By Evelyn Usman
In a move to address the seeming cold war between the Military and the Media in Nigeria, the Human Rights Writers Association , HURIWA , yesterday in Lagos, called for the need for both parties to synergise , with a view to charting a new course for internal security and nation building .
Acting Commandant, Army School of Public Relations, Col. Mustapha Anka; Barrister Chris Onwubiko; Head, Editorial Board of the Guardian, Mr Martins Oloja and the national coordinator, HURIWA, Emmanuel Onwubiko.
To this effect, an interactive section organized by HURIWA, themed‘ Partnership between the Media and Nigeria’s Military for responsible security reporting’, was held in Ikeja area of Lagos with the concerned parties barring their minds on the way forward.
In his keynote address, titled , ‘ Between Press Freedom and State Security in This Digital Age’ the Executive Head, Editorial Board of the Guardian, Mr Martins Oloja, noted that journalists had a constitutional role to monitor governance and operations of security agencies and therefore, urged the Military to discontinue with its old ways of dealing with the media.
Rather than assume that journalists were their enemies, Oloja, called on the Military authorities to strengthen relationship with the media, emphasizing however, that the relationship must not be based on money but on building confidence.
He also urged the Military to soft pedal on its tradition of secrecy, by making facts and data available to the media as and when due, to avoid conflicts between both parties.
He said , “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.
“On the other hand, the media see itself as doing a professional job by reporting what government officials and security authorities would like to hide. And classical definition of news is : what somebody, somewhere is trying to hide, the rest is advertising.
Interestingly, civil society and some prominent members of the public sometimes blame the Nigerian media for unprofessional conducts
“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. 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.
“Recent strain between a section of the press and military authorities arising from 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?”.
In his remarks, the Director of Public Relations, Nigerian Army, Brigadier General Sani Usman, warned that the media should not be used as a divisive instrument among the people but for the promotion and consolidation of national unity and integration.
Usman, who was represented by the Acting Commandant, Army School of Public Relations, Col. Mustapha Anka, urged the media to always use their reportage to enlighten Nigerians on the true situation and support of the military in the war against insurgency , as well as boost security and Nigeria’s development, adding that the media should shun subjective security reporting as the nation heads toward the 2019 elections.
He said, “There is no doubt , given the significant roles, you can stabilize or destabilize situation. Therefore it is imperative you always have at the back of your mind the inertest and well being of our nation at the back of your mind whenever there is need to circulate or share news item.
“Modern technology and social media revolution has deepen and broaden these roles. As professionals, you need to always cross check facts and confirm from official sources . When reporting issues of security concern, you must first understand the troubling reality of how the public digest and react to information”.
On his part, Barrister Chris Onwubiko, flayed the existence of fake news and hate speech among media practitioners, stressing that such should be avoided for responsible journalism practice.
“Press partisanship, yellow journalism and corruption must be avoided at all cost and there should be no display of primordial, tribal or religious sentiment,” he said.
Founder and National Coordinator of HURIWA, Emmanuel Onwubiko, explained earlier that the interactive section became imperative following the recent arrest of some staff of Daily Trust by the Army, over what it described as publication of a sensitive report on the ongoing war against insurgency in the North/East .