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The highest hierarchy of the Nigerian Army has stressed the determination of the institution to promote, protect and defend the human rights of all Nigerians without let or hindrance even as it called on the media to be fair, objective and patriotic in the discharge of her duties in line with section 22 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended). 

This is even as the chief of Army staff lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai has won this year’s award of excellence in transparency and accountability by a coalition of 36 registered civil rights bodies led by the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) following the prompt response by the Chief of Army staff to a freedom of information request by Socio-economic and accountability project (SERAP) AND TWO others.

At a media session recently to round up a nation-wide interactive meetings on promoting cordial but professionally excellent relationship between Nigerian media and Nigerian military  organized by HURIWA in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the Director, Army Public Relations Brigadier General Sani Kukesheka Usman stated that the Nigerian Army operates in accordance with global best practices and in total compliance with constitutional provisions. He called on the media to enlighten Nigerians on their civic duties of maintaining law and order and to keep away from tendencies that can undermine national security.  

His words: “It’s my pleasure to be here to parley with you on a very important issue such as reportage of issues bordering on security.

I’m sincerely delighted to be here to deliver a goodwill message as everybody sitting here is a very important instrument. Therefore, it is imperative that you always have our national security, the interest and wellbeing of the people at the back of your mind whenever you are reporting.

There is no doubt that the media plays a very significant role in enhancing peaceful co-existence in any given society. This is more apparent in a heterogeneous country such as Nigeria. Permit me to say that all of you here have in your possession a very important instrument which is double-edged and that instrument is your pen, which if wrongly used, could cause unimaginable havoc. Please remember that you have the tool and the followership to either strengthen or mar the peace, tranquillity of our dear nation, Nigeria.”

“In a recent parley with media executives in Abuja, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. TY Buratai said that the war against terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria need to be reported as it is and therefore, the media needs to enlighten the people to understand the true situation and support the military. There is no doubt, given your significant role and influence over your various audiences, you can stabilize or destabilize situation. Therefore, it is imperative that you always have at the back of your mind the interest, wellbeing and security of our nation at the back of your mind whenever there is need to print, circulate, share or broadcast news items or programmes.”

“General Usman further stressed thus: “The media is vital in every society being the fourth estate of realm, conscience and ombudsman of the society. Your traditional role of informing, educating, enlightening, entertaining, investigation and drawing public attention to issues of interest, helps shape opinions and understanding of issues that enable the citizens and policymakers make informed decisions. Modern technology and social media revolution has deepened and broadened these roles.”

As professionals you need to always cross check facts and confirm from official source(s) when reporting issues of security concern. You must first ponder on the troubling reality of how the audience/public digest, decipher and react to information. It should not be seen as a divisive instrument among the people, but rather be meant for the promotion and consolidation of national unity and integration. I wish to urge you all to please take always ask if your reportage could boost the strength or project the course of Nigeria’s adversaries, if it could instigate public fear and or could cause hatred amongst citizenry or against the government of the day. Furthermore, try to ascertain if it could damage the nation’s hard earned reputation or disrespect the highest office and national interest. As you balance your stories, I urge you to endeavor to support, consider national security narratives and downplay messages from enemy of the state.”

Amos Jordan and William Taylor (1981) posited thus: “National security, however, has a more extensive meaning that protection from physical harm; it also implies protection, through a variety of means, of vital economic and political interests, the loss of which could threaten fundamental values and the vitality of the state.” You will all agree with me that without a safe and secure environment, there cannot be development either economical, social, political and so on. The protection of our national security is sacrosanct to supporting national development which will in turn guarantee a social wellbeing for us all. It is therefore the responsibility of all citizens, especially the media to ensure security of lives and properties and to also put into consideration the Nigeria’s national security in reportage. Doing so will definitely ensure a sustainable development. This could only be achieved by being patriotic and giving responsible security reporting.”

The Theme, Participating between the Media and Nigerian Military for Responsible Security Reporting is very apt at this point considering the security situations in our dear country and the upcoming general elections. It is important for us to remain patriotic and avoid subjective security related broadcast. This can only be achieved through responsible reporting. I hope this conference will inject fresh thoughts into participants about this critical issue.”

Permit me to quote from the Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Mr Emmanuel Onwubiko who said; “The media must exercise the greatest discretion and report responsibly because the corporate health and existence of Nigeria is endangered and indeed we are indirectly in an era of enforced emergency created by the dared evil terrorist activities of Boko Haram Terrorists.” “I would suggest that whatever professional sacrifices the media must give to preserve the sanctity of the territorial integrity of Nigeria and conserve national security must be done now that Nigeria faces the greatest threats against our very existence as a nation and a people. The haste to write sensational story to capture the imagination of buyers and advertisers must be mitigated by the urgency of the now to preserve our national security because if there is no Nigeria there will be no Nigerian media.”

