How 'peace journalism' can enhance peace in Niger Delta

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Niger Delta

Submitted: May 27, 2008

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Submitted: May 27, 2008



How 'peace journalism' can enhance peace in Niger Delta

Written By Sule Seun Saheed

IT is interesting to note that the Nigerian Media responded to the 2004/5 crises in the Niger Delta region through various news reports, editorials, opinion articles, features and interviews with various parties to the conflict and stakeholders. The media also followed the issues raised in the armed conflict, beginning from June to December 2004 when a peace accord was signed by the warring parties in Abuja.

It is also significant to note that the media has equally continued to draw attention to some of these issues to date. This paper is therefore a study of how the Nigerian media reported the 2004 Conflict in Nigeria's Niger Delta with a view to using this case study to situate the critical role of Peace Journalism in Nigeria.

This is because the media, through its coverage of conflicts, can deliberately or inadvertently promote conflicts as well as encourage peace in order to "reduce human suffering, increase human happiness."

It is my hope that at the end, this paper should assist media practitioners, journalists, diplomats, scholars, media managers, mediators, government information managers and various parties to the series of conflicts in the continent, in playing roles that would lead to the prevention of future conflicts as well as help in conciliation and amelioration.

According to Galtung, "the low road, by far dominant in the media, sees a conflict as a battle and the battle as sports arena and gladiator circus." He added: "The parties, usually reduced to the number 2, are combatants in the struggle to impose their goals. The underlying reporting model, often very visible, is that of a military command: who advances, who capitulates short of their goals; counting the losses in terms of nunmders killed, wounded, and material damage. The zero-sum perspective draws upon sports reporting where "winning is not everything, it is the only thing".

The same perspective is applied to negotiations as verbal battles: who outsmarts the other, who gets the other to say yes; who comes out closest to his original position. War journalism has sports journalism, and court journalism." This is the very opposite of Peace Journalism.

It is significant to note that scholars like Philip Seib, CNN reporter Christiene Amanpour, Martin Bell, Newsday journalist Roy Gutman who covered the war in Bosnia have maintained consistently that war-time journalists should be fair to all sides and have a human conscience in the face of genocide rather than resorting to propaganda.

For instance, Amanpour, obviously moved and touched by the killings in Bosnia in 1994 went ahead during a CNN "Global Forum" in 1994 to criticize US President Bill Clinton who was in the American studio for that forum in very strong terms: "As leader of the free world, as leader of the only super power, why has it taken you, the United States, so long to articulate a policy on Bosnia? Why, in the absence of a policy, have you allowed the U.S. and the West to be held hostage to those who have a clear policy, the Bosnia Serbs?" She queried further: " why the constant flip-flop of your administration on the issue of Bosnia?" An obviously embarrassed and angry Clinton could only respond thus: "There have been no constant flip-flops, madam." But as indicated in these exchanges, Amanpour had made her point, a role which every journalist covering war and conflict should play in the midst of over whelming evidence of suffering, anguish, killings and genocide.

Michael Dobbs in his book, How Television Fills The Leadership Vacuum on Bosnia quoted a senior US policy maker reacting rather angrily to Amanpour's declaration, describing her as symbol of "the evil press that undermines military policy and creates political pressures that can't be dealt with rationally...She is a particular obsession with the military. We routinely sit around and try to figure out how to react when she shows up at the scene of some tragedy."

But it is important to note, however, that despite this shortcoming on the part of the media here in Nigeria, we must come to terms with the fact that there is no media anywhere in the world that can be said to truly free from one form of ethical and political dilemma. Even in corporate America where the media is regarded as the greatest voice of the people, studies have shown that it is the most potent manipulator of public opinion, because "the media form for us (Americans) our image of the world and then tell us (corporate America) what to think about that message."

This study of the influence of the mass media on the thinking of the American people further reveals, "the control of the opinion-molding media is nearly monolithic." This is so because "all controlled media-television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, motion pictures speak with one single voice, each reinforcing the other. Despite the appearance of variety, there is no real dissent, no alternative source of facts or ideas accessible to the great mass of people which might allow them to form opinions at odds with those of the media masters."

In fact, the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US, have since more than ever before challenged the neutrality of the US media in the face of national interest. This is because, no nation, should toy with national interest and the media being part of the society, is ordinarily duty-bound to promote national interest.

For instance, before the US forces moved against Afghanistan, the US media complied strictly with the US government's "request" not to give voice to Osama bin Laden's speeches. This in simple language implied that the media should not in any way air Osama bin Laden's views or speeches. The CNN and other media organizations in America, including Fox News complied with this advice whole-heartedly.

