Responsible And Responsive Conflict Sensitive Journalism: Rethinking The Role Of Editors By Umar Faruk Jibril Professor Of Mass Communication Faculty Of Communication Bayero University, Kano

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  • Posted by: Imoh Robert


  • Conflict sensitive journalism is based on the principles of good reporting.
  • Good reporting requires strict adherence to fundamental ethical code and values of the profession.
  • Journalism practice means presentation of an accurate and impartial news report.
  • The Nigeria media landscape though vibrant, is populated by all kinds of “media practices” and professionals of various hues and coloration from offline/online media operators, formal, semiformal, non-formal and “hard-to-classify” news establishments with formally and informally trained.
  • To avoid any ambiguity and misunderstanding about the subject matter of our discussion, this presentation discusses responsible and responsive conflict sensitive journalism practice and the need to rethink the editorial responsibility in formal corporate media organizations (print, electronic and online registered digital platforms).
  • This presentation aims at interrogating some of the existing practices regarding how conflict situations that are reported from our newsrooms for a possible redefinition of the role of the editors as gatekeepers.
  • Mass media play an important role in the society, whether seen from positive or negative perspective,.
  • These roles are extensively discussed by scholars in their attempts to understand, theorize, and explain the news production, processing and dissemination functions of the mass media in society.
  • Prominent among these theories is the agenda setting theory propounded by McCombs & Shaw in 1968. This theory assumed that by their activities as information managers in the society,” the media attempt to set public agenda for discussing important issues in the society.
  • Another important theory particularly relevant to this presentation, which directly explains the effect of news editorial decision making process on the public is the gatekeeping theory. This theory describes the process by which information is filtered to the public by the media. Kurt Lewin (1947) who coined the term “gatekeeping” argues that gatekeepers {or media professionals} operate in a complex field, in which the gatekeeper and its environment “have to considered as one constellation of interdependent factor”.

READ ALSO: Role of Editors in Enforcing and Promoting Accountability By Dr. Dalhatu Sani Yola Department of Political Science, Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State

Understanding Conflict and Media Reportage

  • Burgess & Burgess (1997:1) defined conflict as “a long-term, underlying disagreement that divides two or more parties”.


  • Simply defined, conflict is lack of agreement between two or more parties over something of interest to both (Pate, 2007:2).


  • A conflict situation is therefore “a situation where two or more individuals or groups try to pursue goals or ambitions which they believe they cannot share” (Ross, 2004; 6). It is important to understand that not all conflict is violent.
  • Rather a conflict is normal when there is change. Some people want change, but others disagree. If their disagreement or their conflict is managed peacefully it can be regarded as a positive process. But when conflict is not managed properly, it becomes violent.


  • In violent conflict, people fear for their safety and survival. When we say conflict in this presentation, we are referring to violent conflict which usually ends in bloodshed, loss of lives, property and peoples’ lively hood.

Ethical Considerations in Reporting Conflict

  • Journalism practice generally is governed by ethical code and regulatory provision as provided in the constitution.


  • But while ethics is directed at the moral conduct of the journalist regarding journalists sense of “good or bad conducts and practices,” media regulation, on the other hand, is a legislative instrument meant to check the excesses of irresponsible journalism practice in the society.

