Thursday, 12 December 2013
Excellent Military- Media Relations: The Kernel Of Army Public Relations Study Period By Lt Col Sagir Musa
Training is one important aspect of the vision of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt Gen Onyeabor Azubuike Ihejirika. Training cannot be neglected or wished away by any serious organization. As a result, the Directorate of Army Public Relations (DAPR) initiated and successfully conducted its First Quarter Study Period for the year 2013, held at Headquarters 1 Division Kaduna between 24 -27 March, 2013. The event attracted a summit of senior military and Para military officers and renowned journalists in and around Kaduna. It was so encouraging and rewarding in view of the large turnout, personalities present and the lectures delivered at the occasion.
The well thought out, insightful and suitable theme for the study period - “Enhancing the professional competence of Nigerian Army Public Relations practitioners in handling contemporary security challenges” and the three lectures lined up for the entire period entitled “Emotional intelligence and Leadership”, Events and Protocol Management in the NA” and “Strategic Military – Media Relations” were delivered by erudite specialists. In his lecture, titled “Strategic Military – Media Relations”, Mr Max Gbanite - a Strategic Security and Public Relations Consultant, succinctly, with practical illustration, elucidated, sensitized and educated the audience on Strategic Military – Media Relations and why the Military in Nigeria must interact with the media especially in the face of contemporary and emerging security challenges. The omnipresence of media (social media inclusive) and its impact at a global scale require that its engagement by Nigerian Army Public Relations Officers (APROs) can no longer be ad hoc. There is no doubt that all the topics were carefully selected, interrelated and sequentially delivered to attentive audience – mostly officers and soldiers of the Directorate of Army Public Relations whose Director Brig Gen Ibrahim Attahiru was handy to clear any misconception from the general or specific issues raised during the lectures or at the discussion sessions – a feat he handled with dexterity. From all intent and purpose, the workshop has given the APROs, PROs of Sister Services and Public Relations professionals from the civil sector present at the occasion the rare opportunity to meet and brainstorm on professional and contemporary security issues confronting our nation. It was/is indeed an avenue through which the Directorate trains its personnel and brainstorm on current global best practices on Public Relations matters. No wonder, the lectures aroused serious professional interest, contributions and comments from the larger audience including but not limited to the representative of Zonal Director, NTA Kaduna, Comrade Danjuma Ladan, eminent media consultant Alhaji Abdulkarim Al- Bashir, Corp Commander Nigerian Army Physical Training Brig Gen Shehu Yusuf, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Division and Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy Maj Gens GA Wahab and CO Onwuamaegbu respectively.
The setting, reception and conduct of the event were so very magnificent. The 1 Division Auditoriums where the study period was conducted was selectively decorated. Colours of the Division and the Nigerian Army splashed on several seats and super pasted on all corners of the hall. The environment was quite, clean and secured. The hall was hygienically chilled and industrial fans and noiseless generator were on standby. Occasionally, the GOC abruptly and majestically enters the hall, peeked, - probably to be sure that all was well. It was simply fantastic – the management of the event was superb!
During the discussion period, I was privileged to discuss the paper on “Strategic Military – Media Relations. I tried to enlighten or remind my colleagues the necessity for strategic military – media relations with emphasis on social media in the face of contemporary security challenges. I posited that strategic military – media relation is one of the strategic marketing and communication tools use by organizations of all sizes. From military’s scientific discovery, to promotional events such as Nigerian Army Day Celebration, to Special Corporate Hospitality Projects like Free Medical Services to Quick Impact Projects sited at fluky communities, the Nigerian Army for instance was and is able to communicate to Millions of people, even outside the immediate environment. This is only possible through the use of news media and it can only be so effective if strategic media relations is created, nourished and sustained. Thus, the growing influence of the media as a powerful instrument of war means that the interaction can no longer be ad hoc.
Hence, we need to develop a policy or even a maneuvering scheme for Nigeria’s military – media relationship particularly in period of emergency. Winning modern wars is as much dependent on carrying domestic and international public opinion as it is on defeating the enemy on the battlefield. As part of the democratic government, the military in Nigeria requires public support to sustain its operations. In contemporary warfare, the public are audacious, inquisitive and demand to be kept abreast of military progress and the conduit that reaches the greatest number of the public is mass media. The media has the capacity to define and influence the perception and realities of people not only in Nigeria but also around the globe. It serves as an eye witness to the event of Nigeria’s most trusted public institution and most primed national asset- the military; sometimes forging and sometimes splintering the bond between the citizens and the soldiers. I argued further that regardless of what members of the military think about the media, whether it represents the truth or the truth’s distortion, the military must defend the media because the nation’s constitution explicitly provides for freedom of the press. Therefore, constitutionally, there is a nexus between the military and the media in Nigeria; - hence military- media interaction is inevitable and indispensable.