Similarly, Professor Godwin B. Okon of the department of Mass Communication of the Rivers state university, Port Harcourt, urged the media in Nigeria to abide by the time -tested and time- honoured professional ethics of journalism which are objectivity, balance, truth and adherence to the due process of the law.

Delivering a lecture titled “Social Responsibility of the mass media; a functional appreciation” at the forum by HURIWA , Professor Okon states thus: “The cultural norms typology enjoins the mass media to give an account of the day’s events in a context that gives them meaning. In other words, the mass media ought to serve as the repertoire of information needed to advance knowledge through rational discourse. Information as contextualized above is key and central to all forms of activities in humanistic settings. Every individual needs information to adapt knowledgably to the society while reacting intelligently to the environment.”

“The surveillance function of the mass media draws expression from the notions of social responsibility. Surveillance in this context relates to the constant flow of public information or news about events occurring within the country and in the world. The news and information role of the mass media make them the watch dog and sentinel of society.”

The University teacher stated that when news is properly reported in the order of the 5Ws & H, the reader does not only stand to benefit from the on-the-spot assessment of the situation but also stands to gain a full understanding of the ultimate meaning and significance of events. 

His words: “Bryant and Thompson (2002) have streamlined cognate functions the mass media are expected to play in humanistic settings. As espoused by Galadima and Goshet (2013:15), these functions include: 

i.       Surveillance of contemporary events that are likely to affect citizens positively or negatively;

ii.      Identification of major socio-political issues in the polity;

iii.     Provision of advocacy platforms for the articulation of various causes and interests;

iv.     Transmission of diverse contents, factions and dimensions of political discourse;

v.      Scrutiny of government officials, institutions and agencies;

vi.     Giving incentives and information to empower citizens to become actively informed participants rather than mere spectators”.

Others are the Provision of robust resistance to extraneous forces attempting to subvert media autonomy and 

viii.   Respectful consideration of the audience as potentially interested, concerned and sense making citizens”.

He also quoted copiously from experts saying: “Furthermore, Oso (2012) citing Dahlgreen (2001) notes that the mass media have been instrumental in globalizing the normative features of democracy. Cursory observations show that media reports are replete with accounts of politically motivated acts of violence. Somehow, it has been entrenched in the consciousness of many that there can be no elections in Nigeria without violence – that fear may be imaginary or worse still is blown out of proportion. Emphatically, a culture of political violence can never be allowed to give colouration to our political outlook.”

“Viewed from a spectrum of professions, journalism remains a foremost profession that can enthrone a viable political culture and open a vista of professional values quite capable of repositioning Nigeria’s democracy in line with international best practices. The Nigeria legal framework aptly acknowledges this as captured in section 22 of the 1999 constitution:

“… the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times… uphold the fundamental objectives contained in the chapter and responsibility of government to the people.”

Professor Okon said that what is however required to safeguard our vintage democracy is for media organizations /journalists to develop a checklist for enthroning a culture of empathy and social responsibility.

The cardinal role of the press is he reminded his audience are to inform, educate and entertain and not to rock the ship of the state. This however balances out in the spread sheet of what is right and acceptable versus what is wrong and unacceptable bringing to force the framework of ethical considerations that border on truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, fairness and public accountability.

The University don stated that since ethics help govern the dynamics of a profession, their inherent benefits can indeed not be overemphasized. These benefits have been streamlined according to the context of this paper as under listed:

i.       They provide a profession with a framework for understanding the concept of right and wrong;

ii.      They help stimulate a ready understanding of how to react to certain situations long before they occur;

iii.     They serve as legacies through which members of a professional body are able to show others the correct way to act and behave under given conditions;

iv.     They engender a knowing-doing disposition among members of a professional body.”

Also, a Port Harcourt based legal practitioner, Mrs. Queeneth Eremwari Kelsey emphasized the need for media practitioners to be aware of the various ramifications of extant media laws so as to practice journalism in line with the constitutional norms and stay away from litigation that may result from libels and slanders and fake news as captured by the anti cyber crimes Act of 2015.

She said: “The issue of national security is a fundamental issue in national and international discourses. It is in recognition of this fact that this paper explores the Nigerian perspective of how the operations of the mass media and the law may encroach into each other’s domain as well as the implication of such encroachment to national security.”

“The mass media, by their pre-eminent position in national life, affect other sectors of national development. They are also affected and influenced in their functions by the operations of other sectors. It is against the backdrop of this feeling that one views the mass media and law as complementary sectors that impinge on each other in the facilitation of the operations of other sectors of the polity.”

On his part, the National Coordinator of HURIWA Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko announced General Buratai as winner of the civil society award for transparency for 2019. He said the award would be presented to the Army Chief in the coming days even as he called on other government officials to abide by the Freedom of information Act and become transparent in their official and private conducts.

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