Some Thoughts On Media And Terrorism From Amman, By Mohammed Haruna

Mohd Haruna new pix 600This year’s world congress and general assembly of the International Press Institute (IPI), the 63-year global press freedom advocacy organisation, took place in Amman, capital of Jordan, between May 19 and 21. Few Nigerians may have heard of this organisation even though it partly funds the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, the country’s premier journalism trainer, and even though some of the most prominent Nigerian journalists and publishers including Alhaji Lateef Jakande who once presided over its affairs, Aremo Segun Osoba, Mr Sam Amuka, Mr Felix Adenaike, Malam Kabiru Yusuf and Alhaji Ismaila Isa, have been among its leading members.
Naturally ,the organisation believes that press freedom is “the right that protects all other rights.” Consequently it has tried to defend press freedom everywhere in the world in several ways, including through its annual congress and general assembly where leading journalists, editors and media executives gather to discuss major contemporary issues.
Among the variety of issues discussed this year were the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the terrible civil war in Syria, the safety of journalists reporting in conflict situations, the implications of internet regulation for democracy and press freedom and reporting on religion. This journalist was on a panel of three – the others were Steven Pollard, editor of the London based Jewish Chronicle and Monjuru Ahsan Bulbul, the CEO of a private television station in Dhaka, Bangladesh who was a last minute substitute for Jeffrey Sharlet, a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine and faculty member of the Centre for Religion and Media, New York University, who failed to make it to Amman – which discussed the last subject. The moderator was Ms Maria-Paz Lopez, a senior religious writer with La Vanguardia, Spain, and chair of the International Association of Religious Journalists. A little bit more about this presently.
Meantime a bit of my impression of Jordan. For me a more classic study in contrast between the country and Nigeria will be hard to find. Here’s a country in the middle of a harsh desert with no oil, no water, with a population of little over two million and in the frontiers of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict which is at the heart of so-called clash between the West and Islam. Yet a visitor to Amman and several of the towns and villages a few hours’ drive from it which we visited would be forgiven if he mistook them for towns and villages in advanced Europe or America. All the highways we travelled along were tarred, all the towns and villages we visited had electricity and water and not once did the lights go out throughout our stay in Amman.
Of all the barren country’s advances in spite of an almost total lack of natural resources none fascinated me like its ability to provide water to all its inhabitants. According to Nasiru Aminu, a senior diplomat at our Amman embassy and a friend, in all his several years in Jordan the taps in his house have never gone dry. Yet, the country, he said, relies almost entirely on harvesting rain water.
However, for me even more interesting than the ability of the country to satisfy the water needs of its inhabitants in the middle of a desert was the pattern of water supply among the poor, middle and high income neighbourhoods of the towns; the poor are supplied daily, the middle thrice weekly and the rich only once, said Nasiru. Here in Nigeria the reverse would’ve been the case.
The secret of Jordan’s relative wealth, said Nasiru, is its investment in the education of its people. This is evident from the country being a leading destination of medical tourism in the world, raking in more than two billion dollars annually. It is also the Information Technology capital of the Arab Middle East.
Jordan is, of course, no El Dorado. As a kingdom, and for that matter one on the frontiers of the Middle East conflict, its citizens can do with a lot more freedom than they have. I am certain, however, that few Jordanians, if any, would want to exchange their relatively gilded cage for Nigeria, the majority of whose citizens have been left free to live in abject and grinding poverty, almost totally abandoned by a state whose officials are generally too venal, selfish, power-hungry and incompetent, etc, to give a damn about public opinion.
Back to the IPI congress and general assembly, the liveliest session for me was none of the eight that were held between the morning of May 20 and the evening of the following day. The liveliest for me was the pre-congress town hall meeting in the evening of Sunday May 19 moderated by the well known CNN International anchor and correspondent, Jim Clancy. The subject looked simple enough; “Who is a journalist?” However, not surprisingly, the answer proved elusive. The debate that followed the introductory remarks of the four panellists on the questions whether in today’s digital age where anyone with a computer or a mobile phone who can send pictures and stories to news outlets and bloggers can be called journalists was truly hot and in the end there was no single answer.
There was, however, one interesting remark from the floor which was that today’s so-called “citizen journalism” was making mainstream journalists lazy by giving them an excuse to abdicate their responsibility for cross-checking the accuracy of news items before publishing. This, said the gentleman who made the remark, bodes ill for the future of professional journalism. I couldn’t agree more.
Finally to the discussion on reporting religion of which I was a panelist. My submission was that the dominance of the Nigerian media by the private sector in spite of the heavy presence of government in the broadcast media – a private sector dominance which, for historical reasons, does not reflect the ethnic, regional and religious plurality of the country – has led to a reporting culture which is heavily biased against Muslims and Islam. This, I said, was in turn a reflection of the global media which has been essentially anti-Islam.
Nowhere is this bias as glaring as in the reporting of Boko Haram insurrection which has caught the attention of the world because, of course, Nigeria, with at least 160 million people, is one of the most populous in the world and the biggest in Africa, reportedly almost split in half between Muslims and Christians, and because, of course, Nigeria is a leading world oil producer. The evidence of this anti-Muslim and anti-Islam bias of the Nigerian media is pretty clear in the way it has grossly under reported the human rights abuses of ordinary law abiding Muslims by the military and security forces in their fight against Boko Haram.
Two recent reports by Adam Nossiter, the West African correspondent of The New York Times, has captured this journalistic blind eye like no other. The first in May entitled “Bodies Pour In as Nigeria Hunts for Islamists” and datelined Maiduguri, made very grim reading.

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