That military invasion of Daily Trust
Despite the conciliating reactions of some veteran journalists to the brutal invasion of the Daily Trust newspapers by soldiers, it needs to be stated in unequivocal terms that the act was needlessly ruthless, ill-advised and illegal. Such bully tactics, which came without warning, was an infringement of the rights of the firm and persons involved and therefore highly condemnable.
Since the arrest of the regional editor of the Daily Trust, Uthman Abubakar and reporter, Ibrahim Sawab, in Maiduguri, Borno State, as well as the raid of and seizures of equipment, in the Maiduguri and Abuja offices of the newspaper, the military had received more condemnation than sympathy for their alleged action. Long before a Boko Haram attack on the agricultural town of Baga, in Borno State, Daily Trust had published a scoop of an “impending’ Boko Haram attack on that town. As it turned out, the attack was carried out to the surprise of the military. Shortly after, the military descended on the newspaper and then came the jibes.
In its denial of the allegation of muzzling the press, Director of Army Public Relations, Brig-Gen. Sani Usman, stated that Daily Trust newspaper had revealed details of planned military operations against Boko Haram insurgents, a classified military information whose disclosure undermined national security. Did Daily Trust publish classified military information as the army claimed? Do the military authorities have evidence of this claim? The answers to this question could be blowing in the wind because the story in question contained interviews with military authorities, among others.
The import of the condemnation of the raid does not lie in the support for the Daily Trust reportage but rather in the assault on press freedom and in the impunity with which the military brutalise people and their estate. In a new world order that recognises the autonomy of an individual’s moral choice, press freedom has availed itself as a pillar of democracy. Riding on the crest of this privilege, the press has assumed the ombudsman of the state. Appropriately tagged as the Fourth Estate of the Realm as constitutionally protected, the press has opened itself up as the most reflective organ in society to hold other arms of government to account. The same organic law empowers the press to monitor governance at all levels. As a watchdog of sorts it could be the last bastion of security, when it checks intra-government conspiracies against the people.
Besides, it is morally reprehensible and unacceptable for soldiers to wantonly attack a business outfit without recourse to the law of the land. If the military felt offended by the report of the newspaper, all it needed to have done was to seek legal action through the Attorney General of the Federation. On the other hand, if the military establishment wanted to be nice, its officials could have contacted the editors to address the matter professionally.
However, that the press provides information for people to be free and self-governing, should not make journalists rivals and soft targets to constituted authorities. There should not be any fear of the press speaking truth to power and holding state authorities accountable to the people who elected them. This newspaper recognises the fact that national security is of primary importance in safeguarding the integrity of a country.
Irrespective of the differences in interests, languages, religions, customs and traditions of the many people, which make up the country, these differences do not run at cross purposes with the people despite the fragile nationhood we live with. It is indubitable, therefore, that a country’s military occupies a very vital position when it comes to maintaining national security. As auxiliaries in the state, the military have the liberty to operate in a world within a world, with their own philosophy and paraphernalia of existence, out of which comes their ideology, strategies and mode of operations. Being guardians of the state in a certain respect, they occupy a space in state administration that must be guarded jealously for fear of compromise.
Owing to this pivotal role of the military in the defence of the state, it would be irresponsible of any journalist, who in search of news, sniffs around for classified military information and publishes same just because he wants to inform the public. That journalists also play a prominent role in informing the public should not provide any licence for irresponsibility and unprofessional conduct that would undermine national security.
This is not the first time that matters of press freedom and national security have put journalists and soldiers at loggerheads in service of the nation. Given the complexity of the global information order and the techniques of the new media, the nature, flow and management of information have become so fluid and multifaceted. Notwithstanding the threat of ‘fake news,’ the new media have made information flow seamless, swift, unfiltered, more detailed and more efficacious. It is this complexity that should concern journalists and soldiers, who are desirous of managing information in war and crisis situation.
As we stated previously in a comment on this issue, there is need for conflict-sensitivity and capacity building from both ends to harmonise the objectives of the military and those of the press through stringed interactions between the two institutions. In crisis or war situations, periodic sessions with editors and senior managers of public information and embedding journalists into military beats, would enable each party to understand the other’s world.
The effect, as stated earlier, would be this: “Professionally, this would forge mutually benefiting discussions about how to recalibrate the balance between state security to which the military is committed and the ideals of human rights, which inform journalistic practice in this democratic age. Similarly, that will enable the press to understand the perspectives of the military when interpreting observable facts and properly manage truth in the interest of the common good, which both professions serve.”
It should be clear that soldiers are primarily civilians who have chosen to be in the armed forces. They are persons with civility before becoming soldiers. It is not for nothing that the word ‘civilian’ shares the same root-word with civility. The common value of civility should be brought to bear in the resolution of the perennial tension between the military and media organisations over matters of press freedom and national security.
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