Engaging press freedom, national security as two sides of a coin
Every nation needs security and safety of its nationals as well as the defense of its territorial integrity. That is, partly, the goal of government. This responsibility is squarely assigned to security forces and its allies. But the attainment of this goal is also predicated on the approach through which governance is administered. Democracy, for now, is seen as globally acceptable approach. And instructively, press freedom provides oxygen for democracy to thrive as the rights of the government and the governed are not only guaranteed, responsibilities of the both parties are also upheld for the wellbeing of the nation.
This intrinsic link between press freedom and national security is the thematic focus of Abdulwahab Muhammad-Wali’s book entitled Press Freedom and National Security: A study in the dynamics of journalists and security agents relationship in Nigeria.
First published in 2003 by the Kaduna-based Zakara Communication, the 265-page book with a reprint in 2007 begins with a declaration, “there must be media men and there must be security agents. We are only yarning for a free world where there is democracy. Yet, democracy cannot survive where there is anarchy.”
Having served at both sides of the divide (as a practicing journalist and communication officer of a security agency), the author holds the view that though their approach may differ, both the media and the security agencies ultimately strive towards the same goal, which is, attaining a one united, peaceful and enviable country. This philosophy is articulated in 10 chapters that make up the book.
While providing contextual basis perennial conflicts that have defined relationship between journalists and security agents in the course of discharging their duties, the author hammers the point that the phenomenon is not peculiar to Nigeria as similar experience plays out in advanced democracies such as Britain and United States of America, where there had been clashes between journalists and security agents on one hand, and between media practitioners and government on the other.
As a product of the author’s doctoral dissertation, the introductory chapter creates a strong basis for the academic discourse that runs through all the chapters.
Some of the issues examined are: The Media and National Security; Historical Overview of the Nigerian Press and the National Security Agencies; The Concept of Press Freedom and National Security as well as Media Control.
Others are Political Regimes and Press Freedom in Nigeria 1960-1998; Causes of Conflicts between Journalists and Security Agents in Nigeria: An Overview; Emerging Trends in the Social Media: Implication for National Security; Preparing the Media for Nigeria’s Security and Development Vision; Freedom of Information Act as well as the Conclusion.
The second chapter treats The Media and National Security with emphasis on the role of the media in the promotion of national security and how this fosters national development.
Here, the term ‘security’ is placed at the feet of the media rather than the conventional security outlets such as the Police and the Army. According to the author, physical survival alone, as guaranteed by the military runs short of national security and nation building. Citing Robert McNamara, the author states that in modern society, security means development and this doesn’t reflect in military strength alone. He argues, “national security goes beyond security from external or internal attacks. It is not just a military or police affair that can be handled by arms and ammunition, but also that which touches on how government governs, how journalist reports issues, whether citizens have food to eat or not; whether soldiers, policemen, teachers and civil servants are paid good salaries or not, and how government conducts its relations with other countries.”
Situating media in the national security architecture, the author marshals the point that well-informed citizen as a result of efficient delivery of media services brings about enabling environment concretizes national development.
Media practitioners, the submits, are well situated to suggest policies and programmes that are capable of promoting national security to government, and with their constitutional mandate to hold those in government accountable, they should be constructive in exposing and criticizing actions and inactions of government that threaten national security and development.
At this stage in history when the country is confronted with several socio-political and economic challenges, the author cautions against publications and broadcasts that are capable of inciting ethnic or religious groups against one another.
Chapter seven of the book titled, Causes of Conflicts between Journalists and Security Agents in Nigeria: An Overview, is aptly captioned as it attempts to articulate several other factors that are responsible for the cat and mouse relationship between journalists and security officials.
The book on pages 178 and 179, categorizes the causes into two. While one group appraises the factors as they emanate from journalists in their efforts to credibly discharge their duties, the other group highlights areas security agents are found culpable.
According to him, journalists-influenced factors include sincere intention to execute their duties to the society, determination to protect the interest of their publishers or owners, inability to balance reports as well as deliberate attempts to sensationalize reports in order to sell or popularize their respective media outfits.
For security agents, the major reason for the regular violation of media rights include determination to protect the interest of their masters, which of course, is the government of the day, against national interest.
The author, however, mentions over-zealousness on the part of some officers as a factor. Such officers, he notes, often engage the instrument of force at their disposal to intimidate and subject their opponents to undue embarrassment.
There were several other reasons identified as being responsible for the clash between journalists and security agents. And from the various accounts provided by the author, it appears no party is a saint in the matter under review.
However, the media have always enjoyed public sentiment and sympathy whenever such conflicts occur. The reason is not farfetched – the constitution, both locally and internationally, frowns at military clampdown on defenseless, unarmed civilians, irrespective of the circumstance.
In conclusion, the author recommends a favourable balance between the two extremes.
The book acknowledges that even before the birth of Nigeria as a nation state, the press had played the formidable role of trying to shape and influence the course of events in the society.
It adds: “They had also learnt to no longer content themselves with merely describing unfolding events but also strive to provide insight and illumination on the interplay of forces behind the events.”
Noting that though Nigerian press is under obligation to monitor governance, there is no constitutional provision to mitigate professional hazards, the book therefore canvasses a national security policy management style and information dissemination management policies as a giant step to fostering better relationship among practitioners of the two professions.
It also suggests creation of forum for exchange of ideas and interactions between journalists and security agents so socialize and rub minds on matters affecting the two professions.
For a lasting peace, the author holds that the press must practice professionally and responsibly and in line with universally acceptable principles of fairness, balance and accuracy.
It also suggests a review of media owners’ influence on practitioners, while charged media regulatory bodies on regular refresher courses for new entrants.
While awaiting implementation of extant recommendations, the author looks forward to future research that would look into the viability of initiating journalists into the public security awareness programmes of the security agents to stimulate greater cooperation and collaboration.
Indeed, Muhammad-Wali’s offering is a product of indebt research and commitment to details.
The 2007 edition gets improved treatment as suggestions and recommendations made in the reviews of the first edition by some notable media practitioners have been accommodated.
Certainly, the book provides reference material for students and researchers, particularly in mass communication, while advocates of press freedom and good governance, policy makers, political scientists and general public will find it a good read.
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