"Pen in the hand of an unrestrained journalist, maybe more harmful than gun in the hand of an aggressor"

It has become imperative for Nigerian media to improve its understanding of conflict reporting, in order to improve its impact in helping the nation minimize loses, while improving gains in conflict situations.

It is true that nobody will argue that the function of media is to report events as they happen. But in addition to reporting, media also has the primary purpose of public enlightenment and sensitization.

Almost everyone in the society gets their information from the media. This strategic position makes journalism very important and gives it practitioners the power to influence public opinion, provide link between government and the people and affect socialization.

The matter of peace and conflict comes in under socialization and if media will effectively inform, educate and sensitize public on peace and conflict matters to promote decent socialization among members of the society, it must, as a matter of necessity, improve its understanding and reporting pattern of conflict.

Cate Malek, an educator of journalists on conflict reporting had stated that, journalist understanding of methods of reporting conflict is very necessary because; a reporter's story on a conflict can be the sole information available to his audience. How the reporter frames the conflict can bias the audience in favor of one party, or one solution over another; it can intensify the conflict, or cool it down. Journalists therefore need to exercise some restraints in using their power. Pen in the hand of an unrestrained journalist, maybe more harmful than gun in the hand of an aggressor.

Peace and conflict, like every other sector has its own professionals and practitioners. For example, not every media practitioner will report and analyze sport. The same with business, legal matters and others. In like manner, those who will report conflict need basic conflict reporting techniques to ensure they are using their platform for good, not the opposite. This is exactly what we are advocating.

In this past week, Foundation for Peace Professional (FPP) sent out letters to some television stations in an effort to improve how matters of peace and conflict is being discussed on the media. We commended the television stations for the good work they are doing in educating the public and shaping citizen’s opinion through regular dissection of burning issues.

Additionally, we observed that on burning national political issues, TV stations often invite seasoned politicians and public affairs analysts to shape public views by properly outlining major points and contextualizing the matter in the right perspective. Similarly, on matters with legal implication, they invite legal practitioners and human right activists to give proper interpretation to issues in other to rightly inform the public. This is the best approach to properly inform the audience on matters of public interest.

However, we noted that the approach of best practices often observed in discussing national political issues and matters with legal implications are not usually replicated on matters of peace and conflict. Many atimes, when discussing conflict matters or outbreak of violence, we seldom see peace professionals, conflict experts or mediation specialist discussing the matter. Instead, those we see doing this important task are politicians, legal practitioners or public commentators who may have limited or no knowledge about peace and conflict processes.

We are worried because as media organizations continue feature politicians and legal practitioners in place of peace analysts with grounded understanding of peace processes; this may be denying the public vital contextualization they need to make informed opinion, something that is very dangerous in a sensitive country like Nigeria.

It is important to clarify that peace and conflict analysis is a profession with its own practitioners, who are properly trained to analyze issues in the right perspective. Proper analysis of conflict often helps to limit destructive impact as well as escalation, while improper analysis may exacerbate negative effect, influence escalation or raise unnecessary tension that may lead to further violence and reprisal.

This is why media organizations are enjoined to reach out to people with basic skills of conflict analysis to serve as analysts on their platforms, instead of politicians and legal practitioners. No doubt, there are politicians and legal practitioners that had undergone training in conflict analysis, such individuals too can be engaged for such task.

Jaldeep Katwala provides a list of 10 things journalist shouldn’t do when reporting conflict, i will list 5 of them that are relevant and explain it in the Nigerian context.

1. Don’t write in clich├ęs: Journalist doesn’t need to adopt the overused terms of tragedy to report conflict in other to make the story catchy.

2. Don’t believe everything someone tells you under the guise of eye witness: Most narrators often do not narrate the true encounter, they simply re-echo the popular views they hear from others in the area. The opinion leaders are keen to generate interest in their perspective. They have a story to tell and they sell this perspective to the people, who then relay it to whoever they encounter.

3. Don’t get things out of context: Every story has a context. Reporters should ensure to contextualize the story in line with national, regional, global or historical context.

4. Don’t accept information without questions: When people claim certain numbers of people have been victims, kindly ask for evidence. Do not quote a figure without an evidence to justify it. If you can’t find evidence, please don’t use it.

5. Don’t be led by other people’s agenda: Many conflicts are used to drive an agenda. As a journalist, do not allow any group use you to drive an agenda. Understand the issue before narrating the incident.

In view of the above, we at the Foundation for Peace Professionals appeal most respectfully that, whenever issues of conflict, violence or peace building is to be discussed or reported on the media, media organizations should en-devour to speak with peace professionals, conflict experts or mediation specialists to put issues in proper perspectives. We are confident that such patriotic move will enrich, not reduce the quality of the reportage or analysis.

Abdulrazaq Hamzat is an Executive Director of Foundation for Peace Professionals.

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