The Federal government has vowed to punish the Cable Network News, CNN for carrying out unverified information from the controversial Lekki Toll Gate protest.
It also vowed not to spare any media organization both local and international that attempted to set Nigeria on fire through unverifiable reportage.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alh. Laid Mohammed made the vow on Friday at a stakeholder’ meeting with the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON) held in Abuja.
The Minister, was reacting to the controversial report by the American Cable News Network, CNN which it said had acknowledged their letter of complaint and promised to probe same on its merit.
He accused CNN of spreading fake news by switching casualty figures at Lekki Toll Gate so casually without a credible source, hence, its decision to write a letter to CNN asking it to use its own internal mechanism to probe its investigation.
Mohammed insisted that “the use of unverified videos and the non-adherence to the basic tenets of journalism have combined to land the international broadcaster, CNN, in trouble”, saying that the station had 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 Oct. 20th.
He also stated that the station was found to be inconsistent, adding that “after tweeting, without a shred of evidence, from its verified handle on Oct. 23rd that soldier killed 38 peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on Oct. 20th, the same station now said only one person was killed – after a month of its investigation.”
His words: “It is baffling that an organization like CNN will rely on unauthenticated videos to carry out an investigation
“More worrisome is that an international broadcaster like CNN will switch casualty figures so casually without a credible source.
“This is why we have written a letter to CNN asking it to use its own internal mechanism to probe its investigation.
“We have received an acknowledgement of our letter, saying the letter has been referred to CNN’s Editorial Team.
“We await the outcome of their probe, but that’s without prejudice to whatever we may decide to do as a government.
“We will not sit by and allow any news organization, local or foreign, to set Nigeria on fire with irresponsible and unprofessional reporting.
“CNN did not have a reporter or cameraman at the Lekki Toll Gate on the night in question, yet it emphatically reported a hoax story.
Conversely, the BBC that had a reporter and an editor on ground reported that soldiers shot into the air, not at protesters. I will rather believe the person on the ground than the one who is thousands of kilometres away.
“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, Nov. 26th that is, in the clearest indication yet of the its confusion over the Lekki Toll Gate incident, CNN tried to clarify
its tweet of Oct. 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 Oct. 23rd 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.
“But the big lesson to draw from CNN’s faux pas is that it magnifies the failure or inadequacy of our own broadcast organizations.
“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 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 incident.
Role of security agencies
On the role of the security agencies during and after the EndSARS protest, the Minister said they acted professionally as they also restrained themselves, which helped to save many lives, even in the face of attacks and provocation.
“The security agencies, in particular the police and soldiers, acted within their rules of engagement. The reporting of the EndSARS protest has been skewed against the security agencies.
“While most reports have become 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. This is selective perception and it is condemnable.
“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, 26 private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalized, 243 government facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted.”
Social media regulation
While reiterating government’s plan to regulate the social media, Mohammed assured that the administration has no plan to stifle free speech, neither does it have any intention of shutting down the internet but has decided to act to ensure a responsible use of social media.
“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.
N3m fine by NBC
On the N3m fine imposed on three television stations on the aftermath of EndSARS by National Broadcasting Commission
(NBC) for using unverified and dangerous information from social media, Mohammed said two of the stations have so far paid in full, while one has paid in part.
He, however, appealed to broadcast stations to avoid using unverified information from social media, as this is fraught with danger.
He insisted that despite the temptation, the stations must adhere strictly to the gate-keeping tradition instead of rushing to use materials that are not authenticated.
Recall that last month witnessed an EndSARS protest by the youth, who were calling for an end to police brutality and the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The protest started peacefully but soon degenerated into violence after it was hijacked by hoodlums.
The EndSARS protesters made five demands of: Immediate release of all arrested protesters.
ii) Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and
appropriate compensation for their families.
iii) Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days.
iv) In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and
retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded
SARS officers before they can be redeployed.
v) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated
for protecting the lives and property of citizens.
The Federal Government, however, while responding through the Inspector-General of Police announced the immediate
disbandment of SARS across the 36 State Police Commands and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Also, on Oct. 12th: President Muhamadu Buhari addressed the nation, stating: ”The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people. We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice.”