Media reporting of displaced persons in Nigeria
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Media reporting of displaced persons in Nigeria

Lekan Otufodunrin

Zara Musthapha, an 18-year-old girl has lived with her parents and siblings in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Doron Baga, Borno State in Northern Nigeria for about five years. The family had been displaced from their hometown in the Kodunga Local Government area of the state following attacks by Islamic Boko Haram insurgents on their community and others. They were forced to take refuge in the initially temporary camp that has become their permanent abode.

Unable to continue her secondary school education due to the displacement and to avoid being exploited along with other girls in the camp, Zara decided to learn Cap knitting and is gradually growing the business in support of her family.

Zara was the focus of a feature by Yelwa Express published on May 16, 2022, one of several special media reports on the hopes, aspirations and struggles of IDPs in Nigeria. It formed part of the Advancing the Rights and Welfare of IDPs through media monitoring, investigative journalism and media-driven advocacy project implemented by Journalists for Christ International Outreach.

“If people will buy our caps at their true value, I think things will be better and I can also achieve my dream of going back to school,” Zara said in the interview, which was one of the few occasions when migrants are given the opportunities to share their plight.

As of January 2022, there were 79,365 registered asylum seekers and refugees in Nigeria accompanied by roughly three million internally displaced persons (IDPs) (UNHCR, 2022). Both the Monitoring Media Reportage and Portrayal of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa project in 2019 and the Advancing the Rights and Welfare of IDPs project in 2022 indicated that displaced persons in Nigeria are unable to exercise their communications rights, in part due to a lack of accurate and sympathetic coverage by the media.

Among others, the conclusion on media trends in reporting IDP issues in Nigeria in the two IDP-focused projects was that the stories on IDPs lacked depth, and topics in the newspapers generally focused on issues relating to the unfortunate circumstances of the situation of IDPs rather than on the underlying issues affecting them. Sources in the reports also tended to be government officials. Women and children, who constitute a large percentage of displaced persons, were hardly quoted in reports.

However, with media monitoring highlighting gaps in media coverage, followed by consultative meetings with key IDP persons and training on best practices for journalists and support for field trips, 20 selected journalists were able to produce a range of displaced/migrant reports on their own welfare, rights and needs – including the one about Zara in the Advancing the Rights and Welfare of IDPs project.

Other special reports by the journalists published in media outlets across the country covered the call for boosting the Food Chain supply for IDPs, recollections of the days back in their communities from which they were displaced, requests for urgent medical assistance and survival strategies to counter the lack of necessary facilities in the camps.

Apart from the commissioned stories, the consultations with journalists and stakeholders’ engagements − an interface for IDP representatives and journalists/development writers and IDP-supportive NGOs − provided first-hand information and additional insights on the living conditions and state of welfare of displaced persons in the country which formed the basis for many other media reports.

Beyond the project, the journalists who produced the commissioned projects and those who participated in the round-table discussions in Lagos and Abuja have continued to be members of a network of more than 40 journalists devoted to covering IDP issues in the way they have been trained.

Platform for interaction

Training by an experienced journalist who has reported extensively on humanitarian issues affecting migrants in parts of Africa enhanced the ability of the journalists to move beyond the routine points many use to write about. The main platform for interaction is a WhatsApp group where members share links to their new IDP-focused reports, get feedback from colleagues, ask for contacts and get story ideas.

To get media organisations more interested in reporting about IDP issues, the findings of the media monitoring and recommendations were shared with media managers, many of whom did not realise the worrisome state of displacements in the country and consequently promised to allow for more coverage of the issues affecting migrants.

With the publication of the reports of the two projects − Muffled Voices and Silent Cries − we have provided evidence-based engagement tools and best practice guidelines to solicit support and commitments towards further advancing the rights and welfare issues of IDPs in Nigeria.

Additionally, we now have a dedicated website www.idpreportng.info and a Twitter (X) handle @IDPmonitor to amplify IDPs/migrants media reports, publish commission stories based on our monitoring of the situation across the country and to advocate for necessary actions to be taken.

Based on our assessment of media coverage of IDP issues in the country, our recommendations to persuade traditional media to give a stronger voice to migrants, enable migrants to challenge public perceptions and how the media and communication can become vehicles to help migrants exercise their rights include:

* The media, as agents for setting the development agenda, should continue to highlight issues and bring to the fore concerns of persons affected by hostilities and conflicts, especially on the provision of welfare amenities, facilities and safe shelter as part of the media’s social obligations to society.

