Tackling security challenges: The role of the media
Joseph Pulitzer understood very well the importance of the press in any society as a result of which he made the above comment. The press here refers to both print and electronic media; they constitute a major pillar that shapes and builds the society. The primary roles of the media in any society which are to inform, educate and entertain are so important that societies can hardly progress meaningfully without a vibrant mass media.
Recognizing this fact, the third President of the United States of America (USA), Thomas Jefferson said, “were it left for me to choose whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I shall not hesitate a moment to choose the latter.”
The increasing level of insecurity especially terrorism in the North and kidnapping in the South in recent years in Nigeria has largely threatened our national security. Therefore, all hands must be on deck to tackle this challenge. The role of the media comes to play here.
The media determine dominant values, perceptions and attitudes of the society by its impact on it. The importance of the media in addressing national security in a democratic setting cannot be overemphasized as it is the bridge between the people and its societal activities. For any activity to get noticed, it must be reported by the media. The media must therefore make national security part of its principal agenda so as to make positive impacts.
Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended entrusted the media with the power to monitor governance and uphold the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy as enshrined in Chapter 2 of the Constitution.
To further highlight the role of the media in combating insecurity in any society, Pulitzer stated, “there is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, and there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy. Get all these things out in the open, describe them, attack them, ridicule them in the press, and sooner or later, public opinion will sweep them away.”
In line with the above assertions, the media need to set agenda for themselves in tackling insecurity. It must also provide platforms to the religious leaders to preach and admonish against criminal acts of any kind especially terrorism. This will not only make security issues attract attention but also raise citizens’ consciousness to security and crimes matters.
Once the word “insecurity” is mentioned while referring to Nigeria today, the first words to come to mind are Boko Haram, kidnapping, and ethno-religious crises and until very recently, when the agitation for the sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) started rearing its ugly head again. These words are brand used in highlighting the nature of insecurity peculiar to Nigeria among other nations of the world.
Though the nature of insecurity in Nigeria is complex, through consistent meaningful and responsible coverage of acts that breed insecurity in the country, the media can sensitize the public against such acts. Frequent discussions on issues of insecurity will not just attract attention to the need to address such challenges but also raise citizens’ consciousness and that of the security agents on the need to combat insecurity.
The mass media constitute one of the important institutions of socialization and in fact, the major cultural industry responsible for the distribution of ideas and opinion molding in the Nigerian society.
Therefore, the mass media must design deliberate features or programmes to talk against all forms of crimes. The media must rise up to the task of publicizing the current protest ongoing in the Southeast and some parts of South/South now by the MASSOB group before it gets out of hand. Reporting it now will help forestall a possible outbreak of war in the country just like 1967. Discussing their activities on the televisions and radios as well as publishing them on newspapers will attract government and security operatives’ attention to it so as to nip it in the bud.
The mass media also need to allot specific airtime and space to reports and discussions on terrorism, kidnapping and other forms of crimes capable of breeding insecurity. This will provide opportunity of highlighting and exposing the negative impacts of such crimes on the society.
The media should also be utilized by the citizens in exposing crimes and sensitizing people against criminal acts. By getting the citizens involved in information dissemination, the media will have created what can be called “Citizens Journalism.” The importance of Citizens Journalism in combating crimes was demonstrated in the gruesome murder of four students of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) at ALUU Community in Rivers State, where citizens recorded and took snapshots of the killing and clubbing to death of the students. These videos and snapshots were uploaded to the Internet through the social media and YouTube. This sparked public outcry. Citizens’ Journalism also came to play recently during this year’s Presidential elections where almost every Nigerian who had a handset became an on-the -field reporter and sent stories, pictures and political parties scores/figures to the Internet for a possible follow up by the citizens and this averted post-elections violence that could have resulted from electoral manipulations.
An atmosphere devoid of peace does not attract foreign investors nor encourage local investors to invests. Without investment, the much needed growth cannot happen and without growth, there cannot be development. An expatriate who is afraid of being kidnapped for ransom or bombed will not be willing to invest in a crisis ridden environment. Therefore, to achieve growth and development, all forms of insecurity must be defeated and subdued completely and the media have a lot to do in our attaining a peaceful and business friendly environment that will attract investors to the country.
Despite the very important role placed on the mass media by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the media are yet to rise to be effectively mobilized as a tool for combating insecurity in the country. This is because the media themselves are faced with a lot of challenges, ranging from poor welfare package for media practitioners, lack of continuous and constant training and retraining exercises for media workers, the tendency of journalists to be self-censored for fear of victimization by their employers to reluctance of citizens to give information for fear of being attacked.
For the media to effectively play its role in tackling insecurity in the nation there must be improved welfare package for journalists, adequate training for journalists, and insurance cover for them to motivate to engage in dare-devil conflict reporting in the interest of the public. Also, the security agents must work closely with the media players for effective crime fighting. Periodic workshops, symposia and seminars on sophisticated crime reporting among others are pertinent to keep the journalists up-to-date in modern trend in mass media use in tackling insurgency and other forms of criminal activities.
• Ileonikhena, Iju-Ishaga, Lagos.