BEING A KEYNOTE ADDRESS ON NATIONAL SECURITY MANAGEMENT: THE ROLE OF MEDIA BY THE PRESIDENT NIGERIA UNION JOURNALISTS COMRADE CHRIS ISIGUZO ON THE OCCASION OF JIFORM ONLINE SUMMIT, SATURDAY, MAY 09, 2020
I bring you greetings from the National Secretariat of our great Union, the NUJ, and I want to specially thank the President of the Journalists International Forum for Migration (JIFORM), Comrade Ajibola Abayomi for inviting me to be part of this discussion platform and to share my views on the role of the media on management of National Security.
As we are very much aware, this period is certainly not the best of times for Journalists and by extension media workers in view of their frontline role in the ongoing efforts to contain the spread of the rampaging Coronavirus pandemic. The virus has posed enormous challenge on not just the media but also Health workers and the Security Agencies. These groups are playing different roles at different settings all geared towards ensuring that the world is not consumed by this global health challenge.
The role of the Media in National Development can never be overemphasized most especially the challenging and critical situations countries of the world are facing.
National security, the world over is seen as the preservation and protection of territorial integrity, sovereignty and stabilization.
National security also involves the protection of citizens from external and internal aggressions. Nigeria’s constitution is also in tandem with what entails on National Security across the globe.
In recent times, Nigeria is faced with critical National Security challenges ranging from kidnapping, terrorism (Boko Haram), inter-tribal wars, farmers /Herders clashes and cultism. No doubt, these pose a lot of problems, setbacks and underdevelopment to the country.
What then are the roles of the media in information management?
The media is a strategic partner in the fight against insecurity in the country. As the watch dog of the society, a term famously coined by Edmund Bruke in 1787, the media plays a central role that culminates in the development of any nation. The media has been saddled with the age long responsibility of informing, educating and mobilizing the people to show active participation in governance considering that governance cannot be effective without a well enlightened society. In the same vein, the media have a vital role to play in monitoring security institutions and helping citizens make informed decisions regarding the security sector.
No doubt, the security sector is a unique institution and requires a high degree of expertise for the media to effectively discharge its role in that area. The media often encounter several challenges in covering the sector. Governments may restrict access to information or seek to co-opt journalists, while the media may risk internalising official perspectives on perceived threats to national security. Reliance on and privileging of official statements, and a lack of expertise on security issues, can undermine the media’s ability to act as a watchdog. To play an effective role in overseeing the security sector, journalists must have a degree of protection from intimidation and threats. The media must also among others remain unbiased in their reportage, avoid selective and stereotyped reportage of happenings in the society, avoid biased reportage based on religious sentiments, avoid misleading and Sensational Headlines which could set the country ablaze or cause disaffection amongst groups or individuals, engage in responsible journalism and avoid fake news.
Factors inhibiting the media from performing its role
There are many factors inhibiting the media from performing its role optimally.
(a) Lack of information from government and security agencies:
Most journalists in Africa face the problem of getting information they need from government agencies. There is so much secrecy in governance. For instance in Nigeria even with the freedom of information (FOI) Act, Journalists find it very difficult to get information they need most especially when investigating cases.
(b) Media ownership:
Journalists face so much oppression not only from the government but also from the owners of the media platforms they work for. They write and broadcast from the perspective their owner’s want. This is not good for the development of Journalism nor good for National development/security. Also, the increasing ownership of the media by politically exposed persons reduces the spectrum of perspectives published and undermines independent and critical journalism;
(c) Economic challenge:
Economic challenge occasion by either poor or epileptic remuneration has become common place in Nigeria’s media industry. Apart from the fact that Media workers in Nigeria are about the least remunerated compared to most countries in Africa and beyond, none payment of salaries has somewhat become the new normal especially among privately owned media houses. A situation where journalists are owed as much as two years arrears of salaries by some media houses has remained a major challenge in the industry and has to a large extent fueled plethora of unethical conducts among practitioners. This exposes the workers to biased reportage as temptations will be high in commercialization of stories and reportage. This trend if not quickly checked would spell doom for the media industry.
A recently released report of Reporters Without Borders saw Nigeria placing 115 on the global press freedom index. The report involved 180 countries. A closer look at the report showed Nigeria ranking far behind other African countries. Press freedom seems to exist in theory and no where near practice in the country. A situation where agents of state and most recently political office holders engage in incessant clampdown, harassment and intimidation of the media has continued to instill fear in media practitioners and by so doing limit their desire to free expression. At the moment, we still have media workers locked up in different detention facilities for doing their jobs. This is clearly not just against the spirit and letters of democratic governance but has the capacity to endanger good governance and accountability in governance.
(e) Judicial deference:
We’ve had instances where there are judicial deference. The likelihood of courts delivering judgements that favour the government on issues pitting claims of national security against press freedom is very high in our clime.
The relationship between the media and security institutions is necessarily one of tension, due to differing institutional cultures and goals. However, the media and security sector are mutually dependent and must cooperate to educate the public and hold government to account over security policy:
Security institutions need the media in order to inform the public about its role and maintain public support. While independent reporting is necessary to hold the military to account, the media are largely dependent on the military for information.
During armed conflict the media are essential for informing the public about security operations, but face restrictions from government and the armed forces. Embedding journalists can improve media-military cooperation, but can also undermine objectivity.
A cooperative relationship between the security agencies and the media can help to educate the public, but risks undermining media scrutiny of the police. Media scrutiny of the security agencies can establish accountability for specific incidents, but has less influence on policy.
The intelligence sector poses a number of special challenges for the media. The necessity for secrecy creates the risk of over-reliance on official information and manipulation of information provided to journalists.
Before I end this presentation, I want to once more stress that this is indeed a trying moment for all of us in the media industry. Any attempt however by the the frontliners in the battle, the Health workers, Journalists and Security agencies to relax in their duties within this period of the pandemic, that of course will certainly spell doom for the whole of the populace. Sadly, we’ve been at the receiving end; no salaries, no hazard allowances, no safety kits, no palliative.
This is the very reason i accepted to be part of this august function in the month of may, basically, to salute the courage of all the frontliners, the Health workers, Security Agencies and ofcourse members of the forth estate of the realm, for their courage, sacrifices and doggedness; risking their lives to make sure we are all safe.
Without the Media, both the people, the security apparatus, the whole country and indeed the whole world would be in the dark and very much at risk.
I therefore wish to advice the authorities, that the earlier security agencies began to see the Media as partners in the management of the nation’s security, the better and easier the job will be for all.
I thank you all.