IPC advises journalists on safety during election coverage
Due to the variety of hazards journalists face in the course of their professional duties, incidents such as killings, torture, enforced disappearances, hostage-taking, arbitrary arrests and detention, physical attacks, intimidation, harassment, threats among others are often their lot.
Director of International Press Centre (IPC), Mr. Lanre Arogundade, in a report tagged ‘Reporting Elections and Democratic Accountability’ urged journalists never to play the role of primitive heroes or heroines by going to areas known to be dangerous with little or no guarantee of safety and security.
According to him, “Taking safety measures is important. It is good to get orientation on keeping safe when reporting from areas of violent elections or known terrorists’ locations.
“Journalists themselves should understand that they can become targets of attacks in a violent environment. It is important to remember that NTA Maiduguri lost one of its reporters, Zakariya Isa, to Boko Haram gun attack. He was targeted and fatally shot. Besides, in such environments, it is not impossible that desperate politicians may cause journalists bent on reporting the facts of the elections to be physically attacked or eliminated. Such targeted attacks may be attributed to Boko Haram.”
Specifically, Arogundade stated that political campaigns could generally be tense and could turn violent with journalists caught in-between feuding parties and could be roughened up and even accused of being biased in reporting issues and events on the elections.
Political thuggery could also be a good indication of violence in elections, he said, noting that it was common among Nigerian politicians to resort to thuggery to turn the results of elections in their favour.
According to him, “Journalists need to note that political thugs only have loyalty to either a political party or candidate or both. Journalists, whether regarded as hostile or not, may become target of attacks because of the power of exposure they wield.
“Danger of suicide bomb attacks are real, even after the successes recorded by the military in many battles against Boko Haram. Terrorists do not fight conventional wars, as they practise hit and run, surprised attacks and suicide bombings or using car bombs. Having security around vulnerable polling stations may be necessary as a safeguard against terrorist violence in the form of suicide bombing.
“Certain routes and areas may be prone to attacks by terrorists. Areas of uncertainty are potentially dangerous to the public and to journalists.
Journalists would need to constantly check with security agencies and residents for information on potential areas of risk during elections. Violent conflicts should not compromise professionalism. Journalists need to understand that their profession is guided by certain values and ethics and need to ensure these are not compromised.”
According to him, journalist should establish or clarify lines of communication with their news organisation and ensure that they keep a responsible person fully informed about their movements, adding, “They should agree when they will call in and explore with the newsroom problems that are likely to arise, need to recognise that they can rely on alternative sources to verify information from areas not visited by them in an election. They have security personnel, election monitors or observers, election officials, including political party agents and, to a limited extent, postings on social media.
“Election violence is not restricted to the deliberate violent disruption of the election process, as it also applies to situations where violence makes it difficult or, in some cases, impossible to hold elections. It is important to note that in both situations, journalists can be put in jeopardy. The security and safety of journalists can be put in danger or compromised outright.
“Journalists need to know how to conduct themselves in such situations in their important responsibility of covering elections for the public. Identifying a Violent/Hostile Environment in Elections journalists need to pay attention to some vital signs when covering elections in violent and hostile environment.”
Conclusively, he noted that journalists must remember they must be alive to report issues and events, including elections, particularly in hostile and violent environments.