Journalists have been advised to see themselves as stakeholders in every society and therefore publish reports that will contribute to resolving societal conflicts, fact-check their reports and avoid hate speech in their stories and headlines. Different speakers at a workshop for journalists in The Gambia highlighted the danger of media reports that are insensitive to
Journalists have been advised to see themselves as stakeholders in every society and therefore publish reports that will contribute to resolving societal conflicts, fact-check their reports and avoid hate speech in their stories and headlines.
Different speakers at a workshop for journalists in The Gambia highlighted the danger of media reports that are insensitive to peaceful co-existence in communities. Such reports apart from damaging the peaceful fabric of the society also latently pose grave dangers to the lives of journalists as well as press freedom.
Speaking to selected journalists at a capacity building programme on conflict sensitive journalism and countering hate speech for Gambia journalists sponsored by UNESCO holding at SENEGAMBIA Hotel, Kololi, Banjul, MR. Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC) posited that “conflicts not only pose major threats to peaceful coexistence among the people and indeed the survival of democracy and the sustenance of democratic values, they also sometimes constitute impediments to press freedom, media independence, freedom of expression and the exercise of journalistic rights”
Admitting to the inevitability of conflicts, Mr. Arogundade said “no matter how difficult the challenge, the role of the media is to help deescalate and contribute to the resolution of conflicts whenever they become inevitable. This is what the social responsibility theory of the media teaches by charging media outlets to contribute to the fostering of productive societies or communities”.
He submitted that the capacity building programme couldn’t have been better timed because “across and within African boundaries, there seems to be renewed explosion of multi-dimensional conflicts including but not limited to insurgencies, religious extremism, terrorism, banditry, coups and counter coups. The conflicts are pervasive and do extend to electoral processes and elections as has often been the case in a country like Nigeria. And I am sure that here in the Gambia, you must have seen elements of such conflicts before, during and after the recent presidential election.
“The conflicts are pervasive and do extend to electoral processes and elections as has often been the case in a country like Nigeria. And I am sure that here in the Gambia, you must have seen elements of such conflicts before, during and after the recent presidential election.
“These conflicts not only pose major threats to peaceful coexistence among the people and indeed the survival of democracy and the sustenance of democratic values, they also sometimes constitute impediments to press freedom, media independence, freedom of expression and the exercise of journalistic rights.
Mr. Arogundade buttressed his position by citing instances where journalists have had to bear the brunt of conflict reporting: “Journalists have died in conflict cross-fires as was the case with Enenche Akogwu of Channels Television, Nigeria who was shot dead while trying to conduct interview during a religion related clash in the northern Nigerian city of Kano and Zakariya Isa of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) who was gunned down by Boko Haram insurgents in Maiduguri, north-east of Nigeria both in 2012.
“During the #Endsars youth uprising a year ago in Nigeria, two television stations (TVC in Lagos and AIT in Benin City) and one newspaper (The Nation in Lagos), were torched by hoodlums and the journalists and other media professionals molested. Reports by international media freedom, freedom of expression and human rights groups have consistently shown that journalists are killed during or because of violent conflicts.
Further highlighting the roles expected of journalists, Mr. Arogundade noted that “the root of conflict sensitive reporting or journalism therefore lies in the social responsibility theory which also obligates the media to set high or professional standards of informativeness, truth, accuracy, objectivity and balance and avoid whatever might lead to crime, violence, or civil disorder.
“It is also along the line of these principles that the media should help to counter hate speech as the example of Rwanda has shown us that it is one of the surest roads to violent conflicts.
“All the above should serve as constant reminder that the media have major stake in proper conflict management and should therefore avoid situations in which it is seen as being responsible for violent conflicts as was the case during the Kenyan and the Nigerian presidential elections in 2007 when the media allowed bias and hate speech to creep into their headlines and editorial content with negative consequences.
Welcoming participants to the programme, President of the Gambian Press Union Mohammed S. Bah expressed gratitude to the partners and sponsor while describing the training as very important and timely.
“This is timely, and highly important because the Gambia came from a Presidential Election and during the campaign, we have seen how politicians were spreading hate speech and some media amplifying it. However, I would want to commend some of our colleagues who decided not to entertain any form of Hate speech and by extension flagging it.
“Now that we are approaching the National Assembly Election which is slated for April 9th, 2022, I believe the media have more work to do in ensuring that Hate Speech is countered and also making sure there is continuous fact-checking throughout the electoral process. The media is so significant in ensuring there is a free fair, credible and transparent election through which people can make an informed decision.
“As journalists, there is a need to understand a conflict its causes, and the negative consequences it brings to our society. We are also required to know various actors in the conflict and try to be as diverse as possible in our reporting so as not to be seen as biased.
“We need to report the facts as Journalists and avoid sensationalizing issues of conflict when they arise. Instead, we should focus on issues that show conflicting parties have a common ground.
“While reporting the negative aspects of conflicts, which may include human rights violations, Journalists should also seek ideas about a peaceful resolution to a particular conflict.
“As Journalists, we should also seek to amplify the voices of external actors in a conflict who are seeking to find a lasting solution. Such voices could be from Civil Society Organizations, faith-based leaders, and other influential community leaders.
