“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”_ — Mark Twain.
THE Police and the media are two institutions that are aimed at ensuring that the society lives well, based on lawful and orderly conduct in the interest of justice, fairness and development of the society. The two institutions require information from the public to perform their duties prudently and diligently. However, they differ in orientation, operational techniques, platforms and public perception. A typical scenario for instance, if there is an uprising, attack, disaster or any such unfortunate occurrence, members of the public will be running to safer areas.
The basic functions of news media are to inform, educate and entertain. Through these functions they sensitise, enlighten and influence members of the public to participate actively in developmental activities and other wise causes. The information disseminated by the news media could be harmful or useful to the society. The writer argues that news reporters have a lot of power. What they write can influence decisions, help form public opinion of people and contribute to the general attitude of readers and life in general. The mass media have the power and capability to bring about change in society for the improvement of the quality of life: “Because the media have this ability to report and inform so effectively, it could be said with great confidence that as change agents, they have the power to alter – even where resistance is strong – the way of life of a community positively or negatively.”
The mass media can contribute efficiently to national security, only if they perform their duties in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the social responsibilities of the press. Security operatives should work in collaboration with media practitioners, as watchdogs. Until news media rise to expectations and use their powers judiciously, national security will continue to be threatened. It is common to see the police and the media pushing their way forward into that ‘danger zone’ to perform their individual responsibilities. Both the police and the media depend on ‘sources’ for information to facilitate their work, though they differ significantly in approaching the subject matter. Thus, while the police interrogate to get information, the journalist on the other hand, interviews to secure information.
It is an undeniable fact that the two institutions require each other in the performance of their responsibilities. Therefore, they need to develop a harmonious and cordial relation. One fact is that the police have bags of information that the media require. Likewise, the police require the visibility and bridge that the media provide to link them with the society in a positive manner, in order to have goodwill from the public. On daily basis, the media reports on issues pertaining to crime or about the police. Crime news and other sensational events excite the public, and it enables them to appreciate the effort of the government or that of the police on crime prevention and control. These inevitably indicate that the media and the police must work together. The police force is the physical embodiment of a representative government, the closest manifestation of democracy to the people. It is not far-fetched to describe the police force as the face of a government. The state of the police force – its appearance, psychology and respectability – delineate the worth and priority of a nation to a tourist and potential investor.
In America, Britain, Japan and other industrial nations, the appearance and ambience of policemen and women speaks a volume, if not a thousand words about those nations. These aforementioned nations hold their police force in high esteem and duly reward them with attractive salaries and benefits. Nigeria cannot be an exception, if she is serious about building a respectful and prosperous democratic nation.
The police do not serve an individual per se; they serve the collective interest of the public and the state. In the course of duty, the police interact with every strata of the society and are continuously exposed to all aspects of behaviour, both positive and negative, as manifested by individuals who constitute the general public. The Nigeria Police Force occupies a very important space in the sustenance of an orderly and peaceful society. The police institution is principally known as the enforcer of law and order, protector of the people, detector of crime and criminal tendencies, and the agency responsible for apprehending offenders. Of course, there are similar agencies that are involved in the business of security in the country. For instance, there is the DSS, Customs, Immigration, Nigeria Civil Defence Corps, etc. But none of those other agencies is prominently regarded in policing like the police force. The character, roles and priorities of the police in the country are principally determined by the changing nature of the political and economic structures of the country, at different times.
The police and the media are two institutions that are aimed at ensuring that the society lives well, based on lawful and orderly conduct in the interest of justice, fairness and development. Both require information from the public to perform their duties. But they differ in orientation, operational techniques, platforms and public perception. For instance, if there is an uprising, disaster, an attack or any such unfortunate occurrence, you may notice members of the public in such a setting running out to safety. At the same time, you may notice the police and the media pushing their way into that ‘danger zone’ to perform their individual responsibilities. Similarly, both the police and the media depend on sources for information in their work, even though they differ in approach. Thus, while the police interrogate, the journalist interviews to secure information.
Equally, the two institutions require each other in the performance of their responsibilities. But, there is always a hitch in the police- media relations. While the police tend to be extra careful with information, believing that every piece be useful for further investigation, the journalist on the other hand is always in a hurry to obtain information and disseminate same. And, because they are trained to be ever suspicious, hardly do the police trust the media with information, suspecting as usual that, releasing of information immaturely could jeopardise their investigations.
The police also occasionally blame the media for misrepresenting their activities; often, even if unintentionally, giving undue publicity to suspected criminals and their activities, and for being impatient with the slow wheel of investigations. On their part, the media feel that the police are too secretive, uncooperative, highly centralised and insensitive about media deadlines. Notwithstanding, the police and the media are partners in progress who ought to maintain a balanced relationship – based on mutual respect and understanding of each other’s operational framework – for the overall interest of the immediate community and the nation. Just like the police, the media have the constitutional and professional role of keeping the society sufficiently and correctly informed about happenings in the environment. The media also highlights to the society threats that are likely to injure it. It is clear, therefore, that the media need the police as a major source of information.
In most media houses, there are Police and Crime desks. Such desk officers are expected to relate well with the police structure for regular and authoritative information on the beat. This is why the media are always encouraged to have a good knowledge of the police and its operational mechanisms.
On the other hand, the police are always encouraged to utilise available avenues in the media to publicise their activities and equip the public with useful information on security issues. Equally, the police may obtain good leads or clues on some happenings through the media. Thus, the two institutions need to trust each other and specifically, the police should occasionally allow the press access to some action stories. Denial of information by the police may fuel rumours. This is why the various police commands are encouraged to designate only articulate, level headed and extroverted officers as PPROs, to be able to relate well with the media and enjoy their confidence.
Journalism provides channels of communication in the society, helping to educate, inform, and exchange information between the public and its leaders. Journalism thus plays a vital role in identifying what is at stake in a particular policy or decision, in framing issues for the public, analysing the issues and identifying possible solutions and alternatives. To the extent that the media constitute an essential element of informed public and responsible governance, it deserves deeper and more sustained study by those in the business of democracy promotion and good governance. As noted earlier, journalists encounter several challenges in reporting police-related issues and performing their watchdog function. Journalists need some measures of protection so that they are not unjustly accused of libel, sued or imprisoned for “insulting top government officials and high-profile politicians,” when they investigate and bring to limelight the corrupt practices of these individuals. In many democratic societies, the watchdog role of the media with regard to police is even weaker, due to the comparatively few journalists who specialise in the field.
To enhance the media’s role in national security, the Nigeria Police should work in collaboration with media practitioners as watchdogs.