Worse still, in the early days of the first Gulf War in 1991, it would be recalled that the political and media space was so censored by the American authorities to the extent that those journalists like New Zealand-born Peter Arnett who had been domiciled in the US for more than two decades and have won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize on account of his excellent coverage of the Vietnam War was fired by his US media organization for granting an interview on Iraqi Television, stating the facts as he saw it. Republican Senator Jim Bunning from Kentucky was so furious that he slammed a treason charge against Arnett. It was the Daily Mirror of Britain that was to hire a disappointed Arnett.

On the whole, the Nigerian media, from the analysis above, failed in my view, to produce critical journalistic reports in line with the principles and practice of Peace Journalism during the 2004 Niger Delta Conflict.

Even more crucial and serious is the conclusion, arising from our critique of the media coverage of the conflict given the fact that the principles of Peace Journalism were lacking in the media reports. The tragedy is that the media may be perceived as a propaganda tool that was in most cases manipulated to serve the cause of war Journalism or Journalism of attachment, to quote Martin Bell.

Another element is that the truth of the conflict was concealed by the media. As Philip Knightley noted in his analysis of the Kosovo war, this sort of situation poses grave danger not only to War journalists' lives but also to the survival of journalistic ethics as essential tools of Journalism.

In view of this, this paper recommends that there is urgent need on the part of the Nigerian media to strike a balance between ethical journalism and certain limitations imposed on it by sheer "attachment" as well as understand that their reports have far graver consequences and impact on peoples and governments.

There is the urgent need to train and retrain African journalists in the field of Peace Journalism. This is more so with the emergence of the Internet and the consequent globalization of the news sphere today. But the journalist is also a human being living and working in a society. These are other dimensions of the debate.

As Philip Seib, in his book, The Global Journalist, who can rightly be described as one of the leading advocates of a new movement or school argues "it is morally wrong for journalists to stand by and watch innocent children being slaughtered, women raped, children being maimed and refuse to 'to prod policy makers for action to stop the genocide through incensive, investigative and consistent reports which draw public pity and attention.' Because from the scenes of genocide and news coverage of the endless wars around the world - from Congo, to Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Sierre Leone - it is clear that the role of the media in peace building is critical. For instance while reflecting on BBC's coverage of the camps during the Bosnia war, especially the tale of horror in Srebrenica, BBC'S bigwig, Alan Little could not help but admit that his news organization failed because it never bothered about moral conscience.

Also, Kevin Carter learnt this bitter lesson before he committed suicide on account of the very sad and horrifying experiences he encountered as a photojournalist during those war years in Africa.

Another recommendation that is worth making is that media institutions in Africa must, at all times, endeavour to stand for the public good. It should be disturbing to the media that studies conducted by the US-based Forum House a few years ago indicated clearly that ethical principles such as accuracy, integrity, balance and objectivity are gravely undermined in many African countries, including Nigeria.

It is also important that the Nigerian media re-assert itself as the indispensable champion of the cause of the ordinary people by being pre-occupied more with agenda setting journalism rather than reacting to government policies, actions or inactions.

To this end, both the print and electronic media establishments in the country should formulate working guidelines in line with each organization's corporate mission and vision, which should be published as compulsory handbooks for working journalists.

In this regard, various Nigerian and indeed African universities and institutions of higher learning with Departments of Journalism and Mass Communication should incorporate War and Peace Journalism modules as well as Ethical Journalism into their curriculums.

This is because in a new global world where conflicts and tension have become growing phenomenon, the journalist of today and of the future will depend on his knowledge of War and Peace Journalism, to function effectively.

The various governments of member states of the African Union (AU) should initiate a process whereby at least three universities with strong specialization in the field of Peace Journalism be established to deal with this new module in Africa.

Although journalism practice in Nigeria has come of age, having been in existence for about a century and half, it is currently faced with a critical challenge: how it can effectively serve as a catalyst for conflict prevention, conciliation, transformation and bridge-building in a country currently faced with various challenges bordering on peace, security and development. To play a major role in this task, it is imperative that Nigerian journalists should start to place emphasis on specialization and capacity building in furtherance of its role of strengthening democracy and good governance. The media should train and retrain its personnel to be specialists in various fields of coverage where they can authoritatively affect, influence and dictate policy responses in Nigeria, Africa and the world at large.

For Nigerian media to be relevant in a new global media order, it must be alive to its roles and responsibility as an independent, credible, impartial and objective watchdog of society and broaden its capacity, competence and scope in the face of increasing new trends and developments in the current global environment.

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