Delivering a keynote address, Ms Seraphine Wakana, UN Resident Coordinator said “it is indeed an honour to deliver a keynote address at the opening of this important training of media professionals on conflict sensitive journalism and countering hate speech. I commend UNESCO for this initiative, thank the International Press Centre for carrying out the training, and warmly welcome the journalists from print, online and broadcast media who have agreed to take part.
“The central concept of Conflict-Sensitive Reporting is that violent conflict attracts intense news media attention that requires greater analytical depth and skills to report on it without contributing to furthering violence or overlooking peace building opportunities.
“This training is being carried out within the framework of a broader project — financed by the UN Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund — that aims to encourage young women and men to play active roles in ensuring peaceful democratic processes and to be advocates for the prevention of violence and hate speech. It is designed to establish the foundations and imperatives of conflict-sensitive reporting and to clarify the frameworks, tools, techniques, and steps of conflict sensitive journalism.
“We all bore witness to the nefarious effects of hate speech during the recently concluded presidential election campaign. Prior to and during the election campaign, the United Nations supported the Inter-Party Committee and the Gambia Press Union to raise awareness of this issue and to build the capacity of journalists to address it.
“UNESCO trained journalists on fact-checking and supported the Gambia Press Union to establish The Gambia’s first ever online fact-checking platform — factcheckgambia.org — a site that I now regularly visit when I need to separate fact from fiction in the news.
“The Gambia is a fledgling democracy, a diverse country of many tribes that is navigating a delicate transition from authoritarian rule to pluralism, human rights, sustainable development, and press freedom. The recent presidential election demonstrated that The Gambia is on the right track, but it also showed that intercommunity tensions persist.
“There are some bad actors who seek political advantage by pitting tribes against one another using inflammatory language, hate speech, and even open incitement to violence. Everyone — politicians, religious leaders, community leaders, women, men and young people — have a role to play in putting an end to this practice.
“But journalists have a particularly important role to play, and your task is very sensitive. You must expose hate speech for what it is, but you should not amplify its message. And, you must walk the fine line between countering hate speech and promoting the freedom of speech, which is a fundamental human right.
“These are difficult things to do, but I am sure that this training will equip you with the knowledge, skills and tools you will need to do them well.
She said that free and fair reporting is essential to good governance and that vibrant and responsible media are vital to advancing the goals of democracy, development, rule of law and respect for diversity.
“But, unfortunately, we are living in an age of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, where it can be difficult for an ordinary person to tell the difference between what is true and what is not. This is not just a problem in The Gambia, but worldwide, and journalists are at the front line in this battle. Ensuring that journalists reporting of conflict is more insightful, comprehensive, balance, is not only critical for avoiding the flaming of division or enticing of hatred in sensitive context but also for promoting understanding and tolerance necessary to positively influence conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
“With this training, UNESCO and the International Press Centre will equip you with the knowledge, skills, and tools you need to succeed in this new environment.
“And by “succeed,” I mean fearlessly reporting the facts — objectively and dispassionately — addressing hate speech when and where you encounter it and doing your utmost to always protect the fundamental and precious human right that is freedom of speech.
The Secretary General, Office of The President Mr Noah Touray in his address commended the United Nations system in The Gambia for the continued support and collaboration with the Government of The Gambia in areas of critical importance in the democratic reform processes that the Government. Thanks to the support of the UN through the PBF, the Government of The Gambia has made commendable progress in sustaining peace, particularly in the areas of transitional justice, Constitutional review, Judicial Civil Service reform and the Security Sector Reforms.
“The rising incidents of fake news have the potential to jeopardise our national unity and stability. But I am confident that trainings like this would adequately equip the journalists with acceptable degree of skills to establish and clarify the frameworks, tools, techniques, and steps of fact checking and combating hate speech. The aspiration not to promote or inciter discrimination is one of the cardinal principles of ethical journalism.
“Journalists, media organizations should reaffirm editorial independence and the right of journalists to report freely. Such freedom of expression must be balanced against the protection of the rights of others. Materials that incite hatred should be avoided. Hate speech poses grave dangers for the cohesion of a democratic society, the protection of human rights and rule of law. If left unaddressed it can lead to act of violence in a wider. It can lead also instability” he counselled.
Opening session of the two-day programme was graced among other important dignitaries by the Gambia Minister for Information and Communication Hon Ebrima Sillah, UN Resident Coordinator (Ms Saraphine Wakana), Adviser for Communication and Information, UNESCO, (Mr. Michael Elvis) and the Secretary General and Head of Civil Service represented by Assan Tangara.
The training programme is being facilitated by the International Press Centre (IPC). IPC is Nigeria’s leading media development and press freedom organisation based in Lagos, the largest media hub of Nigeria. IPC’s activities are however spread across Nigeria’s states and regions while it is also an active player in the media development sector across West-Africa.
IPC has sustained relationship and collaboration with Press Unions and media sector organisations in The ,Gambia, Liberia, Ghana, Sierra-Leone and Burkina-Faso particularly as a member of the African Freedom of Exchange and the Nigerian national partner of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).