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“CNN goofed in its preconceived stance that the soldiers who were deployed to Lekki Toll Gate indeed shot at protesters, killing some of them. CNN relied heavily on unverified and possibly-doctored videos, as well as information sourced from questionable sources, to reach its conclusion. This should earn CNN a serious sanction for irresponsible reporting.”?—?Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, in response to a CNN investigative report on the #LekkiTollgateMassacre
The online reaction in Nigeria to the Minister’s statement was shocked incredibility, and then laughter. How could the Nigerian government dare to sanction the mighty CNN? Did the Honourable Minster think they were a backwater media hut staffed by hungry journalists and editors cowed by threats of violence and promises of brown envelopes? Did Alhaji Mohammed think CNN was one of the few, still rebellious online news houses (hat tip to People’s Gazzette and News Wire) they could deploy paid bots to spam their news feeds with abuse, threats, slander and unimaginative smear campaigns? The laughter and jeering went on and on.
CNN had just toppled an American President, some Nigerian Twitter users cackled, as they wiped tears of laughter away; the Nigerian Government could not touch such a global behemoth. Alhaji Lai, they concluded, was clearly deluded.
Let’s start off with precedent. Countries have banned broadcasters before.
Most of these countries are admittedly quasi-dictatorships, but Nigeria certainly fits that bill these days. In a complicated political dispute with Qatar, Saudi Arabia banned Qatari-owned BeIN Sports; Zimbabwe imposed a reporting ban on CNN and the BBC in 2001 under President Mugabe, and lifted it eight years later as his grip on power weakened; CNN was temporarily banned in Iran when they misquoted Ahmadinejad.
The ban was lifted after CNN apologised; in May 2018 Burundi imposed a broadcast ban on the BBC and the Voice of America. The BBC closed their country bureau the next year; three months ago Tanzania issued new regulations banning local media agencies from broadcasting any foreign content, without first receiving official permission; just last month Thailand secured a court order to close down a broadcaster that covered a pro-democracy protest; in Venezuela, the Government ordered local cable TV operators to pull CNN and the BBC off their platforms after the broadcasters showed videos of military vehicles running over protesters.
Here in Nigeria, in 2019 after disputed presidential elections, the NBC launched a ferocious assault against AIT, a television broadcaster, forcing them to take Kakaaki Social (a popular TV segment that curated non-partisan, popular but usually anti-government social media trends) off the air, and driving the host of the show Ohimai Amaize into exile in America.
Now let’s examine the law, specifically the NBC Code. In August this year, Alhaji Lai Mohammed launched the much reviled ‘amended’ NBC Code.
The Code states that broadcasting false or misleading identification is forbidden, with violations incurring stiff penalties like the immediate closure of a station, revocation of licence and seizure of equipment. Broadcasters are liable to suffer similar penalties if their broadcasts “encourage or incite to crime, lead to public disorder or hate, are likely to incite violence among the populace, causing mass panic, political and social upheaval, security breach and general social disorder. The amended Code targets web/online broadcasting and states: “Where a service provider or platform provider breaches any or all of the provisions of the Code on web/online broadcasting, sanctions as provided in the Code, including a take-down order, a block or a shutdown order shall apply.”
So not only can the State come after traditional media broadcasters, it can now target online ‘broadcasting’ platforms like Youtube and Facebook.
Nigeria is fast becoming a police state. And like other police states?—?Russia, China, North Korea?—?national/regime security trumps the defense of freedoms and liberties citizens would typically expect to enjoy in a functional democracy. The sooner Nigerians realise this, the sooner we will be able to craft suitable responses to the words and actions of our present-day dictators. So please wipe those smiles of your faces.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed can turn off CNN and Nigeria will not spontaneously combust. Our problems are sadly of a more fundamental, survivalist nature. To watch CNN you need to pay for electricity, a decoder, or data if you stream their reports online. For context, more than half of your country lives below the poverty line in a country with rising double digit food inflation.
And the events of 20th October, 2020 should have shorn us of all pretensions of innocence and naivety. If the Nigerian Government can order armed troops to the Lekki toll gate to open fire with live ammunition on unarmed, peaceful protesters draped in the national flag and singing the national anthem, do you really think banning CNN from broadcasting in Nigeria is beyond the pale for this regime?
Article written by Ose Anenih, Hotelier and Politician
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