Journalism, as an act of information gathering and dissemination, has been in existence since time immemorial. Since human beings ‘cannot, not communicate’, the art of information gathering, processing and dissemination are sacrosanct to human civilization and development. In contemporary times, journalism has metamorphosed from its parochial scope in the age of Acta Diurna to a more advanced and more sophisticated practice attracting praise and scorn.
The migration of human civilization from traditional society to the age of mass consumption as averse by Rostow 1960 (Rogers, 1976) not only transformed the societies economically but reshaped the media landscape drastically. As societies evolved, so does the media of communication and journalism practice. The continuous evolution of society portends occasional cultural shock. What was hitherto untoward or unheard of are normalized.
As this trend persists, journalism practitioners are at the receiving end of the continuous renegotiation among people in society as a result of the cultural shock. This sometimes led to conflict and violent uprisings. Journalism by its scope and orientation triumphs on drama, conflict and bizarre. The public wants the oddity. News is dictated by the unusual. And the societies keep serving the unusual through unforeseen circumstances like terrorism, banditry, ethnic uprising, coup, protest, amongst others.
According to Cottle (2017), the pursuit of oddities and the urge to keep the public updated sometimes subject journalists to threats and assault due to rampant conflict instigated by state and non-state players. The wake of insurgency in Nigeria tested the resolve of Nigerian journalists and they perform professionally without prior preparation, safety mechanism, welfare, institution backing, reporting guideline, protection gears, and most importantly, safety education (AbdulSalam, 2021). Therefore, there is a need for the inclusion of safety education as part of the mass communication and journalism training curriculum in Nigeria.
The concept of journalism safety transcends press freedom. It encompasses all forms of activities geared towards ensuring the protection of journalists from impunity through the media structure, media law, media ownership, access to media, digital inclusion, media literacy, gender, and journalism education (Carlsson, Pöyhtäri, 2017).
The safety of journalists must be guaranteed in line of duty for them to perform their functions optimally. For journalists to be regarded as operating in a safe environment, all the nine layers and types of safety challenges must be absent which are: physical, psychological, financial, legal, social and emotional, gender-specific, digital, topic-specific, and public risks (UNESCO, 2017). Jamil (2017) opines that physical risks connote the risk of being hurt or attacked in the line of duty.
Psychological risks denote hassle and tension that may impede the chance of a journalist to carry out their duty freely and safely. Financial risks refer to the fear of job insecurity, pay-scale discrepancy and forced loss of job appointment. Legal risks comprise the availability of impunity for an attack on journalists; prejudicial trial against journalists; misapplication and misappropriation of laws against journalists and the availability of draconian media laws.
Social and emotional risks are the type of risks relating to apprehension, phobia, dejection, misdemeanor and lower self-esteem that occurs due to the country’s specific social milieu or a journalist’s immediate environment (i.e., workplace’s environment and socio-political environment). Gender-specific risks are those forms of risks that a journalist may come across as a result of their gender. This might be in the form of sexual assault, rape, harassment, discrimination and coercion. Digital risks are the online dangers that result from hacking, insult or aggressive e-mails or mobile messages and denigrating comments on social media. And finally, public risks connote all threats that occurred due to violent, unethical and condescending attitudes of local inhabitants towards journalists, such as verbal abuse and physical harm or attacks (Jamil, 2017).
Need for Safety Education in Nigeria
Globally, scholars have written extensively on the need for journalism safety and safety education. However, explicating the literature divulge a pattern of catchup in Africa and Nigeria to be specific (Pate, Oso, Jibril, 2017). In most African countries, the inclusion of safety education as part of the curriculum is mostly not available. Those institutions found to offer courses relating to safety mostly focused on conflict-sensitive reporting (Pate, Oso, Jibril, 2017). Meanwhile, safety education is central and fundamental to the safety of journalists on the field. Mardaras, Gonzalez, Penin (2017) argued that professional working conditions, journalists’ training and their professional experience, and safety training and equipment are the three cardinal principles of ensuring the safety of journalists covering dangerous beats.
In absence of training, journalists are bound to face dangers that might cost them their lives. Advanced countries with less risk have designed programs that cater to journalist safety education. In Spain for instance, the military provides trained journalists on safety and how to navigate dangerous terrain (Mardaras, Gonzalez, Penin, 2017). In the United States of America, a body called the Global Security Journalist provides training for journalists (Murthy, 2018). However, in Nigeria, despite the enormous risk journalists are exposed to, our higher institutions of learning are yet to mainstream safety training as part of their curriculum. Although some universities offer courses on conflict-sensitive reporting and peace journalism, most of them do not have courses specifically focusing on journalists' safety as practiced globally.
Safety Education Curriculum
We cannot over emphasis the importance of providing safety education to journalists in the face of dangers portend by the media working environment. Therefore, the Nigerian safety education curriculum should be modeled in such a way that will cover safety protocol, reporting manual, environmental awareness, exit plan, among others.
The curriculum should factor in the peculiarities of the modern safety threats journalists in Nigeria are experiencing. The curriculum should expose students to:
- The element of risk, incident reporting guidelines and importance of the choice of refusal;
- Hostile environment, First Aid, basic rules to follow and psychosocial support;
- Assignment-specific safety advice and training; Insurance which includes regular correspondents against bodily harm, loss of life, property and equipment;
- Legal protection and litigation support to fight impunity;
- Resources, protective gear and finances required to cover dangerous or risky assignments;
- Debriefing and counseling, particularly post-coverage of distressful assignments;
- Security management strategy, intervention and protection strategy
- Specific protection measures to address gender and cultural-sensitive issues such as sexual harassment (International Media Support and Media Council of Kenya, 2016, p. 20).
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Cottle S, (2017). Journalist killings and the responsibility to report. In U Carlsson, R Pöyhtäri, (ed.s). The assault on journalism: building knowledge to protect freedom of expression. Nordicom.
Abdulsalam LU, (2021). Safety education and survival mechanism: Lessons for journalists covering Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. Global scientific journal. 9(11), pp 2210- 2233.
Carlsson U, Pöyhtäri R, (2017). Words of introduction. In U Carlsson, R Pöyhtäri, (ed.s). The assault on journalism: building knowledge to protect freedom of expression. Nordicom.
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UNESCO. (2007). Model Curriculum for Journalism Education. UNESCO, Paris: France.
Pate U, Oso L, Jibril A, (2017). Status of training and research in reporting conflict, peace journalism and safety education in English speaking West Africa: the cases of Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Journalism Education. Volume 6, number 2, 28-36
Mardaras LI, González MJC, Peñín LM, (2017). Safety training for journalists: a case study with the Spanish military. Journalism Education. Volume 6, number 2, 56-64.
Murthy CSHN, (2018). Safety and security of journalists: Yet awaiting intervention from Indian academy and industry. Asia Pacific Media Educator, 28(1) 131–149. DOI:10.1177/1326365X18772359.
International Media Support & media council of Kenya (2016). A handbook on reporting terrorism. Kenya: International Media Support and Media Council of Kenya.