Journalistic Ethics

  • Scholars and practitioners approach the issue of ethical conduct in journalism from two divergent points of views. Some see it from purely a moralistic perspective while others view it from the point of view of professionalism.
  • Ethics in journalism is defined as the “code of morals [or principles] that journalists are supposed to uphold (Ike, 2005; 75-76).
  • Professionally, the Nigerian Press Council Which is the main regulatory agency for journalism Practice in Nigeria, described Ethical Code a SINE QUA NON in any profession” (Nigerian Press Council, 1998).
  • It is seen as guiding principles to professional etiquette which serve to guide the journalist in his/her day to day journalistic practice.
  • They relate to the manner in which journalists have obtained a story and/or the manner in which a story is reported. Codes of conduct may differ, but the overall aim is to ensure the integrity of the news and general respect for the rest of society in the journalist’s pursuit and reporting of news.
  • A Journalist should always have a healthy regards and respect for the public interest, public good and social responsibility. Truth, it added is the cornerstone of good and responsible Journalism.
  • The pertinent question here is to ask how far and how well have or are the Nigerian Journalists been keeping to these code of ethics in order to have a good and responsible journalism?
  • Is it possible to have a responsible Journalism in Nigeria in the situation where the government — Federal and States control and indeed monopolize the ownership and control of the majority of Nigeria’s media systems?
  • Over the years Nigerian Press Organization has developed fifteen standard sets of ground rules as the code of ethics for the Nigerian journalists which guide the professional conduct of all members of the trade.
  • Journalism today in Nigeria faces an increasing need for ethical reporting, accuracy, fairness and objectivity.
  • The Code of Ethics should therefore, be the companion of the practicing Journalists as well as the informed public in providing ethical guidelines which practitioners should judge and be judged in order to prevent or at least reduce the cases of unnecessary sensationalism in Nigeria Journalism.
  • The Code of Ethics also affirms that self-regulation through Code of Ethics and other structures drawn by Professionals would best serve the interest of both the profession, the professionals and public, so that they can maintain some levels of journalistic integrity.
  • Furthermore, part of the preamble to the code of Ethics states that “journalism entails a high degree of public trust. To earn and maintain this trust, it is morally imperative for every journalist, and every news medium to observe the highest journalistic integrity in the exercise of their duties.
  • Although journalist ethics are constrained by repressive African government influence, they are also constrained by deliberate unprofessional practices by journalists”.
  • Therefore, news reporting generally requires the journalist to adhere to the ethical code of practice which guide his/her professional conduct and behavior as well as the laws governing the practice.
  • It is generally assumed that, the need to observe the fundamental journalistic code of ethics namely, objectivity, fairness, balance and disinterestedness etc. in reportage should only provide a general operational framework for the journalist in reporting normal societal issues that may not transform into violent conflict among competing interests.
  • Where such considerations are poorly handles by the journalist it is likely to aggravate the violent situation rather than mediate.
  • Therefore, when reporting conflicts, journalists must go beyond what is seen or heard from scene and/or sources.
  • To report responsibly and fairly, the media must act as a mediating agent in all violent conflict situations.
  • In such situations, it is generally expected that the journalists will go extra-mile and thoroughly investigate the issues, understand the different points of views of the parties in conflict, the extent of the changing dynamics of the issues and their implications on the public, before providing a fair and balanced perspective for the conflicting parties to see the futility of continuing violence as a means of settling their difference so that they can appreciate the need for peaceful resolution of the issues in question.

Media and Conflicts in Nigeria

  • Nigeria, like many emerging democracies in the developing world, has witnessed several social and political upheavals and crisis situations which threatened the corporate existence of the nation as a single political entity.
  • These situations manifested in several guises ranging from the Wild-Wild-Western political crisis of the late 50s through the 36 months’ civil war, the military coups and counter coups of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and the ethno-religious crisis of the 80s and 90s, and then came the failed political transition characterized by the June 12th
  • Yet the new millennium added a new dimension to the conflict situation in Nigeria by the resurgence of a web of ethno-religious violence, political thuggery, Niger Delta resource control crisis, farmers/herders conflict, criminal banditry, agitation for succession etc. leading to needless killings and assassinations of prominent personalities and massive loss of lives of ordinary people and d wanton destruction of properties.
  • In 1995 the Nigerian Press Council (NPC), under its Research and Documentation Division, published some research studies contributed by various experts on the performance of the Nigerian media during national crises over the years.
  • A case in point was the Shagamu crisis coverage carried by the media with sectional bias, which later produced a ripple effect of revenge killings in Kano and other northern cities. Another case in point was the Kaduna ethno-religious violence which attracted a web of revenge killings in the south.
  • This too was over blown by the Nigerian media. In all these the media’s role in shaping the direction of the conflict situation, even though hard to prove empirically, nevertheless, provide enough grounds to redefine the role the media should play in reporting conflict situation in Nigeria (Aliyu, 2004; Momo,2004; Akineleye,2007).
  • While discussing professional ethics and journalistic values in the context of conflicts reporting in Nigeria
  • The media can also play a positive role in reporting conflict situation. Some of the positive roles ascribed to the media by scholars at various stages of conflict include; detection, prevention and mediation (Robert,1996: 3) and in some cases, management of the conflict situation (Burgess & Burgess, 1997:177-178).
  • Through any of these interventions the media’s role in shaping and positively influencing public perception and understanding of the situation before, during and after any conflict is never in doubt.
  • As a matter of fact, “in large-scale, societal-level conflicts involving many people and interest groups, the print and broadcast media, (and now the internet/digital/social media), provide some of the most important means through which the parties in conflict learn about the issues and communicate with one another.
  • When this role is played ethically with public interest as the guiding principle, especially in times of violent conflict, it is mostly from the activities of the media, journalists/reporters (and credible bloggers), that the public comes to know the real nature of events and the circumstances influencing the situation on the ground.
  • In such situations the public’s reaction to the situation largely depends on the way the journalists covering the event handle the reportage and the quality of the information available to him/her to write the news report before passing same to the editorial desks in their respective organizations for the editor to choose from.
  • The editorial mechanism in the organization will then refine the report and brought it to public attention. In other climes, the media, through the reckless and unprofessional practices of the journalists the public often, accused media of further inflaming the already violent situation leading to more violence rather than the plying a mediatory or reconciliatory role expected of an impartial umpire.
  • This is part of the reason why covering and reporting conflict situation by the journalists always attracts research interest from scholars, regulators, professional organizations, civil society organizations, human right advocates and sometimes, even the public.

