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Communication scholars, stakeholders canvass improved reportage on national security

By Margaret Mwantok
26 September 2016   |   2:08 am
The Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals (ACSPN) has chided media organisations in Nigeria for allowing distorted information on national security to feature in their reportage.
General Secretary of ACSPN, Prof. Nosa Owens-Ibie

General Secretary of ACSPN, Prof. Nosa Owens-Ibie

The Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals (ACSPN) has chided media organisations in Nigeria for allowing distorted information on national security to feature in their reportage. They made this observation known at the association’s third yearly conference held in Abuja recently.

In a communiqué, the association observed that some journalists, government officials and professionals underestimate the consequences of misconstrued information, when disseminated that could trigger panic and unrest across the country.

General Secretary of ACSPN, Prof. Nosa Owens-Ibie, in an interview with The Guardian, said there was remarkable improvement from the first and second annual conference in terms of stakeholders’ participation, number of institutions and bodies, and quality of the output.

According to him, “It became like a take up point for a number of prospects. The whole idea of the conference was for us to look at how best to achieve our vision and mission”.

With ‘Strategic Communication, National Security and Peace Building in Nigeria’ as theme, there were presentations on the strained relationship between Fulani herdsmen and farmers. There was also a special panel session on ‘Managing security in a digital age,’ which was preceded by a lead paper presentation on ‘Strategic Communication for National Peace’.

Highlight of the conference was the launch of the association’s first book, Taking Stock: Nigerian Media and National Challenges, which distils a cross-fertilisation of issues on media practices, communicating conflict and inspiring sustainable environmental habits.

Owens-Ibie pointed the need to train journalists in conflict-sensitive reporting and creating a balance between the teaching and practice of journalism, adding, “Some of our programmes are empowerment schemes through which resource persons would update lecturers on those things that would make them more relevant and efficient in teaching. We have academics and professionals coming to moderate the process. We also bring those who have excelled in any of the fields of communication to ensure that the collaboration is a more relevant process that would integrate teaching with practice”.

Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), as well as international organisations like UNESCO and ECOWAS was represented.

He further said, “We had marketing and broadcast organisations; we also had a number of universities and polytechnics across the country represented. We are consolidating the idea of bringing together people to look at the issues around communication and how to move forward. We are collaborating with UNESCO in the area of curriculum development in educating the media. The idea is that if we know what the field entails, then we will be able to respond to the demands of the field in our curriculum.

“But then, there are issues in the marketability, the competitiveness, the ability of graduates to function in a real life environment, which is important to us. We are also interested in the dimension to determine the scope of challenges that are generally discussed in the public arena and to see how we can get useful data, which can inform policies and practice. For instance, we have an on-going project on the presidential elections, from the advertising and the public relations dimension. The other one involves those in the field and the academics, all the regulating agencies saddled with the responsibility of moderating the processes of marketing”.

However, the conference recommended that communication scholars and professionals should turn out well researched, empirical papers that can provide practical solutions to Nigeria’s security challenges. It also emphasised the need for a comprehensive, unified communication policy on national security, which would require all stakeholders to work together to produce a document.

FURTHERMORE, media organisations and government officials were encouraged to review the manner in which information is presented to the public, and that government should take seriously the communication component in fashioning out its policies on governance.

Considering the economic situation in the country, Owens-Ibie said there were still positive prospects for graduates of communication as it would help the individuals to rediscover themselves and their potentials. Adding, “The fact is that communication is a reality of our system. Economy is very important but the issue is, if something is invading the system, then there has to be a way of finding relevance no matter what the economy says. Communication is relevant in all areas of development. It also means the more innovative we become in determining how we can employ our relevance to all the areas in development process, the more engaged the products of universities would be.

“So, while the economy is speaking one language, communication remains fundamental in the society. We will always engage the mechanism to see how our students can write better and communicate well; how they can deploy technology to achieve specific results in the work environment and to be more functional in terms of their ability to solve problems arising within the organisation and the government”.

The conference also observed that the potentials of social media were yet to be fully harnessed for engendering security. On his part, Ibie said, “the misunderstanding of various users of social media of what their role should be needs to be defined as the social media appears to be a free environment that many would not have imagined possible. The question is, what are the implications of that freedom in a domain that has no by line. There are those who deploy it for negative purposes and that is why we have problems in the banking sectors and so on. We also see the use of rumour to muddy the communication environment. Others also use social media for warfare. I think it has to take the collective efforts put at the individual, group and the society to get to that point where we can say that there is some confidence that social media ethics can be promoted, and when that is done, we can begin to talk about national security and all that. But right now, we are still at the revolutionary stage that is drawing attention to all kinds of concerns. The possibilities are there, but there has to be some consensus that can preserve the logics of democracy and freedom without necessarily compromising national security.”