IT is no longer news that terrorism which is one of the global dangerous phenomena is here in Nigeria. However, what appears to be intriguing news with disturbing dimension is the media reports of terrorist activities in some parts of the country.
Globally, the media is vested with the responsibility to inform, educate and entertain the public. This responsibility is based on the fact that freedom of expression and information in the media is one of the essential foundations of democratic society.
This freedom carries with it the right of the public to be informed on matters of public concern, including terrorist acts and threats as well as the response by the state, international community and organisations to them.
Based on this principle, the fight against terrorism should not be used as an excuse by states to restrict the freedom of the press.
Terrorist acts are intended to create terror, fear or chaos among the people. The spread of public terror, fear and feelings of chaos depends largely on the images and messages being carried by the media reports about the terrorist acts and threats. Most often, the mass media at global level multiplies and magnifies these threats and acts out of proportion. This then calls for caution among journalists who cover terror war. While informing the public about terrorist acts including the suffering caused by these acts as well as the socio-cultural and political context of such acts, journalists must avoid over sensationalisation of such reports.
It is unfortunate that the Nigerian media in their craving to cover each and every terrorist attacks like suicide bombings, serve as a platform and loud speaker for the terrorists, magnifying the impact of their horrifying brutality.
It is sad that after each and every terror attack, the pages of Nigerian newspapers are full of detailed and horrifying stories that frequently violate the victims’ privacy along with pictures taken immediately after the attacks.
The Nyanya bomb blast in Abuja for instance exposed the level of unprofessional manner in which some media covered the incident; with screaming headlines and pages dotted with horrifying pictures of victims. Such coverage did not calm the public but rather heightened the fear, paid no attention to the victims’ privacy but promoted the terrorist group. The point being made here is that journalists should report such events in a professional manner and be cautious in a less exaggerated, graphic manner with much human, patriotic reflection and thought. Coverage of such incident demands that editors while deciding on how to report on it, should contemplate on standards of magnitude, decency and good taste.
In reporting terrorism-related activities, journalists should inform a broad audience freely and accurately in a balanced and impartial manner. It is important that a reporter should cross- check his facts and be careful in the choice of terminology while ensuring respect for privacy and human dignity.
As professionals, reporters should ensure that the accuracy of reports should be able to stimulate the Nigerian audience to get involved in public debate. It is important to remind journalists that the slant they give by deciding what to report and how to report it can create a climate of public support, apathy or anger.
In this regard, journalists in covering terrorist activities, should strive to employ responsible terminology that does not help the terrorists in their attempt to undermine the democratic order.
The Nigerian media are expected not simply to report whatever the terrorists are saying or elaborate on the groups’ agenda or operation, but rather exercise some judgment and scrutinise the terrorists’ messages. Doing otherwise means building a heroic image for the terrorist group.
Besides not publishing information that might jeopardise human life, the media should not through their reportage, hinder government activities to forestall and curb terrorism. Such activities could be operational strategies or impeding process of investigation.
For instance, it is reckless, unprofessional and unethical for a news media to publish speculations about military movements in the on-going anti-terrorism campaign in the North-East of the country.
Another caution for the Nigerian media is that today’s terrorists are all aware of the power of the media and manipulate them to their own advantage and need.
This is more so as the freedom of expression and information which entails free speech and free media, and which are the basic instruments or values of every democracy provide terrorists the publicity they need to inform the public about their operations and goals.
This explains why some analysts have accused the media of being the terrorist’s best friend arguing that if terrorism is propaganda by deed, the success of a terrorist campaign depends extensively on the amount of publicity it receives.
It is further argued that the media is helping terrorists orchestrate a horrifying drama in which the terrorists and their victims are the main actors, creating a spectacle of tension and agony. The media therefore should not through its reports glorify terrorism in the country.