Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

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

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

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

Article excerpt


The press has been found to play a significant role in managing conflict situations in the society. This work examines the surveillance and interpretation function of the press as critical to conflict discourse. It particularly highlights the crucial role of the grassroots media in providing a voice for non-elite segments of the society, and building confidence, hope and a sense of community and communality especially during or after a conflict event, with particular reference to the Niger Delta. Also in focus are the various issues involved in the Niger Delta conflict, noting that the media is engaged in articulating conflict behaviours mainly, instead of engaging in a comprehensive discourse of the various issues in the Niger Delta conflict. More so, the challenges affecting objective discourse of conflict issues in the Niger Delta are highlighted. This work advocates a wholistc approach to conflict discourse to include origin, dynamics, and options for resolution. It also highlights those media structures and practices that need to be established or reinforced to achieve better coverage of conflict in the Niger Delta. These measures, it is hoped, will be beneficial to the cause of resolving the conflict situation in the area.

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. …

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