Between the media and the rest of us

The second national conference of the Muslim Media Watch Group of Nigeria was held last Saturday, May 13, 2023 in Ilorin. As guest speaker at the event, I spoke on the theme, “Redefining the media space for Nigeria’s peace and prosperity”.

Apart from highlighting the challenges that face the media in Nigeria from the prism of 10 P’s, which I identified as pattern of ownership, propaganda, professional incompetence, private interests, perception problem, poor training, power problems, paltry remuneration and patronage crisis, I also canvassed that journalists should be guided by ten themes, collated by Martin Moore in 2010, which should define their roles. These are public interest, truth and accuracy, verification, fairness, distinguishing fact and comment, accountability, independence, transparency, restraint and originality.

On the themes of public interest and restraint, it is apparent that the world is becoming increasingly dangerous for the common man. The fact that the media have often been exacerbating tension has actually made Dan Brown submit that the media is the right arm of anarchy. It is therefore between the media and the rest of us that we steer Nigeria away from additional violent conflicts which political disagreement can degenerate into.

According to the Geneva Academy, there are more than 110 armed conflicts going on in the world. The American Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker categorises the scores of conflicts it tracks into three categories: ‘worsening’, ‘unchanging’ and ‘improving’. None of the conflicts is improving. In Africa alone, there are more than 35 armed conflicts going on and if we are not careful, there will still be more on the continent.

The conflict in Sudan reached a tragic dimension entirely last month with full-blown military confrontations between the two gladiators that hold the country at its jugular, General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan and General of Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo (Haemedti). To complicate the matter, as it happens these days in such scenarios, each general is backed by foreign powers that would ensure the steady supply of weapons to kill people and destroy infrastructure developed over the years.

The advent of the social media has worsened the situation as infodemic (which the World Health Organisation describes as “excessive amount of information about a problem, which makes it difficult to identify a solution”) has become the norm. Fake news and hate speech spread like wildfire among us fanning the embers of hatred and confusion. The Nigerian Twitter space is itself a battleground of hubris and intolerance and regulating it is in order.

We can recall the roles played by the mob of the new media in the disastrous ENDSARS protests in Nigeria and the Arab Spring that led to the collapse of governments in Tunisia and Egypt. The media and infodemic also played a role in the demonisation of the late Libyan leader, Moammar Gaddafi, and his eventual murder, despite his sterling achievements and contributions to the development of his country’s economy. Life has not been the same for the Libyans again and regret is late while in Syria, millions of people have been killed and displaced.

This is where Nigeria has to be careful. An election was conducted and a winner was declared by the relevant body but both the second and the third candidates are both claiming victory. Some of their supporters went to the extent of protesting before the Defence Headquarters to nudge the military to take power in a classical display of the bigoted axiom, “if I can’t have it, let’s just scatter it.”

Some political and religious elite who are not satisfied with the outcome of the election are seeking to delegitimise it and making calls that the declared winner not be sworn in –  thereby calling for anarchy. Some media, particularly the electronic category, are playing to the gallery by giving ample time to the expression of seditious sentiments without reflecting deeply on the implications of Nigeria sliding into violence for the citizens.

Certainly, the Nigerian media contributed immensely to the anti-colonial struggles that led to our political independence in 1960. The media also sustained a long battle, with its scars and bruises, that led to the end of military rule, ushering in the Fourth Republic in 1999. To sustain democracy and guarantee peace, the media should introspect, revisit their past glory, appraise their current challenges and retool themselves digitally and otherwise for the unfolding future.

They should also be self-critical and resist the attempts of the powers of ownership and the social media mob to destabilise the country. What is between the media and the rest of us is that we must closely watch the watchdog and work together towards the sustenance of democracy.