The recent invasion of the offices of Daily Trust Newspapers in Maiduguri, Abuja, Kaduna and Lagos by soldiers does not augur well for government/media relations in a democratic dispensation. There should have been other decent ways of settling such matters between the media and security agencies. With 20 years of unbroken democracy, any agency of government that feels offended by any media report should have sought for redress in the law courts.
Some soldiers had, on Sunday January 6, invaded the offices of the newspaper over a publication that the army authorities considered to be in bad taste. Operations of the organisation were disrupted. Two journalists in the Maiduguri office were reportedly detained while computers and other items were confiscated by the soldiers.
The army’s rage, it was later learnt, was over a published story about its planned operations in the North East. The military claimed the story divulged its operational strategy. The soldiers did not vacate the newspaper’s offices until the intervention of the Federal Government.
It is sad that the media would be witnessing this avoidable relapse to the unfortunate era of military dictatorship when the media was persecuted by the military just for performing its constitutionally-assigned roles.
Journalism practice the world over has always been guided by C.P. Scott’s assertion that “comment is free but facts are sacred.” What the expression connotes is that no journalist would dither in fear when faced with factual events.
It is, indeed, a deviation from the norm when journalists are being pilloried for publishing facts, the very reason for the existence of the media. The curious thing is that the Nigerian military did not accuse the Daily Trust and its editors of publishing ‘fake’ news. What the authorities stated was that the newspaper published a series of facts offered to the journalists, presumably by a military officer, and that the army authorities were not comfortable with the report. The invasion of offices of the Daily Trust is against the constitutional roles of journalists.
Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution stipulates that “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”
All over the world, the right to publish factual reports is enjoyed by the media. Any government that tries to suppress the media is deemed to be tyrannical. However, journalists should always ensure that they publish the facts. They should also be mindful of matters that bother on national security.
In any democratic society, the power to arrest, detain or prosecute any civil offence rests with the police. What the military should have done is to seek redress in the courts. Certainly, the military does not have the powers to invade a media establishment, truncate its operations and arrest journalists. Such jackboot tradition is anathema in a democratic system.
We recall that between 1984 and 1999, the media was a victim of military repression. Some media establishments were banned, businesses were crippled, dreams were truncated and many journalists had their lives cut short. Many media organisations did not survive the unending ordeals.
Last year was a particularly bad one for journalists globally. About 94 journalists were killed and over 300 remain in detention in different countries. Nigeria cannot afford to begin the New Year on such a wrong footing.
It is gratifying that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and many other organisations condemned the unwarranted media siege.
The military invasion of Daily Trust offices and the clampdown on its journalists is an affront on the roles of the press. There is even no need for such invasion in a democratic government. Let the government and other stakeholders put in place measures to improve government/media relations.