‘Protect vulnerable persons, be fair in minority sensitive reporting’
Media professionals in Nigeria have been urged to be fair, equitable and report justly, especially when reporting about minorities, especially as these categories of people usually do not have a voice or strong enough voice to tell their stories.
Urging the media to tell stories with fairness, empathy and accurately reflect the voices of the minorities concerned, Dr Marian Nwaokolo said though social change is not comfortable, it is an obligation everyone has to work towards.
Speaking at a two-day roundtable tagged, Equality Through Minority Sensitive Media Reporting, held in Lagos and organised by the Nigeria Joint Movement Initiative, comprising of Achievers Improved Health Initiative (AIHI-Nigeria), Drug Demand Reduction and Healthcare Initiative (DDRHCI), Committed Soul Women Health Advocacy Africa Initiative (COSWOHI) and Dynamic Initiative For Health Care and Human Rights (DIHHR), Nwaokolo, who was the main speaker at the conference, said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the bedrock of rights for every human being all over the world and the media has a primary assignment to defend this right for every Nigerian irrespective of gender identity, expression or sexual orientation.
Revealing that marginalised people face twice as much oppression, brutality, abuse and deliberate targeting from state and non-state actors, she revealed that police tend to violate and further abuse vulnerable women, especially sex workers and begged the media to help amplify their voices.
Pointing out that language is an important tool in shaping discussions and opinions, she pleaded with the media to be careful when talking about vulnerable/marginalised individuals so as not to further endanger them or put them in harm’s way.
“Criminalising vulnerable people only puts them in harm’s way and promotes quackery. Take for example, mental health, which has not been properly explored till date. There is so much stigma surrounding it and is mostly linked to spiritual attack or drug use. We need to hold government accountable for not putting in place, laws that help and protect marginalised people and the media must write stories that force these conversations. As we often see, poor people are the ones mostly affected by draconian laws while rich people get away with anything,” she said.
Urging accountability and reportage with empathy, Nwaokolo called on the media to centre the voices of the “community you’re telling their stories, don’t make assumptions of their identities and be careful of what you ask them. Think of their safety and respect their past with sensitivity. I want our media partners to understand their role in social inclusion and the role they play in shaping perceptions, pushing narratives and how it affects the lives of minority persons in Nigeria.”
On recommendations, she urged attendees to make minority person’s existence visible by mainstreaming issues affecting them; raise public awareness about problems encountered by minority persons. “Media employers should provide free promotion space to minority rights organisations who wish to inform colleagues especially those interested in human rights and social issues; remember and hnour important dates for minority persons and keep educating yourself if you don’t know or unsure, just ask and search.
Reach out to organisations and activists that work with minority person so that you can tell holistic stories and give positive representations to marginalised minority persons. State actors should stop hurting people whom they are charged to protect and understand their commitment to upholding human rights irrespective of who it is and if we are truly interested in justice, inclusion and diversity, we need to embrace people’s differences and carry everyone along,” she said.