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Media, Conflict Sensitive Reporting And National Dev Manasseh F. Paul-Worika

In the heat of the election season, the Rotary Club of Port Harcourt Cosmopolitan and the Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ), Rivers State Council organized a one-day training on Peace and Conflict Resolution and Prevention, at the Ernest Ikoli Press Centre, Moscow Road, Port Harcourt.

The seminar with theme, ‘’Is Peace Possible?’’ featured seasoned journalists and stakeholders in the media industry who spoke on topical issues relating to conflict sensitive reporting.

In her welcome address, President of the Rotary Club, Port Harcourt Cosmopolitan and a former Commissioner for information and Communication, Rivers State, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari noted the importance of communication dissemination on public discourse.

She said different types of media are utilized globally to distribute knowledge, and idealistically, a free mass media is a tool of and signpost for democracy pointing out that freedom of expression is not only the core of a healthy media but also a fundamental human right and vital for a democratic structure, which means that the media cannot elect to be partisan or biased if it hopes to be authentic  of a purveyor of democratic growth and peaceful societies.

Semenitari noted that, in addition to informing people, journalism can shape and spread values, defuse tensions, and counter hate-speech, providing an array of different views and opinions. And through its capacity, journalism can help people question established ideas and reflect on pressing issues.

She said, ‘’in any culture of prevention, effective and democratic media are an essential part and indispensable for societies trying to make a transition towards peace and democracy. And so, the media too can help improve governance by making public administrations more transparent and accountable, and enable citizens to become active stakeholders who understand policies and use information to exercise their rights”.

All of these are critical for preventing conflict if the goal is to move from polarization to positive relationships. “If we understand peace as a process to transform conflict, we must consider that this is not possible without access to independent information. Therefore, much interest has been placed on the challenges journalists are faced with in violent and conflict driven regions, and the role they can play to build and sustain peace,” she added.

Speaking on the topic, Identifying the triggers and preventing conflict: the role of the media”, Mr. Robinson Tombari Sibe explained that conflict remain a vital element of any given society, noting that so far there are diverse interests, perceived threats and disagreement, there’s bound to be conflict.

He added that although it is difficult to totally displace conflict in any society, the journalist through the reportage of sensitive stories could either heighten tension or create an atmosphere for peace to thrive in.

He said, ‘’ in the peace process, the journalist is like a spark plug having the initial ability to trigger conflict or disagreement in the society in the manner of reportage of stories. It is important for all journalists to see themselves as bridge builders and not otherwise, knowing fully well that through your writings, you can bridge the gap or disintegrate the nation.’’

He advised journalists and media professionals to be objective in reporting and ensure that all information are verified before presenting them to the public; and called on journalists to always report all sides of a story and not just two sides.

Pastor Bekee Anyalewechi speaking on the topic, “Conflict sensitive Reporting: Dealing with Emotions, Sentiments and Personal Interests”, pointed out that emotions should not drive the pattern of reporting a story. He added that journalists must rely on the rules of the journalism at all times and never allow emotions cloud their judgement.

He said, ‘’as a journalist, personal interests and emotions should never be part of your story if you want to gain the trust of your audience. When your stories are balanced, fair and accurate, you naturally attract the audience to yourself.’’

Anyalewechi noted that reporting on emotions inherently challenges the journalists’ ideals of objectivity and factuality, and further called on journalists to always put the interest of the audience first.

“an ethical journalist will detach personal feelings from the story he is covering, and simply report facts. But, objective journalism is something that you don’t see much anymore. “No matter how hard it is, and its hard sometimes, I’ve always remembered that my job as a journalist is to report the facts, not try to tell people how to think. That’s what I’ve always done; put the facts out there, and let my readers draw their own conclusion,” he said.

Delivering his lecture on, “News Room Management: The Role of the Editor in Conflict Reporting, a former General Manager of Rivers State Newspaper Corporation, Mr. Celestine Ogolo explained that conflict is divided into two categories namely, Latent conflict and Manifest conflict.

He said that latent conflict is the conflict of ideas. That is, when there’s an argument amongst people in the realm of ideological differences, while the manifest conflict is primarily about war.

He added that, when latent conflict is not given proper attention, it escalates to manifest conflict which affects the entire good of the society.

Ogolo said the journalist, in trying to report conflict sensitive stories must ask and adequately answer four prominent questions, 1.) Do you really understand what is going on? (Having a background information on the issue). 2.) What are the underlined causes of the conflict? 3.) What are the full effects of the conflicts on constituents? 4.) Where are you getting your facts?

He said, ‘’the media needs to assume both moral and legal responsibilities for all that they publish for the general good of the public. This creates a platform that makes the media reporting truthful, accurate and objective at all times. Consequently, journalists must be rigorous in their duty to provide all relevant facts, assuring that their voice does not tailor to the special interests and needs of corporate and political leaders, and consciously portray the context of every story.

If the practice of journalism does not adhere to these principles, it may risk depicting only one side of the story and may fail to convey an honest narrative that acknowledges the complex and numerous social, economic, cultural and political factors that contribute to criminalize and stigmatize the most vulnerable groups,’’ he added.

Blessing Olomu, Head of Station, Cool/Wazobia FM, Port Harcourt, speaking on, “How Journalists Can Contribute to Peace Keeping, Peace building and Peace-making, pointed that journalism that contributes to peace, focuses on trying to humanize all victims of a conflict, seeking to uncover the complexities behind violent driven situations, noting that, journalists do not exploit suffering and loss, but seek to convey a balanced account of the information.

She said, “peace journalism is when editors and reporters make choices about what to report and how to report it create opportunities for society at large to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict.’’

She added that, peace journalism is possible when journalists report every side of a story and not just two sides, noting that if the society falls apart, the journalist through objective reporting can bring the society back together.

Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, speaking on “Staying Safe when Reporting conflict”, urged reporters and journalists to ensure they make personal safety a key when reporting conflict sensitive stories.

She said, ‘’as a reporter, your personal safety is key. Don’t go for any story you haven’t given a brief to your editor, next in line and colleague. “Ensure you report all sides of your story. When people know you’re not mischievous in your reporting, they wouldn’t come after you.”

She urged journalists to always cross check, double check and fact check stories before giving them out to the public, and further advised journalists to save every interview conducted in more than one location for safety.

Ibim Semenitari, President of the Rotary Club, Port Harcourt Cosmopolitan appreciated those who honoured the occasion and prayed God to reward them all.

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