Harnessing Armed Forces/Press partnership in nation building

General Gabriel Olonisakin
Chief of Defence Staff

CHUKS OYEMA-AZIKEN writes that the Defence Media Operations, Defence Headquarters has continued to reiterate the importance of balanced reportage of ongoing war against criminality in the country.

When the Defence Media Operations (DMO) was activated earlier in the year, the Coordinator of the Directorate, Major- General John Enenche said the establishment is a strategic innovation of Defence Headquarters to ensure that the Armed Forces of Nigeria communicate its operational activities through one channel to the general public.

He said that the DMO will streamline to one source of communicating the operational activities of the Nigerian Military to the general public thus it will provide authentic information on all issues bothering on military operations both local and international.

“The Directorate of Defence Media Operations is to disseminate information on multi agency operations of which the Nigerian Military is the lead agency,” he said.

Thereafter, in several opportunities, the Coordinator has always made a passionate appeal on need for the media to ensure that national interest should be a consideration in it’s reportage.

Presently, the troops of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) are battling with insurgency in the North-East, banditry, kidnapping in the North-West and Central. There is economic saboteurs and kidnapping in the Southern part of the country.

Many believe that aside the civil war of 1967-1970, never a time has men and officers of the AFN been saddled with so much responsibility in defending the country.

Several officers and men of the different security agencies have lost their lives in this task.

Majority opinion is that the security challenges may have fostered to promote the selfish interest of some unpatriotic Nigerians.

It is in this context that the necessity for the DMO can be situated, and the persistent call for the media to actively play a role in changing the narrative on the crisis in the country.

Without doubt, the role of the media during war times some have said may determine it’s eventual outcome.

Good media coverage can bring relief, while bad coverage can be a source of destruction.

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in a Special report titled ‘Use and Abuse of Media in Vulnerable Societies’ stated that conventional media—radio, television, and newspapers—usually play a positive and informative role in society.
The report said that however, there are many documented cases of media
being manipulated by actors intent on instigating violent conflict.

While war coverages are nothing new, the advancement of technology, the media coverage, these days, have become so vivid and accurate that it beats any thriller or fiction.

Advent of technology has made it necessary for real time delivery of news whether positive or negative, hence appeal for patience has constantly being made, especially when a country is going through war situations.

Samyak Purkait, writing in the Indian Economist said that “War reporting is a hugely challenging and may be a satisfying job. The job requires the war correspondents to travel to the most conflict-ridden parts of the world and provide written accounts, photos, or film footage from the action theatre.

According to Purkait, “it is in this context that we need to understand and question the role of media in the coverage of war. We need to ask ourselves a basic question: is it necessary to cover in detail a gruesome event like a war by the electronic media? Is it necessary to show to the world the nerve shattering images of mutilated bodies of dead and injured children, of women who have lost everything looking vacantly at destroyed houses? Are the media houses driven only by the profit motive?

It is also a fact that media coverage brings to the forefront the actual happening of these wars. It helps to unravel the true face of a war. It also helps to bring to the spotlight war crimes and other outrages caused by the war.

However, some point out that in doing their job, media houses should act responsibly and wherever necessary, censorship should be applied.

They say that a reporter needs to be faithful to his job and not to his boss. Understandably, some bosses in the office expect the reporter to go above
sensibilities of the general public and report the news no matter the atrocities seen.

Many also believe that beyond reporting, the media practitioner should also analyse the root cause and help achieve a cessation of hostilities first and, then, find a lasting peaceful solution to the issues.

Some like Enenche will say that atrocities vividly aired by the media will lead to reprisals and will further the conflict.

A recent example is the alleged shooting of #EndSARS Protesters in Lekki, Lagos. Due to the sensibilities of the issue, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) had to sanction some media houses.

In a reaction to the incident, Enenche stated that any statement by the military before report of a panel probing the incident will create confusion.

Before this time, some have alleged that the media was giving undue coverage to terrorists in the North-East, while the media practitioners themselves are in the hunt for news that will make headlines, while the media alleged that the security agencies are not giving out needed information.

According to Maj Gen Patrick Brady – 1990, former Public Relations Chief of US Army “Journalists will say that war is too important to be left to generals. Reporting of war is too important to be left to reporters. Soldiers need to get involved in this.”

In a situation a country is in crisis, a middle way must be found to enhance national interest.

The USIP suggests that dealing with the media and communications skills should become part and parcel of all officers’ training courses. Officers should be made aware of the different levels of talking to the media – on the record, off the record and non-attributable – and they should learn how to mind their P’s and Q’s when speaking on the record.

“Officers should get to know their counterparts in the media and try to build a relationship of trust with them. They must open to them as far as is
professionally possible, take them into their confidence. If the military does
not want a story published yet, they will have to convince the media why this is so. That way, exceptions notwithstanding, the trust will mostly be reciprocated. Not always because of the high moral standard of the journalist, but because any good journalist knows that keeping confidences is in his own

Nigeria, without doubt is facing a security challenge that has swallowed huge resources, that could have been used to boost the economy

The crisis in the country needs all hands to be on deck to ensure our security agencies restore peace and promote socio-economic development.

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