A lecture presented by Victorson Agbenson, Editor ( Politics) Radio Nigeria.( BA Mass Communication, Abraka; MA Media Arts, Abuja) at the Press Week of Ibrahim Babangida University, Lapai, Niger State on the 7th of October 2019.
Joseph John Pulitzer, a Hungarian who lived from April 10, 1847 to October 29, 1911, was a newspaper publisher who became a leading national figure in the Democratic Party and was elected American congressman from New York.
Pulitzer understood the importance of the media in any society. His thoughts on the issue are enshrined on a plaque at the Columbia University Journalism school in New York. Journalists and indeed every Nigerian would need to examine the words closely, hear him:
“Our republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations”
I cannot agree more!
Now, from the submissions of Pulitzer and many other scholars in the field of the media, both the print and electronic blocks constitute a major pillar that shape and build every society. The fundamental roles of the media in any society which include information, education and entertainment are so important that societies can hardly make meaningful progress without a vibrant mass media.
It was in recognition of this fact, that the third President of the United States of America (USA), Thomas Jefferson declared those words that have become very famous in the Mass Communication parlance. Hear him: “were it left for me to choose whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I shall not hesitate a moment to choose the latter.”
That again stresses the pivotal role of the media in every society.
The increasing level of insecurity especially terrorism , banditry and kidnapping across the country in recent years has gravely undermined our national security. The twists and turns accompanying these occurrences have shown that for us to survive at all , all hands must be on deck to tackle this challenge. This is where the role of the media becomes very pertinent.
It has probably been over flogged that an atmosphere devoid of peace does not attract foreign investors nor encourage local investors to invests. And without investment, the much needed growth cannot happen and without growth, there cannot be development. This is the circle of backwardness that we have found ourselves.
As a mass communication undergraduate one theory that fascinated me was the agenda setting theory. And it is for me one of the most strategic theories of the field.
The media sets the tone for dominant issues, values, perceptions and attitudes of the society by its impact. It does this by setting agenda.
Agenda-setting theory was formally developed by Max McCombs and Donald Shaw in a study on the 1968 American presidential election. The theory describes the “ability (of the news media) to influence the importance placed on the topics of the public agenda”. Agenda setting is a social science theory; it also attempts to make predictions. The theory also suggests that media has a great influence to their audience by instilling what they should think instead of what they think. That is, if a news item is covered frequently and prominently, the audience will regard the issue as more important.
Two basic assumptions underlie most researches on agenda-setting:
The press and the media do not reflect reality; they filter and shape it;
media concentration on a few issues and subjects leads the public to perceive those issues as more important than other issues.
Rogers and Dearing identified three types of agenda setting:
public agenda setting, in which the public’s agenda is the dependent variable(the traditional hypothesis)
media agenda setting, in which the media’s agenda is treated as the dependent variable (“agenda building”)
policy agenda setting, in which elite policy makers’ agendas are treated as the dependent variable (“political agenda setting”)
From the foregoing, the importance of the media in addressing social issues such as national security especially in a democratic setting cannot be overemphasized. In this terrain, the media serves as the bridge between the people and societal activities. For any activity or event to get noticed, it must be reported by the media. The media must therefore make national security a principal part of its agenda to make positive impact.
Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended empowers the media to monitor governance and uphold the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy as enshrined in Chapter 2 of the Constitution. It is to hold government accountable. But that must be a media that knows its worth and is ready to be professional.
Journalists must be bold, they must see their trade as a crusade not just as a means of daily bread. One small man doing the right thing in his small corner somewhere can do great things everywhere. Nigeria can only get better when the journalists becomes true to his calling. We must be ready to expose crime, unprofessionalism in the security agencies and in high places. But don’t forget this is risky too.
Highlighting the role of the media in combating insecurity in any society, Pulitzer stated, “there is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, and there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy. Get all these things out in the open, describe them, attack them, ridicule them in the press, and sooner or later, public opinion will sweep them away.”
