FIRST PUBLISHED ON MARCH 22, 2013. REPRODUCED HERE AS THE CONTENTS ARE STILL VERY RELEVANT IN TODAY’S MEDIA NARRATIVE
AS Nigeria wades through the storms of insecurity worsened by the Boko Haram insurgency in some northern parts of the country, which has claimed about 3000 lives so far, the media has been urged to learn from its mistakes in the coverage of the Niger Delta crisis and embrace peace journalism. According to a book on the crisis in Nigeria’s oil-bearing region; “Niger Delta Crisis: Media and Peace Building Options,” the media was biased in the coverage of the Niger Delta crisis to the detriment of the citizenry and the country.
Written by Mr. Oma Djebah, a former senior editor with ThisDay Newspapers and Special Adviser to Delta State Governor on Foreign Affairs, the 186-page book said the media discourse was very high on images of fighting, violence and armed confrontations; but very low on explanations as to why and how the conflict came about. More seriously, “the unsung victims were the ordinary people of the Niger Delta, who were killed in their hundreds in the conflict, but never got mentioned in the media discourse.”
Published in 2007, the book analyzed how the Nigerian press responded to and covered the 2004 conflict, with reference to elements of war and peace journalism as well as specific ethical issues that are necessary for an independent, free, neutral, firm and impartial media in a democratic Nigeria. A total of 180 articles randomly selected from four leading Nigerian newspapers- Vanguard, Thisday, The Guardian and The Punch, which covered different periods in the armed conflict between the so-called ‘militants’ and the Nigerian government were analyzed. The period was from June 2004 when the media began to take serious note of the then brewing conflict in the Niger Delta, to February 2005, four months after the signing of a peace accord in October 2004, in Abuja.
Said Djebah, a former commissioner for Information in Delta State: “From the analysis and examination of the materials gathered, it was discovered that the Nigerian media undermined both ethical issues and elements of war and peace journalism in their coverage of the Niger Delta conflict in 2004. Djebah “This was largely because much of the articles published during that period were dictated mainly by commercial, ethnic, religious, social and political considerations rather than the need for the media to be neutral, impartial, independent, bold and resistant to elite manipulations.
Ethical issues such as objectivity, balance, comprehensiveness, independence, and integrity were neglected by most writers. “The mass media appeared to be more interested in war journalism than peace journalism because, in most of the articles analyzed, war images of ‘the bad guy’ and ‘the good guy were evident. The Nigerian media did not conduct a thorough investigation into the root causes of the conflict, a situation which made most articles sound or appears to be propagandist tools, in many cases, in the hands of politicians with vested interests in the crisis. “In many instances, there were no explanations as to the history of the Niger Delta and consequently, the events and conflict were not situated in proper contexts. This inevitably brings to the fore the need for Nigerian media to be more alive to their sacred responsibility in a country with much cultural, linguistic and religious diversity.”
Noting that the challenge of responsible journalism had become most pressing in a new global order where the media is required to be agent and catalyst of peace and development, Djebah said: “The job of the journalist is to assess different accounts and find a coherent, concise and objective account of an event. “This, of course, presumes that the journalist has no bias or direct involvement in the story or its participants or any other reason to be less objective. What is required of him is responsible journalism, which guides him to weigh issues in the balance. The journalist has a responsibility to the society. He must remain within the bounds of responsible journalism. “As Shobowale (1992. 9) observed, responsible journalism demands that while media practitioners combat and expose the ills of the society, they should do so in a way that does not destroy that which they seek to build.
That is Peace Journalism has been applauded as the rational approach to 21st century journalism. The journalist should not use his pen to overheat the world system. He should be an agent of peace, promote plural existence, cooperation and healthy relationship between and among the peoples of the world. “With his pen, he can make or mar society. Kingdoms and Nations can stand or fall by the pen of the journalist.
The Nigerian journalist should have this at the back of his mind. It is no longer the case of ‘yellow journalism’ or ‘sensational’ reporting that matters. In fact, it is no longer the vogue. What is the vogue is to report that which has happened, as it has happened. “What is the vogue is to reach out to all the personalities in a conflict. No person should be taken as not being important. And in a situation such as the Niger Delta conflict, everybody: the children, housewives, students, civil servants, farmers, fishermen and parents should have a say in the issue. “Perhaps, that done, it would have opened a floodgate of peace and reconciliation. Perhaps, it would have been more of peace journalism. The incidence in the Niger Delta was a very good opportunity through which the people would have been heard after many years of neglect and suffering. The press should have afforded the masses that opportunity. But unfortunately, it never did.”
Going forward, Djebah suggested that the media should be objective, thorough and truthful; strike a balance between ethical journalism and limitations imposed by attachments to ownership, ethnicity, religion and political affiliation; and be aware of the elites’ manipulation and endeavour to stand for public good. “The Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, the Press Council of Nigeria and other regulatory bodies and media based NGOs should come up with formalized code of conduct for Nigerian journalists during periods of conflict. This will enable the media to police itself and serve as effective watchdog of not only the conflict but also the society generally,” he added.