As the countdown to the presidential and National Assembly continues the issues of safety of journalists has taken centre stage and was the subject of discussion at a training by Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in partnership with the International Media Support (IMS), and in collaboration with the Nigeria Union of Journalists recently in Abuja, Chizoba Ogbeche reports.
The relationship between the media and most security agencies, especially the police, is often frosty mostly because the job overlap and cause friction where there is no clear understanding of the each parties responsibility and duties. This explains why in the run-up to the 2019 general elections a lot of emphasis is being placed on safety of journalists in the course of election coverage with many local and international organisations holding workshops and training on how to foster better working relationship between the media and the security agencies.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in partnership with the International Media Support (IMS), and in collaboration with the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), recently implemented a rapid response intervention aimed at addressing media safety issues before, during and after the 2019 elections in Nigeria.
According to the Founder MFWA Professor Kwame Karikari: “The intervention seeks to ensure safety of media workers to enable them produce reliable and professional reporting that contributes to credible and peaceful elections.”
Speaking during the opening of a two-day hands-on training on how to provide credible, efficient and professional coverage of the elections while staying safe for senior journalists and editors, Prof Karikari said the training would build the capacity of journalists to report effectively on election-related issues and how to work with police and security forces.
He said: “The journalists would also be given training on digital and cyber security issues to enable them secure their online communications during the coverage of the elections.
“The intervention will also provide an opportunity for experience sharing among the Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria Police force on promoting the safety and security of journalists during the electioneering period while maintaining public order.”
He said the forum would among others feature experience-sharing forum among the Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria Police with top police administration in Ghana and Sierra Leone sharing their experiences of election security management from their respective countries with 25 senior officers of the Nigeria Police Force who will be responsible for elections security.
“The experience-sharing forum will be followed by a police-media forum where senior editors and journalists, officers from the Nigeria Police, senior officers from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and other key actors will discuss modalities for police-media co-operation and safety of journalists during the electioneering period.
“The forum will discuss working protocols including the possibility of setting up support tools such as a helpline for journalists who may find themselves in difficult situations while covering of the elections.”
According to him: “After the elections, a Post-Election Police-Media Forum will also be held. The forum will bring together media actors and security agencies to discuss the collaboration of the two groups during the elections and to foster greater collaboration between the two groups going forward.
“To further strengthen and guide police-media relations and improve the safety of journalists in the country, participants at the forum would discuss and agree on the development of a Framework on Police-Media Relations.
“These interventions in Nigeria add to similar ones successfully undertaken by the MFWA, IMS and other partners in Ghana (2016), Liberia (2017), Sierra Leone (2018) and Mali (2018) which contributed immensely to improved relations and collaboration between the police and media before, during and after elections.”
On his part, acting Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu said that the roles of the Police and media are critical in ensuring that the forthcoming elections are free, fair, and critical.
The police boss assured that police must ensure security of the process and remain non-partisan, the media must ensure that accurate information concerning the polls is passed to the public.
The Police boss, while commending the organisers of the training noted that the police and the media have enjoyed a long-standing relationship working together for the betterment of society and expressed hope that the relationship would be sustained especially during the general elections.
While further assuring that the police would handle the forthcoming general elections professionally, he said personnel of the Nigeria Police have been undergone trainings to prepare them to provide a safe and conducive atmosphere during the elections.
The IGP, who was represented by Commissioner of Police in charge of the FCT Bala Ciroma further stated that officers and men to be deployed on elections duty have strict instruction to be non-partisan.
Speaking in the vein, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said the Commission has supported security agencies to prepare for the upcoming polls.
He said the Commission has trained the police as the lead agency for securing the elections to understand the role of the media during elections.
Yakubu, who was represented by the Assistant Director Broadcast Media at INEC, Mr. Chukwuemeka Ogbuaja, further said the Commission had explained the need for security personnel not to harrass journalists.
“We want to appeal to heads of security agencies to please instruct your men not to harrass journalists.
“Journalists are critical to the process and this is why we are making this passionate appeal that they be treated with utmost respect.”
Declaring the event open NUJ National President Chris Isiguzo said attacks against journalists and media equipment pose serious threats to press freedom.
“We are therefore committed to paying particular attention to the safety and protection of journalists,” he said.
The union president stressed its commitment to the objectives and principles enshrined in the Abuja Declaration of November 12, 2007 by the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), especially as it relates to coordinating actions to improve the safety and security of journalists and work with International Agencies and other stakeholders to confront impunity and build a culture of safety in journalism.
We accept that for us to achieve this, we require collective efforts and that is why we are here today engaging the support of the Nigeria Police to establish, maintain and sustain a good working relationship.
He said, “NUJ believes that protecting journalists is not treating journalists as a special case but because journalists are singled out and targeted as a result of their noble and legitimate work and that the terrain in which they work is very difficult and prone with so many hazards.
“Protection and safety of journalists is a humanitarian concern as well as a professional concern, and therefore should be everybody’s concern.”
According to him: “Desirous to ensure that practising journalists in Nigeria are effectively protected particularly as 2015 was an election year, the national secretariat set up the Monitoring Network on Safety of Journalists in 2014 to: Promote Sanctity of press freedom.
“Support media practice that reflects and represents the diversity of views and interests within the Nigerian society.
Encourage tolerance of diversity of views on issues and adherence to the rule of law in handling grievances.
“Establish, maintain and sustain a good working relationship between journalists and agents of the state; formulation of effective national security management style and information dissemination management policies.
“Liaise with Monitoring Committees in states and the FCT when the need arose to get information on issues of Safety and Security. Advise the National Secretariat on all issues of Security and Safety of Journalists for necessary action.
Advise National Secretariat on any other relevant matter (s).”
He said: “Although the Monitoring Network on Safety of Journalists did not function as effectively as we would have wished it to, we intend to re-activate and re-invigorate it.”
Speaking to our correspondent on his experience during the training, a police spokesperson from one of the South-west states said it was a welcome development but needed to be sustained and taken down to the officers in the field, mainly the rank and file.
Similarly, another senior officer from the Force Headquarters, Abuja, said the training was insightful and provided answers to some of the issues that usually caused friction between the police and journalists.
For editor of an on-line medium, Kemi Yesufu, the training was timely and would equip journalists and make them mindful of their safety during the forthcoming elections; even she looks forward to another experience sharing session after the elections.