How media can help solve the security riddle, by Dasuki
In Nigeria, our working definition of national security is the maintenance of the survival and prosperity of the state and its institutions through the use of economic, military, political and other powers. For a nation to be secure, it has to possess economic personal security, etc. A nation’s security architecture is designed to protect its people, its communities, its institutions, its reputation, its territorial integrity, etc. In the case of Nigeria, in reaction to the changing needs of society, and as has become the norm internationally, our security infrastructure has grown beyond traditional elements such as the Police, Armed Forces, Customs and Immigration activities to include such government entities and activities as NAFDAC, our food storage program, the protection of our pipelines and oil installations, anti-fraud and anti-counterfeit activities, our work against human trafficking, maritime security, counter-terrorism, aviation security, etc. By the way, everything that security agents do is mandated by our constitution, which tasks various entities with the responsibilities for elements of national security. So, our national security architecture is the outcome of our laws and the wisdom of our lawmakers.
On the other hand, simply said, by definition, the editor has managerial and oversight responsibility for a publication. His/her policies and strategies shape the tone and direction of the publication. Because free society values freedom of expression, the editor is responsible for preserving the culture of free press and the ideals of the media community. But the editor is also responsible for maintaining accuracy, un-biasedness and fairness in the editorial process in order to maintain the integrity of his/her publication and profession. A newspaper, magazine or other publication is largely a reflection of its editor. You cannot separate a publication from its editor or editorial board, as the case may be. Especially in an emerging nation and budding democracy such as Nigeria, the role of the editor and the media in information dissemination is important. As publishers, you have a corporate social responsibility to contribute to nation building.
The editor obviously then is a partner in ensuring that the media does its work well. Let me go back in history as a way of further expanding on this concept. Prior to our becoming an independent republic or federation, the press, through progressive and patriotic messaging that often antagonized colonialists, contributed to building the foundation for post-colonial self-rule. During the military era, the press was also active in promoting the idea that our citizens will be able to select their own leaders again. The active press in Nigeria is attributable to this history. We might have even picked up some of the press anti-government stance from there. When independence was our major national problem, the media helped us get there. When democracy was our nation’s most important challenge, our press helped us to achieve it. Now, we have a young 13-year-old democracy. The major challenges facing our country are now security and economic development. Clearly, the press has an important and positive role to play as we deal with these current problems.
But first, one has to ask the question “how does the role of the press change from a pre-democratic regime to a period when we must build democratic institutions, secure our nation and grow our economy. Simply put, there is no doubt in my mind that the press can be a very important tool as we as a nation pursue new prosperity. The nation has set clear goals in the areas of the economy and security. So it is time to rethink the role of our media and explore how, as instruments of information and education, it can again be at the forefront of shaping our future positively. In fact, it is in this regard that the media is often referred to as the fourth estate of the realm, along-side the executive branch, legislative branch and judicial branch.
Permit me to make a distinction between the masses and terrorists who take issue with our national mission, values, cohesion and ideals. In a real democracy, the citizens are the clients, of even the press, and the editor too. In many cases, they must partner with others to ensure that the citizenry is well informed and served. In today’s society, our citizens need to be adequately informed about the dangers of terrorism. They need to be informed about how to protect themselves and their communities from terrorists. They need to learn positive steps to take to minimize the potential of being victims of armed robbery and kidnapping. They need to be educated about how to identify and help security forces defeat dangerous elements. They need to build resistance to extremist thinking and indoctrination by extremists. They need to be able to show the enemies of the state that the nation, including the press, have no appreciation for terrorism, bunkering, kidnapping, piracy, robbery and other menaces and obstacles to our nation’s prosperity. Our newspaper headlines have to reflect this partnership. There should be no doubt in the minds of enemies of peace and freedom where the press lies. Obviously, the press is a natural partner of government in public education, awareness building, information dissemination, and building national cohesion. When we talk about the nation’s transformation agenda, the media itself has to be at the forefront of change.
I am frequently concerned about some of the headlines I read and the tendency of some of our partners in the media to select sensational headlines, especially in quoting security agents or government officials. While I understand that a purpose of the media is to sell publications, it is also important to note that we must also strike a balance when it comes to national security. Again, it boils down to corporate social responsibility. The press should not contribute to the fear level of society or raise anxiety in ways that interfere with the work of security agents, even when it sells newspapers. This is where the editor comes in. the quality of media personnel varies widely. In some cases, just as we in the security community have realized that human capital development is central to our success, the press too has to embrace personnel capacity building. Abundant value added will be generated from the retraining of reporters and the development of minimum qualifications and standards. That is where the editor comes in ensuring quality control, providing leadership in managing the achievement of balance, and ensure that those in the sector that are less trained or that need clear standards fall within the quality tolerance of the Nigerian Editor’s community. Security is now about citizen welfare. That is as much a responsibility of the media as it is the responsibility of public institutions.
The press cannot be an instrument of damage to our national reputation. The press should not make our nation worse than it actually is in the international community. Our common stakeholder, the public, needs the press to be at the forefront of managing our national image. This is particularly important in the advent of social media and the internet when all your newspapers are being read around the world, almost as instantly as you finish your columns. Bad press about Nigeria affects the ability of our nation’s level of entrepreneurship and job creation. I believe that the editor is responsible for managing the role of the media in national affairs. There are examples from all over the world and in Nigeria too when as a result of good editors, the press acted responsibly in balancing national interests against other interests.