Self-censorship and security reports
Sir: Imbibing the practice of self-censorship protects journalists and media organisations from prosecution or persecution in the event of negative consequences of their disclosure.
Several instances abound where self-censorship, through systematic collaboration between the media and security agencies contributed to the success of military operations in Nigeria. Such restrictions serve common interest, especially in promoting best practices, moral standards as well as protecting life and property. For instance, when Nigerian troops had misunderstanding with their GOC in Maimalari Barracks on May 14, 2015, intelligence officers privately appealed to the media to be mindful of the danger of using the strong word ‘Mutiny’ as against a lighter word ‘Protest.’ Mutiny, according to them, is punishable by long jail-terms or death. At least a section of the media was considerate enough to substitute the word in an attempt to save the career and lives of the soldiers.
Self-censorship has been used in battle of wits among parties in conflicts, not necessarily against the main enemies. There were attempts by some neighbouring countries to rubbish the integrity of the Nigerian military by insinuating that our troops displayed cowardice. There was a case at a border town in August 2014, followed by an embarrassing media leak from a neighbouring country to disgrace our troops. The then Defence spokesperson, General Chris Olukolade swiftly responded by issuing a statement with military jargon of ‘Tactical Manoeuvre’ which was widely used and celebrated by the media. Surprisingly, a few months later, the troops involved in the ‘tactical maneuvre’ succeeded in launching aggressive military assaults and recovered the border town. While the enemies might be laughing at the drama and the jargon, the military tacticians were focused on victories.
Meanwhile, between the months of January and April 2015 there were series of interfaces between the media and security agencies on planned strategies to recover occupied territories from Boko Haram. The media bought into the idea of self-restraint over some classified information on the counter-terrorism campaign. As patriotic stakeholders in the Nigerian project, most editors became more conscious and prevented the inadvertent revelation of military secrets. While some of the journalists deliberately omitted terrorists’ propaganda from their bulletins, others suppressed news that could be injurious to national security. Till today many Nigerian are yet to know how over 20 towns were recovered in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states within the short-period of election postponement and before the handing over to Buhari administration in May 29, 2015. The media protected the military strategies and supported our troops throughout the period.
The point here is that while security agencies use weapons to confront criminal elements, the media use their pens to frame the public perceptions of those efforts. The positive media narratives on the counter-insurgency operations, not only boosted the morale of the troops and built the public confidence, the anti-terrorism editorial policies also weakened the fighting spirits of terrorists.
However, conflicts sometimes brew between security agencies who desire to control information and the media that dig for fresh facts and newsworthy information from credible authorised and anonymous sources.
The role of the media is basically to promote public awareness; shape public opinion; influence decision makers and mobilise support and resources for public good. On the other hand, critical institutions are mandated to provide services, gather intelligence and respond to emergencies and educate the public amongst others.
• Yushau A. Shuaib