Strategic military – media relations is akin to the emerging concept of effect based operation where media planning gain greater visibility. The fact remains that military victory is not simply determined by recurrent killings of the enemy and bombings. Likewise the public does not necessarily equate military victory with the destruction of an enemy’s regime or army. The public does not equate JTF’s victory with the destruction of millions of refining points, mass arrest of illegal “bunkerers” or sea pirates in the Niger Delta and destruction of Boko Haram camps and recovery of arms, ammunition and IED materials. True military victory only comes when the enemy feels he or she is defeated. Winning the peace is as important if not more important than winning the war. Effective media engagement, – strategic media relations is one avenue to achieve this. Despite the historical, institutional and cultural differences that separate both institutions, the military must realize that media is a business. As such competition exists that in a free market, like in Nigeria cause media organizations to operate on short timeliness. Similarly, since most journalists are amateurs in the fundamentals of military profession, also has little knowledge with regards to military matters, and must produce stories under relatively deadlines, they must rely heavily on the military to provide them with information in order to meet their suspense. If the military doesn’t aid them however, the press will still meet their deadliness. Written and edited in a hurry, the stories journalists produce may not represent the truth, are also improperly framed due to lack of focus and perspective. Therefore, the military must strategically engage the media to stave off false reporting and assist in the presentation of truth. Public Relations Officers must note that in today’s media operating environment, news is formed by images which often move faster than the professional journalists can provide explanation and context. Images are been exploited and manipulated in an increasing numbers of ways to enhance their impact – anyone could become a journalist in his or her own way. The media is obviously being exploited, so also is the authenticity, reliability and motives of sources. Images had become raw materials and terrorists had become producers.
Professional journalists had no control over the situation, given that anyone could publish images and post on the internet. In cognizance of this development, Military Public Relations practitioners must have the savvy of the media, proactively engaging the media and anticipating future requests. To do otherwise, simply places the military in a defensive, catch up roles. The fact that we are in the era of E-Mails, Blogs, Blackberries, Instant Messaging Digital Cameras, Internet, Cell phones, Handheld Video Cameras, Satellite TV made it easier for journalists to file report directly from the field anywhere on the globe. Reporters now have access to commercial satellites that can reveal such things as troop’s deployments.
Anyone can access maps on google.com in the internet and see the types of maps/images that are available online. Additionally, the preponderance of free networking and video sharing sites including Face book, MySpace, YouTube, E-Mail, Twitter, Wikipedia and LinkedIn- net working tools that facilitates discussion, debate and exchange of ideas on a global scale added to the challenges of Public Relations Practitioners. Here, again, lies the kernel of strategic military – media relations. Army Public Relations Officers must wake up from slumber and note that social media present obvious daunting challenges which make it difficult for military – media control or manipulation. The pressure created by the media, aggravated by an operational climate inherent in the Nigerian Army and a Public Relations system that did not fully appreciate the needs of the media as well as the needs of contemporary Public Relations practice and the effects these can create, made it more difficult for Army Public Relations officers to maximally perform. These problems are daily facing practitioners in their routine official engagements- right in their respective offices. Similarly, I also inferred that when examined using the evaluation criteria of fair reports, news access, logistical support, media cooperation and operational security and context ( for those of us in the field), the Nigerian Armed Forces media engagement effectiveness during most of our operations presents contradictory results! From Op FLUSH OUT, to Op RESTORE ORDER/ Op PULO SHIELD in the Niger Delta, to Op RESTORE ORDER in North East and to Op JUBILEE in South East Nigeria - each of these operations provides a lens through which to observe how well the Nigerian military conducted its public/ media relations.
Thus, it is not only military – media relations that should be strategized or re strategize, but the institutional bottlenecks and individual Public Relations officers’ disposition needs to be examined and corrected. And one avenue to achieve this is to passionately key into the COAS vision through constant training like the study period conducted by the Directorate of Army Public Relations.