opinionBy Olu Obafemi
The two things that keep the society going are conflict and peace. As is often said, conflict is an integral part of human life and it cannot be totally eliminated. However, whenever conflict occurs, it must be properly managed; else it threatens the very existence of the family, society and nation. Nigeria can be said to have had its own share of conflicts. Conflicts in most cases arise from either lack of communication or misunderstanding. The level to which one holds to his position in a conflict situation may be a product of the level of conviction the person has about its rightness; this rightness, in itself, is a product of the quantity and quality of the information available to the holder at a particular point in time. Point is, conflicts are mostly resolved by the provision of additional information that may make a holder change his/her position. Another point to note is the way and manner in which this information is provided along with its credibility rating by the parties involved in a conflict.
The conflict in governance and perspectives about the distribution of national resources by different composing regions led to a three year civil war which culminated in the loss of more than two million lives and property worth billions. Then, there were series of conferences and meetings, which eventually ended the war. Thus, as the saying goes, we must "jaw-jaw after war-war". Since then, there have been more conflicts cascading in different forms - coups and counter-coup d'états, to election violence, ethnic hostilities, boundary disagreements and religious conflicts. In all this, the country has managed to survive but it is pertinent to examine how the nation has survived these crises and the role of the media in the process.
In times of peace, the people depend on the media as their source of information; however, they depend on the media more in times of conflict. Also, the rumour mills are more active in times of conflict than in peace times. These two scenarios underscore the role of the media in conflict and peace management. The functions and ethics of the media are put into question more during conflict than peaceful climes. Conflict is an indication of disagreement and the way the media handles this will go a long way in explaining the situation to resolve the conflict or aggravate the situation.
It is the duty of the media to ensure the authenticity of the information being disseminated and to convince the audience of the reality of the messages. The media should not be seen or suspected of being involved in propaganda, as this may erode its credibility and believability. As observed by Yoroms, "conflict is more pervasive once the media reports are based on imagination.
On the issue of reporting conflict in Nigeria, the Nigerian media is expected to mirror the society and set a good agenda for the society; however, it has often been caught in the web of conflicts in Nigeria. Some have been accused of supporting or playing sectional roles. The schism noted in the operations of the Nigerian media has led to its tendency to incite division along the Lagos/Ibadan Axis and the Kaduna/Abuja axis. This, by implication, means pitching the South and the North against each other. The media have been accused of promoting regional agenda. This comes to fore more during conflicts. The media have often been blamed for exacerbating crisis rather than ameliorating it. In reality, some of them have been highly yellow and sensational in their choices of headlines and language. They often create Manichaean environment of realism: "we" versus "them."
Yau (2008) noted that "journalists were agreed that the media have in many cases helped to escalate conflict rather than de-escalate them. One of the causes of this problem was attributed to poor understanding of the issues by the journalists and carelessness in cross checking facts and figures about the conflict situation" Thus, some of the factors that can be identified as influencing the reportage of conflict by the Nigerian media include; editorial leaning, ownership influence, low technical skills, lack of access to information, identification with regional bias, political influence, economic patronage, religious and ethnic biases, and lack of investigative journalism, inadequate equipment and other operational tools.
The Editorial leaning on which each media organisation belong is easily discernible. This is reflected in the kinds of market they have carved for themselves. For instance, it is generally believed that the Nigerian Television Authority, which is supposed to be a public station, is mainly used for the propagation of any government in power, while others like the African Independent Television, Channels News Station, Silverbird and a few others are seen as alternative voices with their own biases as the case may be. For the print, the Tribune and the weakened New Nigeria are largely seen as supporting the courses of the Yoruba race and the North respectively, while The Nation, Compass and some others are for known political parties and the interest of their owners. The mention of Daily Trust and Leadership newspapers are often considered as newspapers that protect the interests of the North, while This Day and The Sun are seen as leaning towards the South-South and the South East interests respectively.
Ownership influence is another factor that has influenced how conflicts are reported in Nigeria. Some media corporation owners interfere in the day to day activities of the organisation and force them to favour their friends and associates, a standard, global thought of direct manipulation of media content by corporation chiefs is the one that has been aptly couched as the Mordochization of news. This derives from well-documented examples of the media mogul, Rupert Murdoch where newspaper editors working for him tell the stories about his telephone calls directing the content of the front page. They admit that this influence their decisions and leads to self-censorship. This is largely seen from the economic and political perspectives, particularly when it comes to electioneering. In accordance with this, there seems to be an unwritten law among journalists that you do not report negative things about "a friend of the house". This means anyone with either political or economic affiliation with the owner of the media house. You may recall the well-publicised directive of the late Ibru to his editors to go and apologize to the late Sani Abacha for making a negative comment over attempts of the five political parties to adopt him as their Presidential candidate in 1997. This led to the resignation of key members of the Editorial Board of The Guardian including the Chairman, Dr. Olatunji Dare, who refused to participate in the demeaning exercise.