•Govt threatens sanction against CNN
Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) yesterday cautioned the federal government against its insistence on regulating the social media, saying Nigeria has enough laws to check fake news.
The caution came against the backdrop of the federal government’s reiteration yesterday that while it would not shut down the social media, it is determined to regulate it to curb the spread of fake news.
But the NUJ and the NGE cautioned the federal government over its insistence on stifling the social media and warned that going ahead with its plan without inputs from stakeholders will be a breach of the spirit of democratic governance, which is hinged on the right of the people to free expression.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, at a press conference in Abuja yesterday had said the #EndSARS protest that spawned the violence that recently wracked some states, had reinforced the federal government’s determination to regulate social media to stop fake news and disinformation.
He added that social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain property, both public and private, while fake pictures of persons, including some celebrities, supposedly killed at the Lekki Tollgate by soldiers were widely circulated.
Mohammed, who spoke on the EndSARS protest and its aftermath, also said the federal government would sanction the Cable News Network (CNN) over its Wednesday’s report on the Lekki incident.
However, a few hours after the minister expressed the government’s plan to punish the United States-based television station, CNN remained unyielding as it repeated the report and at the end, it said it stood by it, adding that it was “carefully and meticulously researched.”
The minister also applauded security agencies, especially the military and the police, for the way they handled the civil unrest.
According to him, security agents were professional and measured in their response.
The minister, who described the event of October 20, 2020, as a “massacre without bodies,” said contrary to claims by an eyewitness, DJ Switch, not a single body has been produced or a single family has come out to claim their family member was killed at the Lekki Tollgate.
He added that the popular disc jockey, Obianuju Catherine Udeh, fondly referred to as DJ Switch, “will be exposed” soon over her claims on the alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters by soldiers at Lekki.
Mohammed accused CNN of sensationalism and of doing a great disservice to itself and journalism.
He described the CNN report aimed at shedding more light on the Lekki shootings as “a poor piece of journalistic work.”
The minister said the CNN relied on social media videos without verification to produce its report.
“This should earn CNN a serious sanction for irresponsible reporting,” Mohammed said.
“Like everyone else, I watched the CNN report. I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going around, and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organisation.
“CNN engaged in incredible sensationalism and did a great disservice to itself and to journalism. In the first instance, CNN, which touted its report as an exclusive investigative report sadly relied on the same videos that have been circulating on social media, without verification,’’ he stated.
The minister said the social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain property, both public and private, and that pictures of persons, including some celebrities, who were supposedly killed at the Lekki Tollgate by soldiers, were circulated widely, only for those persons to refute such claims or for the discerning to disprove such posts.
‘’As I said earlier, what started as a peaceful protest against police brutality quickly degenerated into incredible violence despite an immediate response to the demands of the government. Keen watchers of the developments cannot fail to notice the role played by social media in the EndSARS protest.
‘’As a veritable tool for mass mobilisation, the organisers of the protest, of course, leveraged heavily on social media for that purpose. But on the other hand, the same social media was used to spread fake news and disinformation that catalysed the violence that was witnessed across the country.
‘’This development has reinforced the campaign against fake news and disinformation, which we launched in 2018. As a matter of fact, as far back as 2017, when we dedicated that year’s National Council on Information to the issue of fake news and disinformation, we had been expressing concerns on the dangers posed by irresponsible use of the new media platform. The concerns culminated in the launch of the national campaign which I referred to earlier,’’ the Mohammed explained.
He said while the federal government had no plan to shut down the social media, it would regulate it.
‘’Nigeria is not alone in this regard. The issue of social media regulation is an ongoing debate not just in Nigeria but around the world, including in the United States, which is the flag flyer of constitutional democracy. Even the owners of the various social media platforms, including Facebook, are increasingly joining the call for content regulation,’’ the minister said.
Labels Lekki Incident ‘Massacre without Bodies”
Mohammed also described the Lekki shooting as a “massacre without bodies” and accused DJ Switch of pushing out exaggerated narrative of the incident as not a single body has been produced or a single family has come out to claim their family member was killed at the Lekki Tollgate.
The minister added that while the government awaits the judicial panel in Lagos to unravel what transpired at the Lekki Tollgate, based on testimonies available in the public space, ‘’the world may have just witnessed, for the very first time ever, a massacre without bodies.’’
