By Tunde Oguntola, Abuja |
The federal government yesterday asked Cable News Network (CNN) to come clean by admitting that it goofed in its report on the #EndSars protest at the Lekki Toll Gate.
The international news network had last week published a report entitled, ‘How a Bloody Night of Bullets Quashed a Young Protest Movement’, aired on 18 November, 2020.
The CNN had also in an earlier report claimed that soldiers used live bullets and killed 38 peaceful protesters, an allegation the military refuted over and over again, saying the soldiers deployed to the scene only fired blank bullets into the air.
Speaking during a stakeholders’ meeting with members of the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) in Abuja, the minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, insisted that the CNN report was not only found to be inconsistent but an embarrassment.
He said, “Since we sent our letter, CNN has been grasping at straws in desperation, to justify its inaccurate and unbalanced investigation. But in the process, it is sinking more and more into professional infamy. Yesterday, 26 November in the clearest indication yet of its confusion over the Lekki Toll Gate incident, CNN tried to clarify its tweet of October 23rd by saying it never attributed the death toll of 38 to Amnesty International and that the tweet also did not make it clear that the death toll was for protests across the country.
“Commentators on the tweet tried to redirect CNN to the issue: which is its tweet of 23 October in which it said ‘’At least 38 people were killed in Nigeria on Tuesday (Oct. 20th) when the military opened fire on peaceful protesters.’’ This is very unambiguous and CNN is exhibiting panic by seeking to clarify its tweet some 35 days later!
“Instead of engaging in such panic, CNN should come clean by admitting that it goofed badly on the Lekki Toll Gate incident.’’
However, the Cable network had early Friday issued clarification over its earlier report on the death of 38 persons at the Lekki toll gate
It wrote, “clarification: This tweet from October 23 did not attribute the death toll from protests in Nigeria to Amnesty International. The tweet also did not make it clear that the death toll was for protests across the country.
The minister, however, noted that the big lesson to draw from CNN’s faux pas is that it magnified the failure or inadequacy of the nation’s broadcast organisations.
He said in the wake of our spat with CNN, people are asking: “Why didn’t our own broadcast stations take the lead in reporting the incident at Lekki? Why didn’t they take the lead in presenting an authentic narrative? Why must we allow the foreign broadcast stations, some of which didn’t even have correspondents on the ground, to dictate the pace, thus misleading the world?
“These are questions begging for answers and I think for BON, this must form part of their review of the coverage of the whole crisis,” he added.
Mohammed recalled that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) had imposed fines on the three broadcast stations for using unverified and dangerous information from social media.
He said two of the stations have paid in full, while one has paid in part.
His words: “I want to use this opportunity to appeal to broadcast stations to avoid using unverified information from social media, as this is fraught with danger. Despite the temptation, the stations must adhere strictly to the gate-keeping tradition instead of rushing to use materials that are not authenticated.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the use of unverified videos, and the non-adherence to the basic tenets of journalism have combined to land an international broadcaster, CNN, in trouble. This station has been caught in the web of fake news and disinformation, after it relied heavily on videos it took from social media for a supposed exclusive investigation on the incident at the Lekki Toll Gate on 20 October”.
On the role of the security agencies during and after the EndSARS protest, the minister said even in the face of attacks and provocation, the security agencies, in particular the police and soldiers, acted within their rules of engagement.
He pointed out that the reporting of the EndSARS protest were skewed against the security agencies while most reports were fixated on the so-called massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate.
“Only a few have highlighted the attacks and killings of security agents, as well as the destruction of public and private property”, Alhaji Mohammed said, noting that this is selective perception and it is condemnable.
He continued: “For the record, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis. Also, 196 policemen were injured; 164 police vehicles were destroyed and 134 police stations burnt down.
“The killing of the policemen was particularly gruesome and dastardly. Yet, human rights organizations and the media have not given this the attention it deserved. Rather, they have remained fixated on the so-called massacre. It seems human rights do not matter for men and women in uniform. This is unfortunate and must be corrected.
“Please note that the violence also left 57 civilians dead, 269 private/corporate facilities were burnt, looted and vandalized, 243 government facilities were burnt, vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted.
“As you are aware, and in accordance with the directive of Mr. President, Ministers have since gone back to their respective states to meet with stakeholders in the wake of the protest and its aftermath. A federal government delegation has also visited the various zones to consult with stakeholders.
“There is no doubt that the outcome of these consultations will feed into an overall review of the whole crisis by the federal government.’’
Speaking further, he said the federal government was not only responsive but was also very responsible in its handling of the demands of the EndSARS protesters.
He stated: “We met the five demands. Some, like the disbandment of SARS, were met immediately while we kickstarted the process of meeting others that cannot be done with an immediate pronouncement. Despite this, the protest continued and the demands kept expanding, until the protest was hijacked, leading to unprecedented violence characterized by killings, maiming, arson and looting.
“The violence that resulted from the hijack of the EndSARS protest was catalyzed by fake news and disinformation, which spread like wildfire on social media. And this did not come to us as a surprise.
“As far back as 2017, we had been raising the alarm on the risks posed by fake news and disinformation. That year, we devoted the National Council on Information to the issue of fake news, hate speech and disinformation. The following year, in 2018, we launched the national campaign against fake news and disinformation, partnering with a number of print and electronic media organisations.’’
He decried that social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private, during the EndSARS violence.
He said, “Pictures of persons, including some celebrities and even non-Nigerians, who were supposedly killed at the Lekki Toll Gate by soldiers, were circulated widely, only for those persons to refute such claims.
“This brings me to the issue of social media regulation. You must have heard about the hoopla this issue has generated in the media. Well, I want to confirm that we will definitely act to ensure a responsible use of social media. You may call that regulation.
“But that is not the same as stifling press freedom or free speech. No. Fake news and disinformation are not the same as free speech. This government has no plan to stifle free speech, neither do we have any intention of shutting down the internet. Social media has come to stay, and those who use it responsibly have nothing to fear.
“But we cannot give the same assurance for those who weaponize social media. By the way, the issue of regulating social media content is generating debate around the world, so Nigeria is not an exception.”
Mohammed further noted that it was no longer news that three broadcast stations were sanctioned in the aftermath of EndSARS.
“Some analysts have attempted to muddy the waters by alleging an attempt to stifle the media. This is sheer red herring,” he added.