Therefore, the media must set agenda in tackling insecurity. It must provide platforms for religious leaders to preach against criminal acts of any kind, especially violent crimes such as kidnapping and terrorism.
We must ensure that security issues attract attention and we must take deliberate steps to raise citizens’ consciousness through our reportage, programmes and other engagements.
The Colours of insecurity in Nigeria:
*Boko Haram terrorism
*Niger Delta Militancy
*Agitation for the sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)
* Widespread violent crimes.
And all these are often coloured with considerations of tribe, bribe, region and religion.
The media must therefore understand these issues and the underlining currents that fuel insecurity.
Bullets will kill terrorists but education will kill terrorism.
Though the nature of insecurity in its diverse shapes and forms in Nigeria is complex, through consistent meaningful and responsible coverage of actions and inactions that breed insecurity in the country, the media can sensitize the public against the menace. Frequent discussions on issues of insecurity will attract attention to the need to address such challenges head on and also raise citizens’ consciousness and that of the security agents on the need to combat insecurity fiercely.
The mass media is no doubt one of the important institutions of socialization. It is the major industry for culture responsible for the broadcasting of ideas and opinion molding in the society.
Therefore, it must continue to find better ways of deliberately designing news and other programmes to highlight the dangers of all forms of crimes.
The media must rise up to the task of publicizing violence prone incidents and moves such as the Shites insurgency before they gets out of hand. Reporting such would help forestall a possible deterioration. Discussing such activities on Television and Radio as well as in Newspapers and Magazines will attract the attention of government and security operatives’ to nip them in the bud.
The mass media also must continue to dedicate specific airtime and space for reports and discussions on terrorism, kidnapping and other forms of crime. This will provide opportunity of highlighting and exposing the negative impacts of such crimes on the society.
The media should also be utilized by the people in exposing crimes and sensitizing the populace against criminal acts. By getting the citizens involved in information dissemination, the media would have mobilised Citizens Journalists.
The Hungry Journalist and Insecurity.
Despite the very important role placed on the mass media by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, journalists are yet to be effectively mobilized as tool for combating insecurity in the country. This is because the media itself is confronted with myriads of challenges, ranging from poor welfare package for media professionals, lack of training and retraining , sensorship – self or imposed, for fear of victimization by employers to reluctance of citizens to give information for fear of boomerang.
Just as a hungry and I’ll equipped security personnel cannot effectively fight crime, a hungry cannot combat insecurity. It takes a well fed journalists to carry out investigative reports. This is the bane of indepth reports in our industry, as the surface reports that are often PR pieces that attract brown envelopes are they fast attraction in the current man must survive rat race we call journalism in Nigeria.
For the media to effectively play its role in tackling insecurity in the nation there must be improved remuneration, welfare package , adequate training and insurance cover for journalists to motivate them to engage in the dangerous terrain of conflict reporting in the interest of the public. Also, security agencies must work closely with the media for effective crime fighting. Periodic workshops and seminars on sophisticated crime reporting and related topics are required to keep journalists up-to-speed with modern trends in mass media use in tackling criminal activities.
The Analysis of National Paralysis
Now let me draw your attention to a serious national affliction – the Paralysis and the Tragedy of the absence of a Shared National Vision. What has afflicted us is a general paralysis and the tragedy of the absence of a shared National Vision. The Biblical writer of Hebrews in chapter 12 verse 13 provides a fearful analogy which i think aptly fits Nigeria’s malady. He wrote:
“…and make straight paths for your feet, so that which is lame may not be dislocated,but rather healed”
This brings the images of words such as: Lameness, fracture, dislocation and paralysis which I think is the more appropriate malaise confronting us.
What is paralysis?
It is the loss of the ability to move (and sometimes to feel anything) in part or most of the body, typically as a result of illness, poison, or injury. Paralysis is a loss of muscle function for one or more muscles. Now think of the brain as a central computer that controls all the body’s functions. The rest of the nervous system is like a network that relays messages back and forth from the brain to different parts of the body. The brain is like a computer that controls the body’s functions, and the nervous system is like a network that relays messages to parts of the body. When a message comes into the brain from anywhere in the body, the brain tells the body how to react.
