers who have been telling modern leaders to find wisdom from even semi-literate farmers who know how to keep frogs in a wheelbarrow without allowing any of the frogs to jump away. Learn to sustain relationships in a way that we become each other’s brand ambassadors. Please, take this away, the social media has come to stay and it is helpful as it enables the people to wield some powers that editors used to keep exclusively as gatekeepers. Let’s learn, unlearn old ways of dealing with the media and relearn new ways of managing journalists in this digital age. Let’s all stakeholders note what Alvin Toffler, a sociologist turned digital age management expert said to us the other day that:
‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn’.
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.
General Sani kukesheka Usman spoke powerfully thus: Its my pleasure to be here to parley with you on a very important issue such as reportage of issues bordering on security. I’m sincerely delighted to be here to deliver a goodwill message as everybody sitting here is a very important instrument. Therefore, it is imperative that you always have our national security, the interest and wellbeing of the people at the back of your mind whenever you are reporting. There is no doubt that the media plays a very significant role in enhancing peaceful co-existence in any given society. This is more apparent in a heterogeneous country such as Nigeria. Permit me to say that all of you here have in your possession a very important instrument which is double-edged and that instrument is your pen, which if wrongly used, could cause unimaginable havoc. Please remember that you have the tool and the followership to either strengthen or mar the peace, tranquillity of our dear nation, Nigeria.
- In a recent parley with media executives in Abuja, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt Gen TY Buratai said that the war against terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria need to be reported as it is and therefore, the media needs to enlighten the people to understand the true situation and support the military. There is no doubt, given your significant role and influence over your various audiences, you can stabilize or destabilize situation. Therefore, it is imperative that you always have at the back of your mind the interest, wellbeing and security of our nation at the back of your mind whenever there is need to print, circulate, share or broadcast news items or programmes.
- The media is vital in every society being the fourth estate of realm, conscience and ombudsman of the society. Your traditional role of informing, educating, enlightening, entertaining, investigation and drawing public attention to issues of interest, helps shape opinions and understanding of issues that enable the citizens and policymakers make informed decisions. Modern technology and social media revolution has deepened and broadened these roles.
- As professionals you need to always cross check facts and confirm from official source(s) when reporting issues of security concern. You must first ponder on the troubling reality of how the audience/public digest, decipher and react to information. It should not be seen as a divisive instrument among the people, but rather be meant for the promotion and consolidation of national unity and integration. I wish to urge you all to please take always ask if your reportage could boost the strength or project the course of Nigeria’s adversaries, if it could instigate public fear and or could cause hatred amongst citizenry or against the government of the day. Furthermore, try to ascertain if it could damage the nation’s hard earned reputation or disrespect the highest office and national interest. As you balance your stories, I urge you to endeavor to support, consider national security narratives and downplay messages from enemy of the state.
- Amos Jordan and William Taylor (1981) posited thus: “National security, however, has a more extensive meaning that protection from physical harm; it also implies protection, through a variety of means, of vital economic and political interests, the loss of which could threaten fundamental values and the vitality of the state.” You will all agree with me that without a safe and secure environment, there cannot be development either economical, social, political and so on. The protection of our national security is sacrosanct to supporting national development which will in turn guarantee a social wellbeing for us all. It is therefore the responsibility of all citizens, especially the media to ensure security of lives and properties and to also put into consideration the Nigeria’s national security in reportage. Doing so will definitely ensure a sustainable development. This could only be achieved by being patriotic and giving responsible security reporting.
- The Theme, Participating Between the Media and Nigerian Military for Responsible Security Reporting is very apt at this point considering the security situations in our dear country and the upcoming general elections. It is important for us to remain patriotic and avoid subjective security related broadcast. This can only be achieved through responsible reporting. I hope this conference will inject fresh thoughts into participants about this critical issue.
- Permit me to quote from the Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Mr. Emmanuel Onwubiko who said; “The media must exercise the greatest discretion and report responsibly because the corporate health and existence of Nigeria is endangered and indeed we are indirectly in an era of enforced emergency created by the dared evil terrorist activities of Boko Haram Terrorists.” “I would suggest that whatever professional sacrifices the media must give to preserve the sanctity of the territorial integrity of Nigeria and conserve national security must be done now that Nigeria faces the greatest threats against our very existence as a nation and a people. The haste to write sensational story to capture the imagination of buyers and advertisers must be mitigated by the urgency of the now to preserve our national security because if there is no Nigeria there will be no Nigerian media.”
- On this note, I want to sincerely congratulate the organizers of this workshop for their initiative. May God the Almighty give you the strength and ability to support our collective Nigerian project.The Consensus is that more of these type of constructive dialogues should be escalated to ensure that the people of Nigeria more fully supports our armed combatants who are making supreme sacrifices to protect our lives and property and keep terrorists away from taking over the Nation’s territorial assets.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com ; www.huriwanigeria.com ; [email protected] ; www.thenigerianinsidernews.com ;
Disclaimer: “The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.”
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