In Search Of Understanding Between Security Agencies And Media

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The Office of the National Security Adviser, last week organised a three-day retreat to find a lasting solution to the seeming war of attrition going on between the security agencies and the media in the reportage of war-like situations, CHIKA OTUCHIKERE writes on the outcome.

Since the country’s return to democracy, it has been an apparent case of no love lost between the members of the fourth estate of the realm, the media practitioners and the security agencies and their operatives. If anything, it has presented a façade of mutual sense of distrust and disrespect between both parties in the discharge of their respective national duties.

While the security agencies are always grouchy that the media practitioners are in the habit of reporting more than expected of them thereby heightening the tension in the society and threatening the security of their operations and by extension, the national interest, the media practitioners on the other hand, accuse the security agencies of holding back more information than is necessary thereby leaving the practitioners with no option than to speculate or at best, rely on outside or anonymous sources.

In the final analysis, each group believes the other is not patriotic enough and so a real threat to peace and security. This situation leaves them gnawing at each other occasionally and pushed to the wall on some occasion, security operatives have had to apply the jackboot method to beat the reporter or media organisation in line.

This action which usually results in altercation and subsequent infringement on the both the human and constitutional rights of the journalist also leaves the image of the security agencies battered in the eyes of the public. The question which has always generated controversy during every parley between members of both institutions is which institution is more important than the other. The media practitioners would say the military needs the media more than the media needs the military while the military operatives believe that the reverse is the case.

The need to harmonise the activities of members of the both institutions and create a cordial working relationship was at the heart of the retreat organised by the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA in collaboration with a private firm, Trim Communications. The retreat drew both security and defence correspondents as well as heads and some members of staff of the public relations unit of most of the military and paramilitary agencies in the country.

The participants identified the contributions of security agencies and the media in promoting peace and harmony in any society, stressing that both the security agencies and the media have common gate keeping roles and common grounds that must be fully explored for greater mutual understanding, harmony and effective co-ordination, among themselves and for common good of the society.

Part of the objectives of the retreat were to among others explore possibilities of establishing an acceptable process between the media and security agencies for disseminating information to the public without compromising national security and understand the impact that new and web-based social media have on crisis management.

The retreats expectations included better understanding of security implications of the media reportage thus enhancing greater synergy, mutual respect and singularity of purpose in promoting harmony among citizens without reducing their rights to be informed, demystification of the concept that the media and the security are philosophically at variance in promoting national goals and objectives and the elimination of the tension in the relationship between these two sectors of our national life.

The chairman of the opening session and former Chief of Army Staff, retired General Martin Luther Agwai and SURE-P in his speech, commended the roles of the security agencies and the media in promoting peace in the country and reflected on a similar conference held about two months ago organised by the Chief of Defence Staff where emphasis was made specifically on effective collaboration between the security agencies and the media.

In his remarks, the National Security Adviser who was represented by Prof. Soji Adelaja affirmed that the retreat was holding at a time the country was facing serious security challenges. He acknowledged that the media have so far done a good job on security reportage in the country, but however, cautioned that more was needed to be done. “As gate keepers, the international community is looking up to you for balance reportage,” he said.

The NSA encouraged the media to portray good image of the country especially at the international level, cautioned them to be very careful in using images in security reporting and also not to divulge information (no matter how useful) that will compromise national security.

Some of the observations made at the retreat include that the media had made considerable progress on security reportage; that there would be continued inevitable interactions between the media and the security agencies in any security situation; and that the media was working to strengthen and protect the integrity of security operations while security is a public policy for the people and by the people and their opinion must be respected.

Others include that economies of the media limit how well reportage is done; there are structural challenges in the way the military presents itself and how the media cover stories; and that it is the duty of the media to hold key security actors accountable, bearing in mind that effective communication can affect how this important duty is performed; that accessibility to source of information by the media in crisis situation is extremely important and that the media must be part of military operations and be trusted to report objectively.

The retreat further observed that silence in crisis situation was not an option as engagement of the media even on the face of bad news was extremely significant. Criticisms made on policies that affect security are not meant to be personal or to portray the policy makers in bad image. Strategic communication can also be applied during insecurity situations and the need to create confidence and trust among Nigerians on security reportage.

Part of the recommendation of the retreat include effective collaboration between the security agencies and the media in promoting peace and harmony in Nigeria, both the media and the security agencies should cooperate to establish good relationship with the communities and to update them regularly on security challenges.

Others are that the media organisations shall support the training of their staff as defence/security correspondents on specialised security reportage; while the media should cease providing prominence to unpatriotic individuals whose statements may pose significant threats to unity of the country.

Also, the media should always verify the authenticity of stories especially from the social media before reporting while the security agencies should engage the services of media consultants to handle information management before going out to the public via the media.
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