Army/Daily Trust face-off: Nigerian media urged to uphold national interest

A Coalition of Civil Society Organizations for Good Governance and Change Initiative has reacted to the recent face-off between Daily Trust Newspaper and the Nigerian Army over a report published by the media outfit.

Daily Trust had published a story about the army preparing to take over Baga, Borno State from Boko Haram, a story the military authorities tagged as insensitive.

Irked by the development, some soldiers stormed the Maiduguri office of the media house and picked up its regional editor, Uthman Abubakar, alongside a reporter.

They have since been released.

Reacting to the development, the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations for Good Governance and Change Initiative chided the newspaper for betrayal of trust and working for the terror groups.

Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, Comrade Okpokwu Ogenyi,
National Coordinator of the coalition; tasked the Nigerian media on the need to uphold national interest.

According to Okpokkwu, leaking sensitive security plans to members of the terrorists group would rather cause more harm than good to the nation.

Okpokwu said, “As some analysts have questioned, why has Daily Trust/Sunday Trust never published exclusives that alert the Nigerian Army to impending Boko Haram attacks. Why has the publication never provided information on Boko Haram/ISWAP on scale that corresponds to what it has published about the military?

“Their failure to publish these kind of details about terrorists, which would have been a patriotic thing to do, is a clear indication that something is fishy somewhere since they can give out the kind of information they gave out about the army. Taken against the pro-Boko Haram stories that had been published by this organization, there is ground for a deeper suspicion.

“The publication of these classified details by Sunday Trust has gotten us reviewing past attacks on military posts by terrorists in new light with the benefit of hindsight. It will appear that there are reporters in the employment of Media Trust that are ardent members of Boko Haram and ISWAP.

“These disguised terrorists must have been regularly passing information received in trust as journalists to Boko Haram and ISWAP hence the sustained leak that has made it possible for the terrorists to ambush military convoys and attack military posts with deadly consequences. What we do not know at this point is if Media Trust as an organization has it as a policy to deploy its publications to provide information terrorists. The rapprochement it will reach with military authorities would confirm or disprove this.

“We had wished that the Nigerian military had not visited the premises of Media Trust in Abuja and Maiduguri to invite the journalists and editors that committed this breach. Had they not been invited yet we would have been having a citizens’ action against that organization because in the long run it is the citizens that have been put at risk by that publication. But the step taken by the military has stayed our hands while the intervention of the Presidency has reminded us of the need to revert to dialogue in seeking redress from Media Trust for this breach of trust on its part.

“Our coalition has monitored the response to the failure of the Sunday Trust publication to respect the ethical consideration needed for handling security related classified information. We see that efforts are being made by a vocal minority to obscure the core issues involved in this matter. Sentiments are at play when the focus should have been on how to set applicable benchmarks in handling information related to the war against terrorism so that troops are not unnecessarily placed in harm’s way and for them to be able to in turn protect Nigerians.

“The issue has also become fodder for politicians that want to play the populists card by insinuating that the invitation to the media staffers that breached ethics is a clamp down on free speech. The heating up of the polity is therefore another of the negative consequences of what the newspaper has done.

“In all these, we recognize the place of the liberties guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution. Among them is the empowerment of the media to hold the government accountable, which is also at the heart of freedom of expression or press freedom. But these freedoms are moderated. Basic journalism textbooks teach the need to be considerate of national security, which does not appear to have been the case in what was published in the Sunday Trust. So when the issues of press freedom and the war against terrorism are taken in the proper context and from the proper perspective then Media Trust betrayed public trust.

“Leaking troops’ movement in the name of news stories, special reports and exclusive stories has become the hallmark of some media organizations in Nigeria. This development is highly uncalled for in view if the risk it poses to the country. We further appeal to the media to understand when the misuse of the power of the pen becomes a danger to society.

“The Nigerian Army should work with the nation’s intelligence agencies and the Department of State Services (DSS) to review the accreditation for journalists covering the defence beat and the war against terrorism since the prospects now appear strong that persons impersonating as media representatives are among those passing information to terrorists.

“We appeal to the Army to be magnanimous in accepting an apology from Media Trust, agree on corrective and remedial steps and put this matter behind it so that it can return to focusing on clearing out the terrorists from Nigerians soil.”