In Jos, stakeholders advocate peace, cohesion, nation building, others
THE coincidence is instructive. At this period of electioneering campaign during which all media platforms are being deployed to “fan the ember of discord, hatred and incitement among the electorate”, practitioners have been urged to embrace the cherished principles of ethical journalism by striving for accuracy, fairness and balance in their reports. The imperativeness of this admonition is anchored on the understanding that unbalanced and false reporting is capable of fueling conflict.
This is part of resolutions reached at the end of the three-day workshop on Conflict-sensitive Communication and Reporting for Spokespersons of Military/Security/Government Agencies and Journalists. It was a collaborative project of the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP), Diamond Awards for Media Excellence (DAME) and the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) held on January 27-29, 2015 in Jos, Plateau State.
Third in the series, the workshop had as theme, Towards A More Secure Nigeria and attracted 19 spokespersons and 21 journalists across print and broadcast organisations. Twenty-eight of the participants were males while 12 were females.
Project Administrator, DAME, Mr. Lanre Idowu, and Programme Officer, NSRP, Ms. Ere Amachree addressed the opening ceremony. Goodwill messages also came from the Plateau State Information Commissioner, Mr. Mohammadu Bargu; and Dr. Fatima Akilu, Director Behavioural Analysis, ONSA. Both were represented by the Plateau State Director of Information, Mrs. Theodora Damulak and Mr. Zakari Miijinyawa of the Counter-terrorism desk respectively.
In addition to respecting professional ethics, journalists were urged to embrace the Principles of Peace Journalism, which participants defined as the pursuit of peace as integral to nation building. Peace journalism, they argued, “frames issues adequately, recognises the diversity and complexity of conflicts, promotes dialogue, builds trust, and encourages face saving consensus building most especially during negotiation processes.”
Indeed, participants counselled journalists to avoid reporting a conflict from the narrow prism of absolutes of seeing only two opposing sides without exploring the various shades of opinion or the common ground for longer lasting solutions.
Besides, spokespersons were admonished to appreciate that advances in social media have made news easily perishable and need to respond quicker to newsbreaks and make better use of opportunities that social media platforms provide.
They called on both spokespersons and journalists to devote more attention to women and children as the most vulnerable sectors of society, conscious that the current quantum of space devoted to them is low.
While urging security agencies to respect the human rights of females and children by ensuring they are treated with decency and dignity that whilst searching or interrogating them at checkpoints, media managers are implored to accord women better career opportunities by not confining them to the women desk, but exposing to other beats like industry, courts, economy, business, politics, and conflicts so that their perspective can be better appreciated.
Also, they tasked governments and employers to provide security personnel and journalists with insurance cover in recognition of the danger to which they are exposed in the line of duty, just as they called for more Trauma centres to be established nationwide especially in conflict zones to provide needed succor to victims of violent conflicts whilst encouraging journalists and spokespersons to create adequate time to de-stress and take vacations for their wellbeing.
Journalists and other professionals were urged to register with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) as volunteers whose skills are needed in the management of disasters in the country. Specifically, they urged journalists and spokespersons to rise above institutional challenges and live out their professional commitments, in addition to being wary of crisis merchants who masquerade as opinion leaders and play one side against the other.
While recommending more dialogue sessions for journalists and spokespersons to leverage on their common humanity and citizenship and promote better understanding, organizations and government agencies were advised to involve their spokespersons more in management decision making process so that their critical inputs can be captured when in planning and framing communication strategies.
They welcomed the partnership of NSRP and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in introducing diploma and postgraduate online courses in Conflict-sensitive Communication and Reporting and called for more of such collaboration with other training institutes in the country. Participants also canvassed establishment of a network/knowledge group to facilitate consensus building on conflict-sensitive communication and reporting.
Generally, the workshop featured a total of eight sessions of the training led by resources persons from the academia and the media during which following observations were made:
Conflicts are inevitable in human relationships and can be positively managed but violent conflicts are inimical to nation building.
Media sensationalism tends to distort the reality of events and should be moderated to avoid overheating the polity. Fairness and Balance in media content remain cherished objectives that should be pursued at all times, especially when covering conflicts.
Reporting violent conflicts is fraught with grave danger and recommends the need to provide insurance cover for journalists that do not currently enjoy it.
Continuous interaction and positive relationship management between spokespersons and journalists are required to check the current frosty relationship.
The tension between the mindset of spokespersons to protect regimes and organisations needs to be balanced against that of the journalists’ predisposition to expose based on their constitutional mandate to monitor governance and uphold its accountability to the people.
Spokespersons should appreciate that timely release of information will enhance journalistic work and arm the public with authentic information they can act upon, whilst journalists should understand that information sensitivity sometimes requires rigorous checks and delayed release.
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