FROM SOMALIA TO NIGERIA THROUGH THE AMERICAN VISION.
Last year (2018), alongside six other Nigerian journalists I had the privilege of embarking on a tour of some States in the United States of America. While preparing for the tour something happened that left a lasting impression on me. It was during the formal visa interview. Of course the interview was just to fulfill all righteousness as we had been issued our visa numbers right from the day we were screened successfully after our CVs were examined and scrutinised by the US department of state.
We had also been told to purchase our return tickets for the trip. Despite these, at the interview where 7 of us attended, a unique twist occurred when it was my turn. The young American embassy staff who interviewed me asked me a couple of questions which bothered on the purpose of the visit to which I responded as he typed away into his computer. Then came the significant part of the interview. He asked of the countries I had visited before and innocently I began to name – China, Ethiopia, Kenya , Republic of Benin, France… and immediately I mentioned Somalia the young man said wait a minute and took off .
He kept me waiting for almost thirty minutes. I knew something was wrong but I was confident because i know who I am!
Yes I was in Somalia in 2016. I went there alongside great journalists like Lara Owoeye wise then of AIT and now Media Aide to the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo- Agege and Seun Akioya then of the Nation and now with Centre for Communication and Social Impact CCSI.
Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world. Immediately we landed in that country under the auspices of African Union and United Nations we were given documents to sign undertaking that if anything happened to us our families would not hold African Union or the United Nations liable.
That’s how volatile Somalia is. The terrorists organisation Boko Haram which is troubling Nigeria is a child’s play compared to Alshabab, the terrorist group that has held Somalia hostage and prostrate for over thirty years.
While we were in Somalia Alshabab was still killing and attacking both civilians and military personnel. I met and interviewed journalists who had lost limbs and other parts of their bodies due to these attacks. The walls of the UN/AU base where we stayed and their offices were riddled by bullets and mortars, a constant reminder that anything could happen anytime.
When the American embassy staff eventually came back after about thirty minutes – am sure he went to carry out investigations and background checks about my person and activities he asked , ”who sponsored your trip to Somalia? ”
”Amisom” I responded. And I added “I hope you know Amisom, African Union / United Nations Mission in Somalia?”
He answered in the affirmative and said “congratulations. You passed your visa interview”
Now, that was a display of a shared national vision.
What that episode taught me was that Americans do not joke with their national vision and public policy direction. They do not toy with the security of their country. No matter who you are they want to be sure that you are not going to undermine the safety of their people. In this regard, the American system of transmitting the vision of its leadership to its working population, civil servants and others is working. President Trump only had to declare it that his administration would not give room for any lapses in terms of terrorists or people of questionable characters infiltrating America and the country’s embassy working class is not removed from that focus. All of them bought into the vision including those in a far flung place from Washington like Abuja.
Here we have the absence of a shared national vision which has affected our national security architecture. That is paralysis- when the head- the brain gives command and the leg does not carry it out. There is a fundamental disconnect in our society. Our current security malaise is a reflection of our general paralysis.
Its as if W. B. Yeats had us in mind when he wrote his poem entitled; The Second Coming. He wrote;
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart;
the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned;
the best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity”
Indeed the falcon can no longer hear the falconer. In my search for solutions to our myriads of national malaise, I often interview British and American officials in Nigeria and when I ask them how best to handle our internal affairs i notice that their standard response is usually: it is up to the Nigerian people to determine what they want for themselves. How true! And that is where I stand as we grapple with these issues. It is left for the Nigerian media to reinvent itself and rise up to the challenge of setting the right agenda on the widespread insecurity in our land. If not, all of us, including the journalist will be consumed.
I thank you all for your attention.
Victorson Agbenson, October 2019.