Silencing the Media and Chaining the Watchdog: Threats to Journalist Safety During Elections in Nigeria

Silencing the Media and Chaining the Watchdog: Threats to Journalist Safety During Elections in Nigeria

Adamkolo Mohammed Ibrahim, Umaru A. Pate, Abdulsamad Muhammad Usman
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1298-2.ch012
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Over the last two decades, Nigeria has been struggling to consolidate its democratic processes to ensure peaceful campaigns and free and fair polls. But electoral processes require the free flow of verified electoral information and citizen's participation – phenomena that only free media can guarantee. As enshrined in the nation's constitution, it is expected that freedoms of expression and press will be guaranteed during polls times and always. On the contrary, election times are often dejection time for Nigerian journalists. Hence, concerns are being raised about what factors are responsible for causing threats to journalists during poll times and how the menace can be mitigated. Drawing on the experiences of 12 journalists who were interviewed face-to-face, this chapter found aggressive journalistic practices, overconfidence, and breach of journalistic ethics responsible for threats to journalists' safety. The chapter concludes that professional incompetence is one of the critical factors exposing Nigerian journalists to threats.
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During election times journalists employ various techniques to gather political information, including uncontentious methods, like interviewing, to extremely risky practices such as revealing secrets and incursion into personal confidentiality (e.g., investigative reporting). Like in most countries, in Nigeria these journalism practices are controlled by legal/constitutional regulation and professional codes of ethics (Morah, 2012). However, opinions widely differ among journalism scholars and experts concerning the suitability and appropriateness of diverse newsgathering practices and methods, including those typically prohibited by professional journalistic codes of ethics or constitutional laws (Foreman, 2010; Izuogu, Omeonu, Ubani, & Ugwu, 2018; Willnat, Weaver, & Choi, 2013). Despite the plethora of events, issues and matters needing journalistic attention at various times and seasons, there is no much distinction in the types of journalistic practices to use except in specialized contexts and situations (e.g., investigative journalism, advocacy journalism, or even propagandistic journalism especially during wars and conflicts) (Malaolu, 2012, 2004; Neverla, Lohner, & Banjac, 2015).

Some adventurous journalists would go to the extent of using perilous practices such as exposing shady deals involving top government officials if, e.g., it would yield any positive development surrounding accountability and transparency in the use of public funds and they are worried that the commonly acceptable codes of ethics employed in their professional practices do not permit for the application of personal reasoning principles (Hanning, 2014). With this absence of scholarly and professional unanimity, it is predictable that, notwithstanding the ample research literature in journalistic practices extending nearly half a century, still there is dearth of understandable justification about the factors and circumstances predicting journalists’ use of controversial and more aggressive newsgathering practices with risk potential such as disclosure of secrets for public good.

Understanding the factors that push journalists to employ several newsgathering practices with high risk potential, which are often disapproved of by the political class is therefore, important. A good grasp of the elements that forecast journalists’ moral and ethical behaviors can provide clues into how to make journalism education and training better, help inspire and urge journalistic practices suitable to the society and aid reporters gain increasingly additional autonomy to accept or reject practices that authentically genuinely adapt to their own standards and values (Hollings, Hanitzsch, & Balasubramanian, 2019).

In Nigeria, most controversies surrounding the state launching inquiries into journalistic practices and censoring the press occurred more than 20 years ago, during the protracted military regimes and interregnums (Sobowole, 1985). In recent years, online investigative journalism practices are among the emerging critical issues leading to journalists’ involvement in risks and facing threats to their safety (Olabamiji, 2014) as Reporters without Borders (RSF, 2015) aptly notes, “in some countries, a journalist can be thrown in prison for years for a single offending word or photo. Jailing or killing a journalist removes a vital witness to events and threatens the right of us all to be informed” (p.10).

However, investigative journalism has been practiced in Nigeria for quite long (Izuogu et al., 2018; Malaolu, 2012). To contribute to the growing body of literature, this paper aims to identify empirically the critical factors capable of determining the Nigerian journalists’ adoption of journalistic practices and role orientation with potential risk to their safety during election times. To achieve that, a review of extant literature was performed from which an interview question guide was drawn with which the experiences of 12 practicing journalists were analyzed.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Newsgathering Techniques: Practical professional methods and procedures used by a journalist to source news material for publication.

Subjectivism Ethical Orientation: Professional journalism practice that makes the journalist see what is true or false based on his or her own rational, subjective judgment, as opposed to objectivism, for example.

Situationism Ethical Orientation: Professional journalism practice with a concern for the relevance of a given situation or event, which is more pragmatist in approach, unlike absolutists.

Economic Influence: The effect of monetary forces (e.g., profit, perquisites, and brown envelope [gratification/bribe]) motivations on professional journalism practice.

Exceptionism Ethical Orientation: Professional ethical orientation that encourages the journalist to believe in ethical absolutes but not idealist, by not focusing on reporting issues that avoid causing harm to others; rather his or her reporting follows ethical guidelines.

Interventionist Role: A journalist’s professional role orientation seeing him or her tilting more towards advocacy reporting, which seeks to influence public opinion toward a given social or political course.

Journalistic Practice: Professional newsgathering techniques used by journalists.

Risk: An unsafe situation or condition that a practicing journalist gets involved in due to antecedents or circumstances associated with his or her newsgathering job.

Absolutism Ethical Orientation: Professional journalistic practice of following rules of what is true or what is not to the letter, no matter the situation. This is often embraced by journalists with a stronger religious and moral consciousness.

Journalistic Ethical Orientation: Journalism moral principles guiding the journalist’s entire professional career approach.

Political Influence: The effect of political power on professional media practice.

Watchdog Role: A journalist’s ethical disposition embracing journalism practice aimed at checking the actions and inactions of the political or ruling class for the good of the nation.

Organizational Influence: The effect of ethics, managerial policy, newsroom policy, ranking/promotion, wage/emolument, house style, etc. on professional journalism practice.

Threat: An intimidating, hazardous, menacing, perilous, harmful, harassing or dangerous warning targeted at a practicing journalist to silence him or her from carrying out his or her professional duty because it is unfavorable to the person, group or organization issuing the threat.

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