The Federal government on Friday reiterated its earlier position to sanction United States based Cable Network News (CNN), for carrying out unverified information from the controversial Lekki Toll Gate protest, which was alleged to have led to some deaths.
Alh. Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, who made the position known at a stakeholder’ meeting with the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) in Abuja on Friday, also vowed to deal with any media organisation both local and international attempting to set Nigeria on fire through unverifiable reportage.
The Minister 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.
While noting that CNN had acknowledged the letter of complaint and promised to probe same on its merit, he insisted that the use of unverified videos and non-adherence to the basic tenets of journalism have combined to land the international broadcaster, CNN, in trouble.
He said 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 insisted that the station was found to be inconsistent saying, “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.
“It is baffling that an organisation 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 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 organisations.
“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.”
The minister commended security agencies for their professional role noting that by restraining themselves, they helped to save many lives even in the face of attacks and provocation during and after the EndSARS protest.
“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.”
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 weaponise 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 disclosed that two out of the three stations imposed a fine of N3 million by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for using unverified and dangerous information from social media, 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 was fraught with danger, even as 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.