Participants at the media dialogue with religious leaders in Abuja have called journalists and religious leaders to watch utterances and reports that can incite violence.
The dialogue entitled: “Advancing Peace and Interreligious Dialogue in the Age of Social Media was organised by African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL).
Dr Chido Onumah, Coordinator AFRICMIL, said that the centre inaugurated a project on inter-religious and intercultural to bring different faith communities together to explore areas of dialogue and understanding to curb violence.
“During the inaugural session of this project, religious leaders expressed concerns on how the media report issues accusing them of fanning the embers of violence and the media were on the defensive .
“We hear a lot about fake news, hate speech which are unregulated on social media and more often than not these hate speech and fake news go a long way in creating tensions.
“So, the idea of the dialogue is to get different faith communities and the media together to explore ways to tackle the issue of violence in the country,” he said.
Mr Aselemi Ibrahim, Head of Media and Communication, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), alleged that the media usually carried one sided stories and this was dangerous and could lead to social unrest.
Ibrahim added that the media was also stereotype in attaching a person’s religion to a crime committed, adding that this was demeaning to religions.
“Crimes should be reported the way they happened, and the religious background of the deviant be reported with less focus on the religion,” he said
Ibrahim also complained that the media always use exaggerated headlines and pick the controversial angles of stories in the bid to sell their news without thinking of the effect of such headlines on the society.
He tasked the media on balanced reportage in a socially equitable way in tandem with their responsibilities, urging them to also learn to report in the interest of national cohesion and peace.
Rev. Fr. Solomon Uko, Director, Justice Development Peace Commission, commended AFRICMIL for the initiative and called for the need to extend such dialogues to the grassroots to properly curb ethno-religious violence.
Uko said that the media sometimes come up with a generalised headline that tend to categorise everyone as bad without researching to know the main issue probably in a bid to break the news.
Uko said that sometimes the headline of the story would have nothing to do with the main story and this was a cause for concern.
He advised the media to be balanced in their reportage and always concentrate on the positive side of reports rather than more of the negative.
A religious leader, Pastor Murna Moses, urged religious leaders to learn to separate politics from religion, adding that most crisis were caused by politicians who influence religious leaders to make certain utterances.
Responding, the media practitioners blamed religious leaders for inciting violence with their comments urging them to be mindful of what they say and how they said it.
Mr Tunde Oguntola, a reporter with leadership, urged religious leaders to understand complex issues before making comments on them.
Oguntola advised journalists to adopt the do-no-harm strategy in their reportage which required a humanitarian approach of minimising the harm they might inadvertently cause through reports.
Mr Paul Udenyi, Assistant Director, National Orientation Agency (NOA), said that the media had an important role to play in what people thought, how they think and the role they played in issues, thus the need to be diligent in their reportage.
Udenyi, therefore, called on the media to always report in the interest of national peace.
He said that NOA was collaborating with AFRICMIL to sensitise religious leaders on their role in the society and how to maintain peace.
The various groups unanimously agreed that there was need for religious leaders and the media to have respect for various religions in the country.
Both groups were urged to be faithful and responsible and use their platforms in promoting peace, unity and social cohesion in the interest of the peace of the country.
They said that there was need to carry out grassroots sensitisation because most of the ethno-religious crisis beginning from the grassroots.