By Nelly Ating
News reporters, editors and producers primarily covering the insurgency in the Northeast region recently returned to the classroom to retool their intellectual battery and catch up on trending perspectives to delivering on a routine beat.
Some 57 of these journalists, comprising field reporters and gatekeepers, drawn from the print, broadcast and online media, from Borno, Yobe, Taraba, Bauchi and Adamawa states, attended a Peace Journalism workshop organized by the American University of Nigeria, at its ultra-modern Robert Pastor e-library resource centre, Yola.
Under the theme, ‘Redefining the Role of Journalists in Peacebuilding’ the workshop set out to offer practicing journalists an in-depth intellectual and professional perspective to the task of reporting news in a time of insurgency and to a nation in search of order, stability and development. The workshop was a part of a larger peace conference for peace activists from five northeastern states, sponsored by the AUN-Adamawa Peace Initiative.
‘In the words of the workshop’s key facilitator, Dr. Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob, “with the Boko Haram insurgency becoming more violent and intractable, workshop organizers felt it was a propitious time to launch a comprehensive, practical training for local journalists on peace reporting, so they can see themselves not only as Journalists but also as peacemakers”.
As a field of academic study, said Dr. Jacob, who is the acting chair of AUN’s Communications and Multimedia (CMD) program, Peace Journalism has crystalized in the last 10 years. However in practice it is yet to be well developed, particularly in Nigeria. The workshop afforded the American University of Nigeria and its partner organization in community-wide peacebuilding, the Adamawa Peace Initiative (API), the opportunity to introduce this concept to Nigerian Journalists.
It was the very first Peace Journalism workshop in Nigeria. The workshop was facilitated by AUN Professors, Dr. Jacob and Don North – a veteran journalist with rich experience in reporting conflicts from Vietnam to Latin America to Iraq.
In a keynote address, AUN’s President, Professor Margee Ensign, articulated the role of the media in a pluralistic democracy. Speaking on “The Press & Democratic Reform in a Changing World: Building Alliances for Good Governance and Accountability”, she highlighted some of the critical challenges facing Nigeria – ranging from political instability to weak institutions and argued for a more assertive role for the media in holding governments and political leaders accountable.
Democratic reform, she said, can only be achieved when political leaders are held accountable for their actions and inactions, emphasizing that the press has a crucial responsibility in this regard.
The keynote address was followed by three workshop sessions and an interactive panel discussion led by resource persons with strong industry experience. During the panel discussion, participating journalists made their own invaluable contributions to factors militating against objective, accurate and factual reporting from the front.
In the first workshop session, titled ‘Principles & Practice of Peace Journalism’, the lead facilitator, Dr. Jacob explained the concept of Peace Journalism and illustrated its step-by-step application. A video report on a recent Boko Haram bomb attack in Maiduguri from the local TVGotel was shown and compared with another report of the same event using peace journalism lenses. The second report was produced by the CMD Program at AUN. Participants discussed the differences between the two videos and noted components that distinguished the second report from the first.
Also in this session, participants were introduced to basic theories in conflict transformation and peacebuilding to help them have a better grasp of conflict analyses and peace initiatives. Dr. Jacob, who has researched and published on the UN’s Public Information Operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Somalia, discussed numerous basic theories in conflict reporting.
During the second session on ‘Framing Peace: Models of Peace News Reports’, Dr. Jacob and Prof North explored the journalistic concept of framing and why it is important to create appropriate ‘pegs’ that provide peace-orientated solutions to news reports about the insurgency and violence. The workshop also compared and contrasted visual images of peace journalism with those of war or conventional journalism.
During the panel discussion on objectivity, Prof Don North led other Journalists in a panel discussion on objectivity in Peace Journalism. Joining him were Premium Times’ Managing Editor, Musikilu Mojeed; New Telegraph’s Managing Editor and senior columnist Suleiman Uba Gaya; Deputy National President of the NUJ, Aisha Ibrahim, who stood in for NUJ President Mohammed Garba, among others. Mr. Gaya, Deputy National President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, represented his President, Femi Adesina, who was unavoidably absent.
The panel dissected the concept of Objectivity in Journalism, bringing in their rich professional experience in defining the concept and analyzing its many limitations as a guide. Workshop participants also contributed their opinion on how Objectivity weighs against Peace Journalism. At the end of the panel discussion, there was a consensus that Peace Journalism is not an affront on objectivity; rather it increases fairness, balance and accuracy.
In the concluding session, participants were given exercises to compare and contrast peace journalism reports with conventional journalism stories.
The workshop meanwhile provided participants the opportunity to join the Peace Journalism Network, whose objective includes providing an online forum for Journalists to share experiences, exchange notes and develop best practice in peace reporting.
Journalists can also peer review each other’s work, compare notes and confirm facts before reporting. In addition to various resources, the website will also contain contact information of peacemakers, community and religious leaders as well as NGOs working on peacebuilding and conflict transformation issues and projects in various communities, from which reporters can confirm reports or get crucial news leads.
The next workshop is scheduled for January 2015.
Ms. Nelly Ating, who participated in the Peace journalism workshop, contributed this article from Yola