Listed 57 Civilians, 37 Policemen, Six Soldiers Killed
Mohammed also said 57 civilians, 37 policemen and six soldiers were killed nationwide during the #EndSARS crisis.
He lauded the security agencies for their professionalism and measured response during the crisis.
‘’Even when their lives were at stake, they exercised uncommon restraint. Their professionalism and measured response saved many lives and properties. For example, despite arresting hordes of looters during the violence in Lagos, the army treated them humanely and even counselled them before handing them over to the police.
“The same cannot be said of those who unleashed mayhem on the security agents, killing and maiming them, sometimes in such a barbaric manner that is unprecedented in these parts. As I said earlier, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis. This is in addition to 196 policemen who were injured; 164 police vehicles that were destroyed and 134 police stations that were razed,” he stated.
He said the government stood by last Saturday’s testimony of the Commander of 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, Victoria Island, Lagos, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Taiwo, who told the Judicial Panel of Inquiry instituted by the Lagos State Government that blank bullets were fired at the toll gate.
Mohammed said: “One of the purveyors of fake news was one DJ Switch, which real name is Obianuju Catherine Udeh, even though she claimed authentic evidence of mass killings. Surprisingly, instead of presenting whatever evidence she may have, she chose to escape from the country on the claim that her life was in danger. In danger of what?
“The military has come out to say we never sought after her and to the best of my knowledge, the police never declared her wanted.
“Her conduct thus becomes suspect. Who is she fronting for? What is her real motive? Who are her sponsors? If she has any evidence, why is she not presenting such evidence to the panel? Since she was very desperate for asylum in any country, did she have to resort to blatant falsehood to tarnish the image of the country?
“In the fullness of time, this lady will be exposed for who she is, a fraud, a front for divisive and destructive forces.”
We Stand by Our Report on Lekki Shooting, Says CNN
However, despite the federal government’s criticism, CNN defended its report on the alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters, saying it was diligent in packaging it.
The report, it said, was “carefully and meticulously researched.”
The cable station, in its reaction titled ‘Nigeria threatens CNN with sanctions but provides no evidence Lekki toll gate investigation is inaccurate,’ broadcast yesterday, said it remained unbending on its report on the Lekki shooting.
It said: “Our reporting was carefully and meticulously researched, and we stand by it.
“The report was based on testimony from dozens of witnesses, and photos and video obtained and geolocated by CNN. It painted a picture of how members of the Nigerian army and the police shot at the crowd, killing at least one person and wounding dozens more.
“CNN verified photos and videos acquired from multiple eyewitnesses and protesters using timestamps and other data from the video files.
“Video footage shows soldiers who appear to be shooting in the direction of protesters. And accounts from eyewitnesses established that after the army withdrew, a second round of shooting happened later in the evening.
“Prior to publishing the report, CNN tried multiple times to elicit comment from the Nigerian army and police. A Lagos State police spokesman declined to comment because of an ongoing investigation.
“While a statement from the Lagos State government said that there would be no comment while a judicial tribunal was underway.”
NGE, NUJ Kick against Social Media Regulation
Speaking to THISDAY on the planned regulation of the social media, the NGE President, Mr. Isa Mustapha, admitted that fake news is real and had played some part in fuelling the #EndSARS protests and the subsequent hijack.
He, however, added that the editors’ position on social media regulation remains unchanged.
“The nation already has enough laws to deal with the abuse of social media. The government should summon the courage to implement those laws. The government can also work on social media platform providers to deal with fake news,’’ he said.
The NUJ President, Mr. Chris Isiguzo, also said journalists are equally disturbed by the damage fake news is doing to the national life and will subscribe to legitimate steps being taken to arrest the situation. He canvassed a proper process in dealing with the matter as has been done in some other countries.
He said: “The federal government cannot regulate end-users; it should engage owners of the platforms themselves; for instance Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. The government should interface with the owners of the platforms to ensure that only verifiable stories are allowed on their platforms.
‘’It is also important for the government to convene stakeholders parley, engage stakeholders in the media industry, NUJ, NGE, NPAN, BON, NIPR etc; the meeting will afford the government the opportunity to hear from the operators themselves. This will go a long way in ensuring everybody is carried along in the planned regulation process.
‘’Allowing the government to regulate without inputs from stakeholders will be totally against the spirit of democratic governance which is hinged on the right of the people to free expression.’’