The non-governmental organization
ActionAid Nigeria has come up with guidelines for Nigerian journalists
reporting from conflict areas. The publication, called Conflict
and Niger Delta Reporting, contains recommendations for fair and balanced
reporting and urges journalists not to promote the escalation of violence. From Lagos, Jacqueline
The turmoil in Nigeria’s
oil-rich Niger Delta region has made international headlines for years.
Militants say they want greater local control of the area’s natural resources.
They want more of the revenues from the sale of the Niger Delta’s oil to stay
in the region, where it can be used to create jobs and build schools, roads and
Development specialists and human
rights groups want to be sure reporters don’t make things worse.
Gbenro Olajuyigbe is the advisor
to ActionAid on human security in conflict and emergencies.
“Within the limits of what is going on in the [area]," he says, "[journalists]
have done well. But we feel that they have enormous responsibility…and if not
well managed, could lead to the degeneration of what is going on in the Niger
He gave an example of situations
in which information was not well managed by journalists.
“I used to see at times, from the
Nigerian media, a situation where it is said that 20 people have been killed in
Kano," Olajuyigbe says. "The media will not just stop there, but goes further to say that about
12 of the dead are from the eastern part of the country. People are bound to
react. There could be reprisal attacks…and everything will get out of hand.”
ActionAid says reporting must be accurate. But to avoid violence, it
recommends that reports not mention the ethnic group of the dead. It also says
reports should be balanced. Sometimes, that means seeking reaction to
controversial statements and doing independent checking on the accuracy of
information given by people interviewed.
Tony Iyare is a contributor and a
member of the editorial board of the Compass newspaper. He was quoted in the
“You need a balance from a variety
of sources," he says. "If you go on a guided tour by Shell,
you are likely to come back with a whitewash. If you also go on a guided tour by
the community [or by militants], you are likely to end up with a whitewash. At best,
what you need is to conduct your own independent report in such a way that you
can get a combination of these sources, because every side has its own
Iyare recommends that Nigerian
media executives provide funding for in-depth reporting of the Niger Delta so
journalists can get first-hand information from all sides of the conflict.
The ActionAid report urges the
government to be more transparent about its actions in the region. And it asks
the government and militants not to harass journalists seeking to inform the
Tony Iyare agrees:“For the Niger Delta, quite a lot
of things are shrouded in secrecy, particularly when soldiers move in to
The ActionAid report warns journalists not to sensationalize the
conflict with emotional words that may exaggerate an incident, like “tragedy,”
“genocide,” and “massacre.” It also warns journalists against taking sides and
says they should never accept money from any of the participants. The report
warns reporters not to carry weapons, which can give the government or the
militants the impression that the reporters are directly involved in the
It says reporters should find out
if there are laws restricting movement in the area. And to avoid trouble, they
should carry with them an authorization letter and identity card from their
media house, as well as a basic first aid kit.
Reporters are encouraged to read a
basic history of the region, and to learn some of the basic words in the
language of the area they are covering.
the journalists to go beyond.