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 Ogoh-Mesarawon reports.

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 other infrastructure.

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 Delta.?

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 ActionAid report.    

?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 interest.?
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 public. 

Tony Iyare agrees:?For the Niger Delta, quite a lot of things are shrouded in secrecy, particularly when soldiers move in to conduct raids.?

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 conflict.

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.

ActionAid encourages the journalists to go beyond.