Last October, Zakariyya Isa, a cameraman with the Nigerian Television Authority was murdered by the Boko Haram. That was the first reported attack to have been targeting journalists. Isah was murdered in front of his house, shortly after leaving a mosque. It’s been exactly six months after that attack and it appears the sect has finally made good its threat to begin to attack media houses. Michael Oche takes a look at how the media could possibly have drawn the wrath of the sect and how practitioners reacted to the recent attacks on the media.
Journalism is about courage in place of cowardice, fearlessness, and above all, truthfulness. The beauty of the profession is the courage to be where the news is, for balanced independent and proper reportage. However, there seems to be an onslaught on the media, and the question now is how does the media carry out their role as the fourth estate of the realm without offending anyone.
Journalists, mostly from those countries known for their repressive tendencies, have often found themselves in very difficult situations, suffering untold harassment and intimidation – and even extermination – for telling the truth and exposing high profile crime, including grand corruption.
Will the attack deter journalist from reporting the truth as always? How safe are journalists? How should journalists go about their reports? Perhaps all these questions may seem unnecessary but baring in mind the fact that the sect has gradually began a war on the media, with the climax being the attack on ThisDay newspaper, one needs to ponder on all these questions. Above all, the Boko Haram sect has threatened to soon unleash more terror against ‘unfriendly media houses’.
Across the world journalists face increased threats to their physical safety, Nigeria being no exception.
According to International Press Institute (IPI) almost 1,000 journalists have been killed in the past decade, most of them in countries facing war or war-like situations. But some of them have suffered intimidation and death in the hand of state agents and agents of the underworld.
Death Watch, a programme of the International Press Institute (IPI), mentions journalists and media staff who were deliberately targeted because of their profession - either because of their investigative reporting or simply because they were journalists. IPI also includes journalists who were caught in the crossfire while covering dangerous assignments.
They include 38 Journalists killed so far in 2010; 110 Journalists killed in 2009; 66 Journalists killed in 2008; 94 Journalists killed in 2007; 100 Journalists killed in 2006; 65 Journalists killed in 2005; 78 Journalists killed in 2004; 64 Journalists killed in 2003; 54 Journalists killed in 2002, 55 Journalists killed in 2001; 56 Journalists killed in 2000; 86 Journalists killed in 1999; 50 Journalists killed in 1998; and 28 Journalists killed in 1997.
Last September, spokesman for Boko Haram sect, Abu Qaqa, was quoted in a newspaper statement as warning that the sect would attack journalists if they continue to ‘misrepresent’ it. One month later, the NTA cameraman, Zakariyya Isa was killed in Kaduna.
Barely 48 hours after the killing of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) cameraman, and the widespread condemnation of the act, Boko Haram, the group that claimed responsibility for the killing, said it took the action because the deceased was a spy for the security agencies.
Spokesman of the group, Abul Qaqa, said in an emailed statement: “Zakariyya was not killed in error.”
Three months after the killing of the NTA cameraman, 31-year-old Enenche Akogwu, a reporter with Channels Television was shot dead by gunmen during attacks on the northern city of Kano
The reporter, who was the station’s Kano State correspondent, was shot by gunmen suspected to be members of the Boko Haram sect, outside the Kano state government house in the course of his duties.
But for the first time since it began a series of deadly bomb attacks, the Boko Haram last Thursday turned its attention to the media. It unleashed a string of coordinated attacks on three media houses in Abuja and Kaduna, killing no fewer than nine people in the process.
The three media houses attacked by the bombers were the Abuja office of ThisDay Newspaper, and then The Sun and The Moment offices in Kaduna which were hit almost simultaneously by the blasts.
Boko Haram spokesman, Abu Qaqa in an exclusive interview with Premium Times, an online publication said that the bombing was to send a strong signal to the media that the sect will no longer tolerate uncomplimentary reports in the press.
The attack has sent waves of shock around the media houses and among practitioners. And how are journalists reacting?
An Abuja based journalist Emmanuel told leadership Sunday that the media will continue to be resolute in its responsibility of reporting the truth.
He said, “This attack rather than cower the media, will embolden them and making them more assertive in the discharge of their social responsibilities. The media has always risen to the epicentre of Nigeria’s peace efforts by offering a viable platform for public discourse.
Nigeria union of journalist expressed fears for reporters’ safety.
“Yesterday’s attacks have confirmed our fear that the media is not safe,” Nigerian Union of Journalists President Mohammed Garba said. “Journalists are not safe in Nigeria.”
Another Abuja journalist based in Abuja said, “It is the sacred duty of the media – and journalists – to continue providing their readers and listeners with all information without let or hindrance – without fear. In doing so, their safety is very much at stake.”
While journalist and Nigerians have all condemned the attack, the most important question is how safe are journalists?