Daily Trust (Abuja)

8 December 2012

Nigeria: Retooling the Media Culture in Nigeria for Conflict Management

opinion

Other challenges on the path of the media in effective, professional operation include Lack of investigative journalism: The Nigerian media and the journalists are not given to much investigative journalism. To be functional, the media should not just report what is happening but also unearth what is buried.

The media is fast becoming a house of trivia - a pattern of reporting, "he says", "they say" "at the event," "when it happened that". The coming of Newswatch Magazine in the 80s is generally believed to be the dawn of Investigative Journalism in Nigeria. This was followed by Tell Magazine and The News Magazine by establishing a culture of preformed/ investigative journalism and corresponding. However, things have since changed and the media has become increasingly handicapped in conducting serious investigations.

There is also the problem of inadequate equipment and operational tools: Many journalists in Nigeria are not provided with very basic tools for their operations and this is hampering their operations on the field. Basic equipment like laptops and internet connectivity are not provided. In most cases, journalists have to source for these equipment from the meagre salaries that they are paid, often-times in arrears. All the above factors go to impact on the semiotic and structural packaging of media content in their coverage of conflicts, in terms of language, diction and interpretation which led to the aggravation of conflicts in Nigeria. A well-documented one was the Zango-Kataf crises of the 1980s.The Kaduna religious crises was also another example; it was caused by the provocative choice of words in the coverage of the proposed Miss World contest slated for Nigeria. In all these, many lives and property were lost and the media could not perform creditably in their coverage.

We have this media problem in the reporting of both the Plateau and Boko Haram experiences which we cannot deal with here owing to space constraints. For example, it is arguable that the Nigerian media initially underrated the Boko Haram menace. While it may be true that some journalists did warn about the impending problem, many others see it as one of those protests that will come and go, hence, inadequate attention was paid to it.

Thus, it has become imperative that we retool the Media culture to cope with demands of the times. To do this, the following, among numerous other steps must be considered.

First is provision of adequate insurance: One of the most limiting factors on the ability of the journalists to give it what it takes to accurately, professionally and ethically report conflicts is the fear of the unknown. Many of them are not insured and the first thing that comes into their minds in case of any challenge is what becomes of them and their family if they are either injured or killed. Many journalists who ran into problem have had to rely on public spirited people in the society for rescue. Thus, if there is a comprehensive insurance cover, the journalists will have the courage to do their work even in the face of threat. The Nigerian Union of Journalists already taking this up with journalists' employers, but there is a need for constitutional backing for this effort.

Next is the issue of training and re-training of journalists. The training and re-training of journalists in conflict reporting has become imperative. The central role of journalists cannot be underrated in the process of conflict and peace. The principles of public interest, national interest, peaceful coexistence and unity must be reiterated in the training process, if the society must be mobilised towards sustainable peace. Many of the journalists have not received basic training in journalism while majority are not even specialists in conflict reporting. The reality today is that many are practising journalism today when they are not indeed journalists and the employers are not too bothered about this because it provides them with cheap labour.

Investigative journalism must be emphatically restated. The media culture which presently gives room for anything goes. The journalists, as the watchdog of the society, must have enough training on how to unearth the skeletons in people's cupboards without necessarily rocking the boat or endangering their lives. The journalists cannot continue to make unsubstantiated accusations against people and governments, simply because they may not take the matter up or seek judicial redress. This is a product of inadequate or total absence of investigation.

There is a critical need for an enabling legal environment for the protection of journalists. The Nigerian Constitution saddles journalists with the role of monitoring government to guarantee good governance; however, it did not provide any protection for them to do it without hindrance. It is like giving someone a task without the means of achieving the task:

It appears that the journalists in Nigeria are working at cross-purposes. They have allowed the divisive tendencies in the society to creep into their functions and this has befuddled their senses of professional competence and creativity. The media should set the agenda for the society and not the other way round. However, what we have today is a case of the media taking cue from the society to function. Though it is often argued that the media is a reflection of the society where it operates and that the society gets the kind of media it deserves, yet, there cannot be a change in any society without the media playing the key role and leading the way. The media in Nigeria does not lack the capacity to play this role. What it lacks is synergy in the way each organisation goes about doing this. There should be a forum where the journalists can meet to compare notes on which and what agenda to set for the society and which direction the already set agenda will lead the society.

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