CAPTURING THE NIGERIAN SIDE IN REPORTAGE AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT

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CAPTURING THE NIGERIAN SIDE IN REPORTAGE AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT

L-R: Raphael Oni Organiser of the Worskshop, Dr. Austin Maho Guest Leacture, Mr. Paul Ella Chair NUJ Abuja Chapter. Miss Katherine of Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Nigeria , His Excellency Leopoldo Revayo. Ambassador of Ecuador and Andre of Indonesia Embassy

CAPTURING THE NIGERIAN SIDE IN REPORTAGE AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT

PAPER PRESENTED

BY

AMBASSADOR BULUS LOLO

RETIRED PERMANENT SECRETARY

AT THE

WORKSHOP ON REPORTING DIPLOMACY FOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENTS- “GLOBAL BEST PRACTICE IN DIPLOMATIC REPORTING”, ABUJA

 ON TUESDAY, OCTOBEH 24, 2017

CAPTURING THE NIGERIAN SIDE IN REPORTAGE AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT

I am delighted to be here today and to have the opportunity to address you. I understand that this workshop has been put together with the aim of sharpening the capacity and skills of diplomatic correspondents in Abuja on the theme of “Global Best Practice in Diplomatic Reporting”.  This is a most commendable and welcome initiative. I thank the organizers for inviting me to this event.

I have been asked to speak on a topic that is not altogether clear to me and I wonder if I will be able to make any sense to you given its amorphous and vague nature. I struggled to understand how I should treat the topic of “Capturing the Nigerian Side and Crisis Management” that I have been asked to speak on. Of course, I have asked myself the “Nigerian side” of what? I have also asked that assuming there is a “Nigerian side” to a thing, how should one look at that thing, that is, from the point of view of origin, peculiarity, meaning, application or relevance?

Simple as these questions may sound, they can have a profound impact in a given setting. As diplomatic correspondents, you should pay close attention to the nuances of these questions because I am very sure that in the course of your reportage, you will encounter situations and issues that may warrant you to bring them to the fore.

The second component of my topic relates to crisis management. Although the concept of crisis management is somewhat more straightforward to understand or grapple with, it is however, necessary to separate “crisis” from “management” owing to the fact that whereas crisis is often disruptive and sudden occurrence, management on the other hand is the art of dealing with such developments. A major distinguishing feature or characteristic of crisis is its potential harm or cost. Moreover, there are different types of crises that can broadly be classified into political, economic and social categories. I will not bore you with any specific examples of these types because I am sure you know them.  In a very broad sense therefore, let me situate or define crisis management as the art or ability to deal with a sudden, unexpected and potentially damaging or harmful occurrence or event either in an organization, community or setting.

Loaded as this definition may be, it should be clear to the discerning mind that crisis goes with proportionality, the extent of which, must be high or great to cause disruption or harm, otherwise the occurrence will not constitute a crisis in the first place. A journalist on a diplomatic beat would do well to always look out for the peculiar features of suddenness, threat potential and proportion when following crisis situations. In other words, it is not every situation or occurrence that is necessarily a crisis.

Where however, in one’s mind or judgment a crisis exists, it is the duty of the journalist to find the angle from which to report on the crisis, bearing in mind that there are consequences before, during and after a crisis situation. Here, I am alluding to the dimension or for lack of a better word, the point of interest that a journalist should highlight. This may sometimes require a moral judgment to be made. What purpose does a reportage serve? What value does it add in the crisis situation? In what way does the reportage enhance stability, peace and harmony?

If we accept or understand crisis management as the art or ability to deal with a sudden, unexpected and potentially damaging or harmful occurrence or event either in an organization, community or setting, it should be clear that crisis management requires skills and techniques.  It is a process and a means to an end. Journalists and for that matter, diplomatic correspondents are not trained crisis managers. Nevertheless, they can contribute greatly to the process by helping to create awareness, accurate assessment,  fostering understanding and helping people to better cope with crisis situations.

Your operational turf is presumably the external scene and representatives of foreign governments or organizations.   While I do not intend to dabble into other areas of the workshop, but it is inescapable for me to set the context for what, I assume, may have prompted the framers of my topic to refer to the “Nigerian side” and crisis management. Since today’s participants are mostly diplomatic correspondents, I take it for granted that your selection has been carefully done by the media organizations that you represent. Furthermore, I want to assume that you are well equipped for your intricate assignments.

