Date Published: 10/01/09
Police and Journalists: Friends or Foes? By Tony-Anthony John
“If we need the services of the Police in danger, we should treat them as friends.” - NDCAV
“In America, the president reigns for four years, and Journalism governs for ever and ever.” - Oscar Wilde
Relationship is a simultaneous act which is complemented by the both parties. But, when one of the parties always exhibits traits that do not work in consonance with the desire and expectation of the other, it poses a serious threat to the existing co-habitation. That is why the relationship between the Police and the Press(journalists), should be an issue that should not be treated lightly owing to their positions in the society.
An undisputable fact about them is that no society in the world can do without the Police and the Press. No matter how authoritarian or dictatorial a government may be, the two institutions are indispensable. If a government out of rigidity in governance, attempts to muzzle the Press, it would be creating an easy way to is ruination. On the other hand, if a country loses focus on the role of the Police, it would be a threat to national security. So, what will be the confidence of any government when it notices disharmony existing between the Police and the Press and it does not meddle into the matter promptly?
In the Nigerian society to be precise, I would say that the relationship between the Police and the Press, if mildly put, is that of a cat and dog type. While I concur with the view of the Niger Delta Coalition Against Violence(NDCAV) about the Police, I also score Oscar Wilde highly because journalism will always be there to checkmate the activities of every government. As I stated, the unfriendly environment harbouring the two unfriendly friends should be the concern of well-meaning Nigerians with the interest of the country at heart.
Repeated reports about Police brutality on journalists have since gone out of hand. Yet, there have not been commensurable punishments(if any) meted out to the Police officers where they are found guilty. If you take a thorough survey around the country, there is no week you will not record Police attack on a journalist, whether reported in the media or not.. And, it has always been inflicted with hatred. What still remains unexplainable to the Press is why all this acrimony? Could it be the manner of their(journalists) reportage or out of sentiment? These are some of the questions journalists would like the Police to answer.
To buttress my point, I would like to cite some examples so that the reader, or in fact, the Police, will not accuse me of being sentimental. Since this year, 2009, there have been series of reports about unprovoked attacks on some journalists and invasion on media houses. For instance, in Rivers State, early this year, a photo journalist with the state-owned newspaper, Tide , was battered and his camera smashed. His offence, according to the report, was that he captured the police officers in a scuffle with a taxi driver over an unconfirmed amount of money opposite the newspaper house. The photo shot infuriated the officers and they pounced on him and other staffers who were around at the time of the incident.
Also, there was the case of the AIT South-South regional General Manager, Mamodu Akugha. He had quite humiliating bitter experience in the hands of the Police. The management and staff of a local tabloid in the state, National Network, will not easily forget their unfriendly encounter with the Police when their office was invaded by the latter. Not quite long, a notable broadcaster, Segun Owolabi, of Silverbird Rhythm FM in Port Harcourt, got himself into the claws of the police after he closed the day’s job. As usual, they did not spare him. The scares of their injustice on him, will not easily be eroded away. I would not overlook the case of Ibanga Isine, a Punch Newspaper correspondent in Rivers State, who was also assaulted by the Police in Port Harcourt last year.
Recently, a Radio Nigeria correspondent, Wale Oluokun, was also beaten by security men attached to the Imo State Government House, at the order of the Chief Security Officer(CSO). According to the report, his offence was that he reported peaceful protest by visually-impaired youths in Owerri, the state capital. Further investigation revealed that, journalists are easily assaulted by the Police in the State at every slightest misunderstanding. This, however, has led to some media houses to withdraw their correspondents from the state.
Early last year, I remember the case of a journalist also in Owerri who alleged that he and a female occupant in his car were unjustly manhandled by the Police. He said that he was ordered to stop at a check-point which he complied to. While undergoing their usual checks of documents, he identified himself as a journalist. Mere mentioning of the word “journalist,” irked the officer and it resulted to an unholy scene. Consequently, he demanded for an apology in the media and other compensation from the police. Nobody knows which of his demands was met, which I doubt.
Sometime last year, some journalists in Kogi State who attended an event at the Government House were stripped naked in search of a GSM phone. After the whole public humiliation, it was not found on any of them. So many photo journalists have gory tales to tell from what the Police term as “offensive Shots.” They do not care who or which media house is involved. These are some cases of police brutality my time would permit me to mention. What about unreported ones?
Honestly, it is not as if my write-up is borne out of sentiments. I could recall some years ago, I had written an article on how to salvage the image of the Nigerian Police. I did it out of compassion and the realities of their state of welfare. As a writer and member of the pen fraternity, I am obliged to comment on issues unbiased. Service providers anywhere, especially in this profession, owe members of the public objectivity and credibility in their reportage. Nothing less than that!
I was glad when the Rivers State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists(NUJ), in its recent congress meeting, expressed bitterness over the repeated attacks on its members. I doff my cap for the council on how it has resolved, after a long deliberation, to address the ugly trend in the state to forestall recurrence. Perhaps, it would be proper to let the Police and other members of the public, probably they do not know, to know that what they may feel would pain journalists, makes catching headlines for them.
From records, Police authority treat reports affecting their men with lacklustre attention. If it is not said in a plain language that no amount of intimidation, humiliation or brutality can stop the effectiveness and efficiency of the Press, security operatives would not come to their senses to appreciate the role of the Press in nation building. Challenges would rather make journalists be dogged in their jobs.
I have to state that any organization that disdains the Press would be heading for the rock. If Press decides to blacklist any government, or an institution, it is when it would dawn on it how powerful a N20.00 biro is in the hand of a journalist. So, the earlier the Police re-orientate their conception about the Press, the better for them and the society. To the best of my knowledge, the Press cannot and will not attempt to present the Police or any security institution different from how it is or they are. It is quite unfortunate that most a time, our reports are being misconstrued, especially when the stories affect those who probably feel that the Press should give them cover. That is unethical which no genuine journalist would want to be associated with.
Summarily, what is existing between the Police and Journalists is what a former USA president, Thomas Jefferson, said about friendship. That, “An injured friend is the bitterest of foes.” Police and Journalists should try to accommodate themselves as nobody is an island. For societal development to thrive, it cannot be done independently.