By Ere-ebi Agedah Imisi
In a bid to foster religious tolerance in Nigeria as well as promote peace and unity among the ethno-religious divides, a group ‘‘Search For Common Ground’’ has organised a 3-day training for journalists on common ground approach in relation to freedom of religious and belief.
Nigeria is considered one of the religiously sensitive countries around the world with two dominant religions Christianity and Islam. The most populous West African country has in the past recorded pockets of crises traceable to religious disagreements often sparked by blasphemy.
The training in Akwanga, Nasarawa State from Oct 3—5 under the project, Promoting and Protecting Freedom of Religious and Belief (PP-FoRB) exposed journalists to conflict-sensitive reportage and the crucial role the media plays in shaping public opinion and enhancing harmony among communities across the country.
Some of the topics treated include, Role of Media in Promoting Religion Tolerance, Common Ground Approach, Principles and Beliefs: Strategies for Fostering Understanding and Dialogue, Interplay of Media and Conflict in FoRB: Media’s Role in Conflict Escalation and Mitigation, Safety of Journalists During Religious Freedom Reporting and more.
Project Manager PP FoRB Ogabiela Daniel said an assessment conducted by Search For Common Ground indicates a poor knowledge and awareness of journalists on Freedom of Religious and Belief, a situation he said has affected agenda setting with regards to respecting the choice of other people’s mode of worship.
He equally applauded the level of cooperation the organization has enjoyed with key government agencies, including National Human Rights Commission, National Orientation Agency and others who help in addressing some of the identified cases of FoRB.
Daniel while noting that conflict in any human community is nearly inevitable, insisted that the mode of reportage of religious incidences is key in managing them, urging journalists across the country to be conflict sensitive in their reportage.
Also, Senior Media Officer on the Promoting and Protecting Freedom of Religion and Belief Project, Search for Common Ground Nigeria, Katlong Dasat expressed dissatisfaction that on the part of the media in exacerbating religious intolerance in the country, adding that journalist must begin to push for national unity above personal interests.
While urging journalists to pay more attention to conflict sensitive issues in their reportage, Dasat said inciting headlines in the media space have been fingered for breakdown of law and order, appealing that to journalists and editors to detach emotions from their work.
Speaking on the importance of the training, she said, “When they go out for news, instead of putting in more effort to look for balance and push fairness, they just do their work and turn the backs.
“But initiatives like this training are meant to create more awareness. They are meant to reshape thoughts and also create more ambassadors from the media landscape, to see that we have more people imbibing and tapping into the knowledge and agreeing that we need to be conflict sensitive in our reportage.
“We also need to put out that common ground approach when we are working in the field or with people from different cultures and all that. Change starts with you. If you understand the need for diversity, you understand that we have a lot more in common than our differences. You will use your work to push out human angle stories, to capture more people’s attention”.
She however, urged the participants to make use of the knowledge gained from the training as a tool to unite, foster nation-building and correct negative perceptions that fuel intolerance and conflict.
On her part, the National Capacity Building and Training Specialist, Search for Common Ground Nigeria, Mrs. Emmanuela Atsen, maintained that the orgainsation through its common ground approach has facilitated reconciliation and dialogue processes within communities and families.
Other facilitators include National Media Specialist, Search for Common Ground Nigeria, Mr. Temisan Etietsola and Mr Adah James.
30 Participants were drawn from electronic, print and new media organisations across the country.