If by the “Nigerian side” I am expected to speak to you on how best you can project Nigeria in your reportage, then you will permit me to revisit some of the questions that I have already posed. But before I do this, I should remind here that diplomacy is the kernel of foreign policy, which, in itself, is the external projection of a country’s domestic policy. I am here referring to the intricate link that  exists between the domestic and foreign policy of any given country.

Diplomatic correspondents have three key audiences, namely, the rarefied intelligentsia of the countries they are based in that follows foreign or international affairs, the agencies of government that are involved in the management of  international affairs and foreign representatives resident in the country the correspondent is based in. So what is a diplomatic correspondent expected to bring to the public realm? If the diplomatic correspondent knows his or her stuff, they will resist the temptation of focusing on salacious or sensational reportage. Such angles should be left for gossip or tabloid reporters to pursue.

It is against this background that I will now quickly touch on what one may regard as the “Nigerian side” in the work of a diplomatic correspondent, who, for that matter, is a Nigerian national. I will use two cogent crisis situations to test the questions that I have asked. At the height of the Boko Haram phenomenon, what was of interest to the diplomatic correspondents? What purpose did your reportage serve? What value did it add to the crisis situation? In what way did the reportage enhance stability, peace and harmony in Nigeria?

My second example is the recent hue and cry for a Biafra entity. How are diplomatic correspondents covering the crisis? What purpose is being served by the reportage and in what way, if any, does the reportage help to douse the situation? I should remind here what I said earlier, to wit, that  it is the duty of the journalist, in this specific context, a diplomatic correspondent, to find the angle from which to report on the crisis. Here again, I am alluding to the dimension or for lack of a better word, the point of interest that the correspondent should highlight. This is the more reason why it is necessary for correspondents and journalists to make a moral judgment when reporting during crisis situations.

I admit I am not a journalist and have never trained in that field of study. Nevertheless, I am aware that in journalism, emphasis is placed on ethics, facts, objectivity, neutrality and professionalism amongst other requisite qualities in carrying out an assignment. To what extent can a diplomatic correspondent live up to this standard, especially when he or she is affected by a given crisis situation?

In presenting a Nigerian side to a story, there is a nuanced expectation of patriotism even if this will not be sign posted when an issue borders on national interest or security. Again the examples of the Boko Haram and campaign for Biafra crises are pertinent here. How far can a correspondent go to either defend or protect the national interest in their work? Is it even their duty to protect the national interest? What happens when a correspondent wittingly or unwittingly undermines his or her country’s core interest? I do not have ready answers to these questions. Suffice to say that each correspondent must always weigh the content of their work against its overall utilitarian value and collateral cost. I cannot overstate the importance of resisting the allure of sensationalism.

How can a diplomatic correspondent attain excellence and respect in their work? From my point of view and experience, an individual can attain excellence through depth of intellect, penetrating research, originality, accuracy, objectivity, quality analysis, clarity of views and relevance to mention a few qualities. I need not mention that falsehood, plagiarism and narrow mindedness will take one nowhere as a correspondent.

I have read stories authored by some of you in this room and wondered what the objective was. I have also at times asked if the intent of the stories served or undermined Nigeria’s standing in the comity of nations. It is a judgment call to decide on how best to present factual crisis stories with objectivity.  At first it may be a difficult call to make in the early days of one’s career, but with time, one would get better at doing so.

I am not an advocate of always projecting the positive side of a story. The negative side often gives a fuller picture and balance to a story. However, care should be taken to avoid the pitfall of parochialism. The primary duty of a correspondent or journalist is to educate and inform the public in an objective and professional manner. It is against the ethics of journalism to incite or exacerbate crisis situations.

Having gone through the comprehensive topics that have been earmarked for this workshop, it will not be prudent for me cover areas that have been assigned to other presenters and speakers. You will therefore, permit me to end by stressing that that the end goal of a diplomatic correspondent who may wish to present a Nigerian side in a crisis situation should aim to prepare the public “to ensure a rapid and adequate response to the crisis”, contributing to accurate “reporting and communication in the event of crisis” and helping in the dissemination of agreed “rules for crisis termination”.

I wish you the best in your deliberations.

Thank you

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