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Author: Eagletale
Views: 289
Replies: 0
Public’s Right To Know vs National Security



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[Image: FF23BE1F-7694-4D31-A958-A1DDDB534060.jpeg]

If publishing a story could do more harm than good to society, then what is the worth of that report? Evaluating the potential harm or benefit of a story is important in the decision to use it or discard it. If the potential harm to society is greater than the perceived benefits of the story in terms of boosting your professional prestige, the larger public interest should prevail. Self-censorship or self-regulation is important in taking a rational decision about what stories are worth publishing. We should imagine the potential consequences of the story beyond the newsroom.

In his 1978 book, “The Media Men(In Today’s World)”, British journalist John Morrison, recalled a hostage crisis involving the Irish Republican Army. He said the IRA terrorists took some hostages and, within hours, a British newspaper got the identity of the hostage takers. When the police got to know that the paper was about to publish the names of the hostage takers, they approached the editor and argued that publishing the identity of the hostage takers might undermine their own negotiating efforts to get the hostages released unharmed. The editor was swayed and the story was dropped. The hostages were ultimately freed unharmed.

If the paper had ignored the police polite request for self-censorship and gone ahead with the story, the hostage takers could have killed the hostages and destroyed the negotiating efforts to get them freed unharmed. Can you celebrate an exclusive if it results in the death of the hostages? How can a report that produces a disastrous outcome for society be beneficial to that society? How can a report that is potentially beneficial to the terrorists more than the public be a priority?

Certain editorial judgements don’t require third party interventions or interference. Self-censorship can take of that. In the case of the IRA incident that I cited, the police were not in any way challenging press freedom. They were simply trying to reason with the editor that this story would potentially harm the very public that you seek to serve.

Under no circumstances should newspapers make terrorists look like rock stars. Of course, this happens unwittingly, but caution is essential. The Nigerian military authorities alleged that the Daily Trust published a classified information that undermined national security and serving the terrorist cause. These are serious allegations, though I don’t know the details of this classified information. It is not the function of the journalist to declassify sensitive information even “for the public good”, nor is it the function of soldiers to impose punishments in the event of breach. By law, only the government can declassify information treated as sensitive to protect national security. By law, only the police and the courts can deal with violations and not soldiers.

There is always mutual distrust between the military and members of the press. Besides, journalists have disciplinary bodies and, in addition, they can be sued like all other citizens. Therefore, the invasion of media houses by soldiers in a democracy is unacceptable and indefensible. There is urgent need to narrow the communication gap between members of the press and the military. With close cooperation, these occasional misunderstandings can be overcome. If the military are cagey with information or don’t take the press into confidence, then these conflicts can only get worse. The military and other security organizations should overcome their siege mentality, they should stop perceiving journalists as enemies of the state. This perception makes mutual communication and understanding impossible.

Na-Allah Mohammed Zagga