By Adewole Kehinde Buy
The basic functions of news media are to inform, educate and entertain. Through these functions, they sensitize, enlighten and influence members of the public to participate actively in developmental activities and otherwise causes.
The information disseminated by the online media could be harmful or useful to the society. News reporters have a lot of power. What they write can influence decisions, help form public opinions of people and contribute to the general attitude of readers and life in general.
The online media have the power and capability to bring about change in society for the improvement of the quality of life and “because the media have this ability to report and inform so effectively, it could be said with great confidence that as change agents, they have the power to alter, even where resistance is strong the way of life of a community positively or negatively.”
The online media can contribute efficiently to national security, only if they perform their duties in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and the social responsibilities of the press.
The role of Online media in Nigeria’s Police Force cannot be overemphasized. The primary functions of the media in any society are to inform, educate and entertain. Beyond these, they serve as watchdogs of the society, agenda setters and force multipliers. Through these functions, the online media sensitize, enlighten and persuade members of the public to participate actively in developmental activities.
To a large extent, the ability of the media to effectively carry out these functions depends on the amount of freedom they enjoy in societies where they exist and operate. However, press freedom is very crucial to the effectiveness of media in any society. The information disseminated by the news media could be either harmful or useful to the society.
The online media have the power and ability to contribute enormously to national security, and this can be achieved through the observance of professional ethics and in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. In other words, for the media to contribute meaningfully to national security there is the need for strict adherence to professional ethics of journalism profession. The media are watchdogs of the society. They set agenda for public discussions on issues of national interest. The online media in Nigeria set agenda for national discourse. They have the capacities to manipulate vision and get the people constantly fixed to issues that are given prominence in their agenda.
One of the basic assumptions about the media is that the online media have an important influence on peoples’ lives and sometimes change their beliefs and opinions. A whole nation could become revulsed and react adversely to some national issues. The media can induce panic especially in periods of insecurity. Online media serve as forums for public debate and discussion of important issues in the society. This is one of the ways in which the online media help in the formation of public opinion, which is made up of what the majority of the people in a society think about a particular issue of public importance.
In a nutshell, the media shape the direction of individuals’ thinking on issues that concern and affect them in the society. Journalism as a profession has been regarded as the ‘fourth estate of the realm’ and some regard it as the ‘watchdog.’ The profession stands out clearly among other professions. It possesses the potential power to influence, not only the individual, but also the society as a whole.
The news media are powerful agents of change and agenda setting in society and a major source of information for people the world over. Because of their special power to affect the way people think, feel and behave, the online media have been credited with incredible persuasive ability to change attitudes and behaviours. Like a bullet, the message would be received by the individual directly and it would have an immediate and powerful effect on the individual, persuading him or her to behave exactly the way the message advocated.
This process is called the hypodermic syringe or needle theory because it is believed that the media message acts like the content of a hypodermic syringe, which, when emptied into an audience, would have an instant effect like the drug from a real syringe. Online communication messages are passive, and the online media can, therefore, control and influence members of the audience. The online media are powerful and persuasive, and members of the online communication audience are seen as weak and in danger of having their values and behaviour changed by online media messages.
Freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold on to one’s opinion and to receive and impart ideas and information are fundamental human rights. It is also the right of citizens to be informed about the activities of the ruling elites, as this enhances accountability and transparency in governance and promotes democracy. Conversely, certain information about the affairs and administration of government are kept from the knowledge of pressmen and general public for the purpose of protecting the sovereignty and security of the state. In this connection, Section 39 subsection 3 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides as follows: Buy Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society – (a) for the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or (b) imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of Nigeria Police Force or other Government security agencies established by law.
Online media could be described as “the channels or technological devices through which messages are conveyed to a large and heterogeneous audience. They are the vehicles that are used for conveying messages from a source to a large destination. In addition, online media are the devices for moving messages across distance or time to accomplish online communication.”
In essence, online media constitute all the means through which messages are relayed from different aspects of the society such as education, entertainment, health, politics, economy, and so on, to a large, heterogeneous and anonymous audience at the same time.
A nation has security when it does not have to sacrifice its legitimate interests to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by war. In an objective sense, security measures the absence of threats to acquired values, in a subjective sense, the absence of fear that such values will be attacked. Security could be described as the ability of a nation to protect its internal values from external threats.
National security, however, has a more extensive meaning than protection from physical harm; it also implies protection, through a variety of means, of vital economic and political interests, the loss of which could threaten fundamental values and the vitality of the state.
It is now widely acknowledged that without a safe and secure environment, there can be neither sustainable, poverty reducing economic and social development nor political development. Therefore, the online media need to cover all the aspects of security mentioned above in their reportage and coverage.
Security includes the means at the disposal of the government for protecting the state and its citizens from external aggression and internal insurrection. The state exists for the interest of defense, public safety, public morality, and so on. The freedom of expression and the press is an aspect of national security and it is necessary for a true democracy. Accordingly, Nigeria’s national security means the protection of its resources, territory, sovereignty and lawful institutions of the country. The aim of national security is to secure the just and equitable living conditions of the country. National security is the aggregation of the security interest of the individuals, communities, ethnic groups, political entities and institutions which inhabit the territory of our great country, Nigeria.
