Keeping journalists safe in their line of duty was top priority at an experts’ summit held recently in Abuja at the behest of the International Press Council tagged ‘Safety of Journalists and Emerging Issues in Conflict in Nigeria.’ At the end of the UNESCO-supported April 30, 2015 parley where town and gown jaw-jawed, a communique was issued.
About 35 experts from major media organisations, academia and law enforcement agencies attended the summit. They observed that 47 journalists were attacked between November 2014 and April 2015, mostly by security agents, armed militia men, political thugs and unknown gunmen. Till date, nobody has been docked or convicted over these attacks.
Journalists working in conflict prone areas, especially in the Northeast have been exposed to physical and mental trauma, while their offices and equipment are sometimes destroyed too.
Participants agreed also that media reporting of the Boko Haram crises sometimes do not show sufficient understanding of the north eastern landscape and the enormity of the task of combating the terrorists. The gender dimensions of conflict in the country are often under-reported too.
The meeting recommended that:
Journalists should in the course of reporting conflicts and other issues avoid compromising professional and ethical principles so as not to be seen as being biased by parties to the dispute as allegations of bias could expose them to risk or danger.
Media owners and professional associations of journalists should put in place multiple insurance schemes as part of the welfare provisions for journalists and those working in conflict prone areas should in addition be entitled to special insurance schemes as they face higher risks to life and property.
Security agents should accept the obligation to protect and ensure the safety of journalists working in conflict afflicted areas as well as attend to journalists’ requests for information rather than treat such requests as being hostile to the State.
Journalists reporting in conflict affected areas should understand that security agencies are invaluable sources of reliable information and therefore should cultivate them in a professional and respectful manner.
Media organisations and associations should commit adequate resources to the training and re-training of practitioners.
Journalists working in conflict prone areas must avoid acts that could put their lives at risk. They should adopt the principles of gender sensitivity in reporting violent conflicts especially by avoiding gory or offensive details of violent acts against women and children.
Journalists should adopt the principle of an injury to one is an injury to all, and therefore act in solidarity whenever in any one of them is subjected to harassment or assault by whosoever.
Media managers/gate keepers must not allow their partisan or commercial interests to override good judgment in reporting conflict issues so as not to expose journalists reporting from the field to unnecessary risk or danger.
The Nigerian media should hold government accountable to its constitutional responsibilities, provide for the needs of the people and alleviate poverty, so as to discourage them from resorting to acts of terrorism.
Those present at the parley include Julie Osagie-Jacobs, National Programme Officer, UNESCO; Bayo Atoyebi, former Executive Secretary, Nigerian Press Council; CSP. Abayomi Shogunle who represented the Force PRO; Louis Achi of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, (NGE) and James Uwem, of the Nigeria Union of Journalists.
Presenters were Lanre Arogundade, Director, International Press Council; Dr. Ifeoma Dunu of the Department of Mass Communication, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka; Dr Sola Ishola of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Ibadan; and Dr. Abubakar Mu’azu of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Maiduguri.