This is indeed a critical period of our national life when a raging war on desperate terrorists has kept military operations in North-East and others parts of the north in persistent media spotlight. And as would be expected, the subject now dominates the country’s online media content.
As it is, online media, which capitalise on rapidly evolving and changing new technology unlike its well established traditional media counterpart is still evolving and ethics and regulations that will guide its conduct and practice are yet to be developed. It is yet to be fully standardised. Nonetheless, online media have the advantage of accessibility, cost effectiveness, longer lifespan, and interactivity, speedy and updated knowledge. It is therefore, not surprising that traditional media have also added online platforms even though they still strictly adhere to the traditional code of ethics of journalism practice. History relates that the media, as the alternative government is always viewed with suspicion by governments because of its responsibility of keeping governments on its toes but since the ultimate beneficiary is the citizen, both governmental actors and media practitioners tolerate themselves for the lofty end of attaining the desired society.
This writer was therefore, greatly alarmed by the recent turn of events following hot exchanges of missives between the Nigerian Army and a very popular online medium, Sahara Reporters on issues bordering on the war on terror. The accusations and counter accusations were indeed unnecessary if only the two parties attempted a review and re-examination of their existing relationship.
From Public Relations perspective, one can easily sense the growth of mutual suspicion and mistrust between the military and some online media, which is quite a disturbing trend that should be addressed in the national interest.
There are many factors responsible for the mistrust. For instance, when the media alleges that Nigerian military is ill-equipped, it ignores the fact that most of the weapons used by insurgents were actually captured from fleeing Nigerian troops; the media on one hand accuse soldiers of fleeing from battle field (a treasonable action) and on the other hand cry foul when the same erring troops are being punished appropriately according to the law; and when the military, through constitutionally approved procedures conduct trials and sentences mutinous soldiers, the press still condemns such verdicts in a that that could promote further indiscipline in the barracks.
Also in desperation for exclusive stories, the media consciously or unconsciously promote terrorists’ agenda by publishing unethical gory videos and alarming statements of the groups which depict horror and intended to scare the military and frighten citizens. Such propaganda components weaken the morale of troops and boost the confidence of insurgents.
On the flip side however, in their attempt to manage information, the military oftentimes horde stories rather than providing timely and adequate information for public reassurance. Media practitioners have also accused the military of media selectivity rather than treating them equally, while occasionally displaying partisanship to the party in power. While it is true that some media are financed and funded by politicians, the military erroneously assume the media serves only the interests of their proprietors rather than national interest.
If public officials must take the pain to respond to each and every criticism, most of which are quite unnecessary, one may ask: how often have they acknowledged and responded to positive reports with the same speed and zeal? Some argued that if they don’t respond in equal measures to positive report like negative editorial, they therefore, have no justification to criticise the same media for bias.
It is unfortunate that, while the military views constructive editorial contents as attacks by enemies and the opposition, the media also view every genuine action and statement from the military with scepticism as mere propaganda.
It is not only those in the security services that are concerned about national interest. In fact, the media have shown greater concern for national security by penning editorials to ginger those in authority to do more in protecting the territorial integrity of our nation. The media widely celebrates military accomplishments and feat against terrorists with wide screamers in prominent pages and premium spaces. And so, editorial contents should not be seen as condemnation but rather as wakeup call to improve military and governmental operations in the protection of citizens.
One message, I learnt as a PR person, is never to underrate or underestimate any medium not to talk of one with repute and wider audience. Each medium has its unique audiences. The only way to win the hearts and minds of those targeted audience is through sustained and improved media relations in order to benefit from mass communication platforms.
Meanwhile not all perceived negative reports require official rebuttals when appropriate actions can easily douse the tension and resolve misconceptions. It is the antics of politicians to issue provocative statements in response to media provocation. In fact, proactive and timely measures can solve many issues.
My appeal to Sahara Reporters and other online media that are concerned about insecurity in the country is to continue to be focused in supporting the military in its war on terror, while the military should also recognise the fact that the war is not only won by armoured tanks and troops but by the media and the information they provide though their platforms.