The primary objectives of national security are: to strengthen the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to advance her interest and objectives, to contain instability, control crime, eliminate corruption, enhance genuine development progress and growth, improve the welfare and wellbeing and quality of life of every citizen.
Since the return of Democracy in 1999, there has been cordial relationship between Police and the media without harassment and intimidation. The media have increasingly become important parties in the fight against insurgents because of the growing importance of information management in warfare whether they are non-conventional as the case of Boko Haram.
The online media have undergone some transformation in recent years. These developments cannot be under estimated, from 24 hours rolling news stations, online media platforms and websites the Nigerian discerning public and indeed the world has greater sources of information more than ever before and the Police has a more complex task in information management and intelligence rather than clamping on the press. Therefore, the Police and the media must build an enduring partnership and consensus to address the new realities of crisis-reporting in the interest of national security.
The media have been accused of contributing in worsening the state of insecurity and conflicts in Nigeria due to reportage primarily aimed at maximizing profit and increasing audience base. After an analysis of media coverage of diversity and conflict issues by various scholars, they listed out common practices adopted by the media which tend to contribute negatively to crises situations as follows: “selective reporting of prejudicial stereotypes about groups and individuals;” “reporting inter group conflicts out of their fundamental sociological, economic, political and other contexts;” “shallow and episodic coverage;” “total blackout on some groups, individuals or communities;” “use of inflammatory, misleading and sensational headlines to attract sales;” “publishing inflammatory statements against some people or groups as letters to the editor;” “attributing statements by individuals to groups making generalized statements not supported facts,” and so on.
These are activities which the media need to desist from to make meaningful impact in combating insecurity in Nigeria; otherwise the online media will continue to be seen as fueling insecurity.
The online media are indispensable tools used for nation building. Governments can hardly survive without effective use of the online media. The role of media in Nigeria’s national security is very crucial. In fact, they are key players in the arena of national security. The media function as watchdogs capable of blowing the whistle to call attention to serious national issues. This implies a clear recognition of the fact that the online media play an important role on issues of national security. The power of the media to decide what the people should read, see or hear has never been in doubt. What has been in the centre of controversy is the capacity of those in whose hands reside such enormous powers to use that power judiciously and in public interest.
Media professionals have the options to use the power of media instruments in their hands either to serve the nation or indulge in self-propelled interest. The media ought to be objective as they carry out their functions.
The Nigerian media are yet to exhibit maturity. Issues that affect the general well-being of the people of the country but which can cause disaffection and disunity should be de- emphasized or played down. The reverse has been the case in many Nigerian publications wishing to make quick sales on the platform of sensationalism and journalist scoops.
In a democratic society, the media have a responsibility to subject political leaders and security agencies to public scrutiny and to question their policies and competences. It is important, therefore, that the media and the security agencies work together to educate the public, question government about security policies, and hold leaders to account. Independent and socially responsible media facilitate democratic governance.
The media can help expose wrong-doings, identify policy alternatives and enable a society to make informed choices about contending issues. The online media face challenges in performing these functions vis- à-vis the security sector. Another major obstacle to effective oversight of the security sector is lack of transparency and restrictions placed on the reporting of the activities, budgets and expenditures of the security apparatus. The media, along with independent civil society actors, play vital roles in monitoring security institutions and therefore, helping to ensure that they are effective and accountable.
Purchase Online media are vital elements in shaping public debate on security policy and decision-making. They have the capability of educating the general public to follow politics and policies. However, a careful balance needs to be struck. Another element of the media-security sector relationship is the putative and real impact of public opinion on policy formation and decision-making.
When media expose wrong-doing or misconduct, they function as watchdogs and mechanisms of promoting accountability in governance. Beyond the watchdog function, by presenting accurate, balanced and timely information on issues of interest to the society, journalists help citizens in making informed decisions concerning who governs them and how they are governed. Journalism provides channels of communication in the society, helping to educate, inform, and exchange information between the public and its leaders. Journalism thus plays a vital role in identifying what is at stake in a particular policy or decision, in framing issues for the public, analysing the issues and identifying possible solutions and alternatives. To the extent that the media constitute an essential element of informed public and responsible governance, it deserves deeper and more sustained study by those in the business of democracy promotion and good governance.
Under the current Force Public Relations Officer; CSP Moshood Jimoh, the Nigeria Police recognizes the importance of Online media otherwise known as New Media for the first time. In the history of Police Public Relations Department, the Police Twitter handle and Facebook became super active. Nigerians and those in Diaspora easily communicate and express their feelings freely without fear of been arrested or harassed.
For the first time in history of the Nigeria Police Force Public Relations Department, Online Media meets on monthly basis to interact and profound the way forward to improving communications between Nigeria Police and the Online media operators.
In the coming months, Online media operators will be meeting on monthly basis with the Inspector General of Police with the aims of improving the communication gap among the online media operators and the Nigeria Police.
Also, streamlining of Police activities will commence to allow those in Diaspora to be updated with the activities of Nigeria Police Force which will in turn enable them to contribute their expertise.
New Media and Police Relations workshop/seminars are also part of the programs lined up for the years. This is to enable the New media operators know the skills in reporting security information.
I must commend the vision and mission of the Nigeria Police Force Public Relations Department under the amiable CSP Moshood Jimoh for the New (Online) Media in Nigeria.