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As Zamfara plays watchdog

Published by The Nation on Tue, 30 Mar 2021


HardballZamfara State government is not very happy with media performance over reportage of the insecurity challenge within its troubled territory. But it has chosen a curious way to show displeasure, and an even more curious strategy for seeking redress. The government has enlisted the Police, Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to join itself in playing the watchdog over the media performance and pull in journalists for sanction over unprofessional conduct.From indications, it is this August watchdog squad that would set the parameters of medias professional conduct and define the code of conduct to which operators are to be held, and for which they will be made liable upon perceived violations. It is a nightmarish scenario for media professionalism and independence, and a minefield of power arbitrariness by the state government.Zamfara Information Commissioner Ibrahim Dosara addressed a press briefing in Gusau last Thursday at which he decried the ill effects of fake news, (and) unguarded utterances by members of both conventional and the social media. He addressed the briefing jointly with the state Police Commissioner, Director of DSS and NSCDC Commandant at the police command headquarters, saying the state government would no longer tolerate the trend. The catch is: he didnt mention involving industry players in determining what constitutes fake news and unprofessional conduct, meaning such determination would be the preserve of the new enforcer-squad. Under such circumstance, fake news could be any report that spoils the fun of government, whether true or not.Dosara said: The Zamfara State government, among its resolutions, recently decided to take appropriate action against unprofessional conduct in media practices. The state government realises that the print and electronic media activities, especially social media handlers, undermine the peace process of the state governmentThe commissioner of police, the DSS, the civil defence and I, as commissioner, have been saddled with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with professionalism in media practices, as well as cyber-crimes and the violation of public peace, fundamental human rights and the rule of law. He added that government would not allow media reports sabotage its peace process.Zamfara government may have genuine imperatives arising from the security situation in that state, but it needs to be reminded that this isnt a banana republic. There is an industry code to which media operators are answerable and on which basis the industry self-regulates; and if there are genuine violations, there is a watchdog system internal to the industry that may be leveraged, besides the ultimate option of recourse to the courts for adjudication over proven abuses. The Zamfara governmentor any other complainant for that mattercannot self-determine media code of ethics, and neither should it resort to self-help in redressing perceived violations. That would be jungle rule in the extreme.
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