The media, both print and electronic, can play an important role in defusing tension, reducing and containing conflicts. It can do so by being deeply aware of the fragility of a country’s’ social fabric, of the efforts being expended at unifying a country’s polarized and ethnicised politics and more importantly by objectively reporting conflict incidences as they unfold.
However, recent reports appearing in cross sections of mainstream print media in Nigeria has cast a pale shadow on the role, neutrality and objectivity of media in reporting conflicts. A good case is the current activities of terrorist in Nigeria and how they are presented in the media.
This kind of “alarmist” reporting provokes pertinent questions. For instance, one would ask if the media is doing enough to provide full and objective information, which can enable the public to discharge, through informed choices, their civic rights and duties and also to make their candid suggestions on how to manage such conflicts?
In practical terms, is it possible for terrorist to operate without being noticed by anybody nor do you require military helicopters to trace terrorist all over the country? Those in the know, especially the terrorist and the military confirm it is impossible for terrorist to operate effectively in a single day.
What this entails is that as a watchdog, the media should give credit where it is due and criticism where appropriate.
Media may need to go beyond being fact-deliverers to news analysts by providing enough and candid information to create empathy for all sides involved in a conflict.
Journalists should avoid simplistic representations of issues by probing further and verify their sources in order to uphold the dignity of the media houses they work for and also to take to a higher level the role of media in peace building, well beyond reproach.
Biased and untrue reporting can breed cynicism and disenchantment about the objectivity of media in maters of conflicts, especially in a polarized and ethnicised society where a section of the citizens feel or imagine being disadvantaged in matters of media coverage and publicity.
If objective reporting is not taken into account, then the public would interpret this as dereliction of duty by journalists, news editors and media houses at large. It is also necessary to note that violence and conflict-related reports have inundated the media allover the world.
Reports bordering on violence and genocide have caught worlds attention at the expense of development based news and commentaries. Unfortunately, the media has tended to embrace such way of thinking.
The danger of this is that a nation (like what is happening in Nigeria now) that readily and avidly subscribes to this type of violence laced media will in the long run sponsor conflict or invent one where none exists.
In Rwanda, it is in record that radio was used to lay the groundwork for genocide. In Serbia, television was manipulated to stir ethnic tensions prior to civil war. In the former Soviet republic of Georgia, territorial disputes were exacerbated by the propagation of nationalist mythology in the media.
In such situations of misreporting, the ultimate losers are the ordinary people – a whole generation under the influence of canned information, who live in the shadows of the truth. In absence of truth, persistent propaganda reigns supreme and in the end becomes the “truth” because the alternative is missing or deliberately withheld.
On the other hand, the media can play a pivotal role in managing or resolving conflict. First, by acting as a watchdog, the media should blow the whistle on an imminent conflict as an early warning measure. When a suspicious movement of a given community is noticed, the media should alert the security personnel on the same.
Secondly, by heeding the early warnings and sounding the alarm, the media could act as a powerful tool in conflict management and prevention.
All conflicts start as misunderstanding or tension between and among a group. If not quickly recognized for what it is or its potential, it can in time explode to engulf a larger section of the community or nation.
Thirdly, the media should educate the public on the intricacy of a given conflict by highlighting the interests of each of the party to a conflict. For instance, the media should inform the public that the raging conflict that has so far claimed over 30 lives in Abuja district is a question of political supremacy, allegedly perpetuated by political elites in readiness to the 2015 general elections. The scramble for water and grazing resources is secondary to the conflict and an easy scapegoat.
Finally, the media should desist from temptations of scooping stories that make headlines and instead embrace objective and responsible journalism that is a bedrock to socio-economic development of society.