* Women and children, who are the most vulnerable, should be given more space to air their concerns in media reportage, in fulfilment of the media’s obligation as a voice of the voiceless and in amplifying the “Silent Cries” of IDPs or persons affected by conflict, hostilities, disasters, etc.

* Media organisations should endeavour to collaborate with media support groups and related stakeholders for journalists to visit IDP camps independently to produce feature articles, including objective reports on the situation of life of IPDs in the camp.

* The media should report IDPs with empathy by focussing on positive stories with respect to individual experiences and productive activities, i.e. creative skills, good conduct, income-generating activities, survival efforts, exemplary services and socio-economic engagements that support enhance their acceptance, despite the circumstances that have made them IDPs.

* Media reports on IDPs should be solutions-driven such that they highlight legislative, policy, administrative and institutional gaps requiring the attention of democratic institutions and political functionaries in order to address highlighted gaps.

* Media reports should prioritise emerging issues of the state of hygiene, sanitation and conditions of IDP camps; particularly affecting the plight of women and children and Persons Living With Disabilities (PLWDs) in the camps.

* There is a need to consider the use of audio-visual content including animations to bring about sustained interest in issues affecting internally displaced persons, particularly on online and citizen journalism platforms.

* Journalists should see themselves as agents of social change, especially in advancing the rights and welfare of IDPs, and other persons affected by related adverse situations.

Dialogue with media houses

An international award-winning journalist, Innocent Duru, who is also the publisher of Voice for African Migrants noted that traditional media can be persuaded to give a stronger voice to IDPs/Migrants by sensitizing them about the global relevance of IDPs, refugees and migration issues. According to him, many editors are ignorant of these issues and often ask “What is new about it? Is it not the same issue of rape, hunger and murder?” This is crass ignorance and a myopic view of migration issues unlike The Guardian, AP, Reuters, and Aljazeera among other international media organisations that devote massive space to migration issues.

Duru, who is an Assistant News Editor with The Nation Newspaper in Nigeria, stated that the quality of reports can get editors more interested in migration issues.

“When reporters keep doing predictable stories of how migrants sold their houses, travelled through the desert, got raped, died and all that, editors would always turn them down. There are more to these issues than the usual report of return of migrants by IOM. Since I have been working on these issues, not once has any editor rejected my reports because the stories always offer something new.”

Duru is an example of how journalists can be willing advocates of the rights of migrants and ensure maximum media access for them. The web site Voice for African Migrants was primarily born out of his passion for reporting issues affecting migrants, refugees, IDPs etc. Winning UNESCO, IOM, and other awards on migration has also acted as a morale booster for him.

To change public perception of migrants, Elizabeth Jah of Bauchi State Television urged the media to project positive aspects of their lives, encourage them to interact with society and get involved in meaningful ventures. The media, she said, should also give them a platform to communicate their situation to the public and other stakeholders.

As much as they may be disadvantaged, migrants should be informed of their rights and of the benefits to which they are entitled. Folake Ruth Sokoya of FAS News Media said the media should provide accessible information in multiple languages and collaborate with legal experts to create content that educates migrants about their rights, entitlements, and available support services.

In terms of limitations, feedback from our network indicates that getting access to displaced persons camps is restricted and they sometimes need to get approval from camp officials who usually do not want journalists to know the true state of the camps. Some of the migrants are also reluctant to speak to the media to avoid the stigmatization that comes with being featured in media reports, especially when they are in any form of distress.

Due to limited funds, many media houses are unable to fund investigative reports involving travel to locations of displaced persons. Many wait for visits by government agencies and international organisations to the camps, during which they may not be able to determine the actual state of the centre or have the opportunity to speak with the IDPs.

References

Muffled Voices (Monitoring Media Reportage and Portrayal of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Africa by Journalists for Christ International Outreach, July 2019.

Silent Cries, Summary highlights on special media reports of pains, hopes and aspirations of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria, by Journalists for Christ International Outreach, October 2022.

UNHCR (2022).United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees. Nigeria: Population Statistics, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/details/90828

Lekan Otufodunrin, journalist and media career development specialist, is President of Journalists for Christ International Outreach, a corporate member of WACC.

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