Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Objectivity and Balance in Conflict Reporting: Imperatives for the Niger Delta Press

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Objectivity and Balance in Conflict Reporting: Imperatives for the Niger Delta Press

Article excerpt

Introduction: The Press and Conflict Reporting in the Niger Delta

Conflict, by its very nature, holds a forceful attraction for the mass media. As Owens-Ibie (2002:32) puts it, "the media are naturally attracted to conflict." Conflict is also hard to talk about without engaging the emotions of the discussants. This is due largely to the humanitarian implications, especially when conflict gets violent. Presenting an objective and balanced report therefore becomes a tortuous, almost impossible task. "The principles of reporting are put to sever test when your nation goes to war" (Kate Adie as cited by Allan & Zelizer, 2004:3).

Often, journalism is in a fix, caught between staying true to the principles of reporting and responding adequately to the urgent realities of conflict or war. As Allan and Zelizer (2004:3) have aptly stated: "confronted with the often horrific realities of conflict, any belief that the journalist can remain distant, remote, or unaffected by what is happening 'tends to go out the window' in a hurry".

This cannot be less true of conflict in the Niger Delta. In fact, the establishment of the regional press in the Niger Delta may be part of society's response to the nagging and protracted crisis in the oil-rich area. Although its structure and focus is yet to be ascertained by empirical research, there is an emerging press system in the Niger Delta that is domiciled in the area or elsewhere in the country, but is established to articulate the agitations of the Niger Delta people.

By its very constitution, proprietorship, mode of operation and sustenance, this section of the Nigerian press is akin to being a little sensational, gossipy, and manipulative in the treatment of stories, if only to stay in the market. This is evidenced by their screaming headlines, scandal and gossip stories, and in some cases, pedestrian use of language. Since it is unfashionable in the journalistic turf to report events and issues in such a manner as may be seen to be expressly biased, there is the need to develop measures by which to raise the credibility of the Press in the Niger Delta, define a mode of operation for her and position her to effectively articulate the issues inherent in the Niger Delta debacle.

Among the roles of the mass media in society--surveillance, interpretation, linkage, transmission of values and entertainment (Dominick, 2002: 34), the first two are critical to conflict reporting in the Niger Delta. In its surveillance function, the press plays the role of an observer, which is "a necessary component for enforcing economic, political, cultural and even moral stability" in the polity (Mu'azu, 2002:47). In this role, the media highlight aspects of society--events, people and issues--which they gather as information and report as news.

Although most news information are immediately consumable since they are made up mainly of 'poetic' materials--things that are 'redundant' because they derive from the material culture and are easily comprehensible, there are also abstract issues that pertain to 'argument' or are 'entropic'--complex and requiring interpretation. Hence there is the need for the interpretation function of the mass media, which is fulfilled by editorials, commentaries and opinion articles.

In fulfilling this essential responsibility to society, how does the journalist provide adequate, truthful and objective coverage of a conflict situation without escalating the situation? This paper seeks to distill the sentiments and perspectives of various scholars on the subject and suggests ways of reporting the various shades and emerging trends in the Niger Delta crisis. It is also an effort to define an effective role for the mass media, especially the regional press, as a critical component of interventions towards solving the Niger Delta problem.

Objectivity as an Imperative in Media Practice and Morality

Like other sociological issues in media practice, the definition of objective journalism is as varied as there are multiple perspectives in social ethics and as plural as there are journalistic orientations. …

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