The Editor’s Roles

Formal media organizations entrust all the editorial functions and roles to an editor (or editors of various designations) who is/are entirely responsible for whatever gets published by the news organization. These roles can be categorized into five categories viz:

  1. Overseeing the entire operation of the news organization regarding news stories and any publishable content
  2. Determining the allocation of essential editorial and technical resources (manpower, space, length, time, prominence, non-journalistic content, etc.) required to get the news story out.
  3. Determining the direction of editorial perspectives which often expresses the official opinion and position of the news organization on important issues.
  4. Singing-off the published content on behalf of the news organization.
  5. And safe guiding public safety, decency, sensitivities (cultural, political, economic, religious. etc.) and promoting the overriding national interest in their reportage.
  • Under normal circumstances in conventional journalism practice, all editors carryout the first four functions seamlessly, out of the five.
  • But unknown to most reporters and editorial staff, the fifth function is often the litmus test which differentiates responsible and responsive conflict sensitive journalism and any other kinds of journalism practice.
  • This is especially true when it comes to covering and reporting conflict situations with a potential for national and/or international dimension The implication of this has been extensive discussed under subheadings in the preceding section.
  • To appreciate this aspect of reportage and editorial functions and manage the process responsibly, an editor/journalist needs to understand the nature of conflict and the principles which guide how it should be reported as discussed earlier.


Earlier in this presentation, it was suggested elsewhere, that the media should function as a platform for conflict detection, prevention, moderation, mediation and management, and not necessarily as a resolution agent.  In this sense, journalists intervene in conflict to mediate between the parties in conflict (Media Peace Center, 2002:1). Therefore, good reporting practice in tandem with responsible journalism should form the basis for effective conflict management and eventually resolution:


To this end, the Media Peace Center, an organization concerned with peace journalism outlined a partial account of the potential media’s roles in any conflict situation. The Centre recommends that in such situation the media and by extension, the editors should play the following roles:

  • Promote and help enforce national or international norms regarding human rights, the conduct of war, the treatment of minorities, or other issues;• Relay negotiating signals between parties that have no formal communication or require  another way to signal;• Focus the attention of the international community on a developing conflict, and by doing so bring pressure on the parties to resolve it or on the international community to intervene;

    • Establish the transparency of one conflict party to another;

    • Engage in confidence building measures;

    • Support international peacekeeping operations in countries where they are active and in countries contributing military contingents;

  • Educate parties and communities involved in conflict and thereby change the information environments of disputes, which is critical to the conflict resolution process;• Identify the underlying interests of each party to a conflict for the other;• Prevent the circulation of incendiary rumors and counteract them when they surface;

    • Identify the core values of disputants, which is often critical to help them understand their own priorities and those of their opposite number;

    • Identify and explain underlying material and psychological needs of parties to conflict, clarifying the structural issues that are perceived to be at stake;

    • Frame the issues involved in conflict in such a way that they become more susceptible to management;

    • Identify resources that may be available to help resolve conflicts or to mobilize outside assistance in doing so;

    • Establish networks to circulate information concerning conflict prevention and management    activities that have succeeded elsewhere;

Publicize what should be public and privatize what is best left private in any negotiating    process, although the definitions in each case are likely to be highly contested and should
not be taken for granted;

• De-objectify and re-humanize conflicting parties to each other and avoid stereotyping;

• Provide an outlet for emotions of parties, the expression of which may be therapeutic in and of itself;

• Bring to bear international pressure on media organizations that promote xenophobia, racism,    or other forms of social hatred;

• Encourage a balance of power among unequal parties where appropriate, or, where the  claims of parties are not equally just, strengthen the hand of the party with the more  compelling moral claim.

It is the opinion of this this presentation that Nigerian journalists/editors should adopt the these highlights as the template in their professional approach towards responsible and responsive conflict sensitive journalism.




Author: Imoh Robert

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