The role of the press in enhancing national security dominated discourse at the 8th All Nigeria Editors Conference (ANEC) that ended in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state at the weekend. Aptly themed: “The Nigerian Editor and National Security,” security and democracy experts brainstorm on the role of the press in national security.
They called for a total redefinition of the role of the Nigerian media to make it amenable to issues bordering on security, in terms of balancing national interests against other considerations in reportage of events and issues in the country.
Experts believed that the Nigerian press has a lot to do in managing the country’s image and ensuring that citizens are well informed about issues that threaten their existence.
Aside its traditional role of information gathering, informing and educating the populace, the Nigerian press must shape public opinion and perceptions and influence such things as public orientation, attitude, patriotism and public awareness.
Having fought for democracy, independence and the enthronement of good governance in the country, experts believed it behoves on the Nigerian press to champion the cause for the protection of the democracy it fought hard to achieve.
It was therefore not surprising that some of the nation’s security experts and democracy stakeholders also showed up at the event. Among them are the National Security Adviser to Mr. President, Mohammed Sambo Dasuki, Senate President David Mark, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal who was represented by his deputy Emeka Iheodioha and Governor Godwill Akpabio.
Also present were the Information Minister, Mr Labaran Maku, former Governor of Ogun State, Olusegun Osoba, Mrs Remi Oyo, the Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigerian who was a former president of the Guild as well as senators and members of the House of Representatives and a host of others.
Those who spoke at the event were the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, who is also the Editor of Vanguard, Information Minister, Mr Labaran Maku,Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, the National Security Adviser Col. Mohammed Sambo Dasuki and Aminu Tambuwal, Speaker of the House of Representatives..
President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors set the tone for the discussion when he noted that Nigeria has been the focus of global attention for the wrong reasons, adding it behoves on the media to look beyond its traditional role of information gathering and dissemination.
Governor Akpabio, in his remarks, commended the NGE for choosing Akwa Ibom to host the event. He challenged the media to always balance national interest with other considerations without jeopardising the interest of the newspaper.
“I am excited also that you decided to choose the theme: “The Editor and National Security”. This true that the spirit of our ancestors who use the vehicle of crusading journalism to win independence for all of us is still in you.
“It will be foolhardy for you to kill the baby (democracy) you fought for. It will a great treachery for any of you to edit and include things and publish something that will kill the democracy that a lot of your colleagues gave their lives for. You will not be doing honour to the memories of those who died to bring democracy if, through your action, democracy is imperilled.
“As Editors you are the captains of the media industry and your interpretation of reality becomes the reality of our nation because the nation sees itself through you”, he said.
In his remarks, the Minister of Information condemned the attitude of Nigerian journalists in taking side whenever there is a national crisis or communal clash in the country.
He said the press must rise above religious or clannish interest in reporting events and issues in the country.
“As a reporter in government I am encouraged when I read you but there are also times that I am depressed. Whenever there is a major communal crisis in Nigeria, you can read and know newspapers and know which one is for which camp. You see from the front page and know which paper has sympathy for a religious group or ethnic group.
He charged the editors to define the interest of the nation and all the complications of its diversities in their decisions.
The Senate President, David Mark challenged Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) to ensure they play down on issues that would jeopardise peace and national stability in reportage of events and issues.
“I believe that once you are able to dialogue on sensitive issues your reports will not become a threat to national security in any form, and for those of us who are political office holders we have to be careful not be insensitive to issues that constitute national security.’’
Speaking further, he said there is no list of classified national security issues. He added, “if there is a comprehensive list, then we will also be able to criticise it, look at it and all of us would agree and said this is a comprehensive list of national security issues.’’
He called on the Guild of Editors to cross-check the Freedom of Information Act in order to know what constitutes national security.
The Speaker of the House Representatives, Aminu Tambawul, expressed delight at the theme of the conference, saying that the editors were aware of urgent problems facing the country.
He reasoned that if editors consider the profit of the proprietor above national security issues, the wellbeing of the nation would be imperilled .
The Speaker, who was represented by his deputy Emeka Ihedioha, challenged the editors to come out with recommendations that would enable the country solve some the problems facing it.
He called for a total redefinition of the role of the Nigerian media to make it more responsive without compromising its profit interest.
“I put it to you that there is a paradigm shift in national purpose. The nation has set clear goals in the area of economy and security, so it is time to rethink the role of the media and explore how as, instrument of information and education, you can be at the forefront of shaping our future positively’’, he said.
Col. Dasuki noted that in real democracies the citizens are the clients of the press and the editors have the right and responsibility to keep them informed about the dangers of terrorism and what steps to take to minimise the potentials of being victims of armed robbery and kidnapping. He called on the press to build bridges of partnership with government to curb terrorism acts in the country.
“Our newspaper headlines have to reflect this partnership. There should be no doubt in the minds of enemies of peace and freedom where the press lies. Obviously, the press is a natural partner of government in public education, awareness building, information dissemination, and national cohesion. When we talk about national transformation agenda, the media itself has to be at the forefront of change”, he added.
According to him, the citizen needs to identify and help security forces defeat dangerous elements and build resistance to extremists and indoctrination.
Journalists, he stressed, must strike a balance between national security and the motive of selling their newspapers.
“I am frequently concerned about some of the headlines I read and the tendency of the media to select sensational headlines, especially in quoting security agents or government officials.
“While I understand that the purpose of the media is to sell publications it is also important to strike a balance when it comes to national security”, he added.
He advised that the press must not contribute to raising the fear level of the society in a way that it will interfere with the works of the security agents.
From the discussions and contributions it remains to be seen how the Nigeria Guild of Editors can reposition itself in emerging realities.