By Ehichioya Ezomon
International broadcast station, the Cable News Network (CNN), prides itself as the leading purveyor of fast, accurate and reliable news reports. That’s why it crows: “This is CNN. More people get their news from CNN than any other source.”
This may be a matter of fact because of CNN’s reach with its reportage, a niche it’s carved by beaming major natural and man-made occurrences to millions of homes since its debut in the 1980s.
Besides its mantra of “Facts Matter,” the network, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, the United States of America, and with broadcasting centres in all continents and hundreds of affiliate partners around the world, also cherishes “Facts First.”
It’s striven to uphold this creed, especially with fierce competition from other cable stations, and the emergence of social media that has invaded the news space with misinformation, disinformation and outright falsehood codenamed as “fake news.”
But because CNN isn’t infallible, it’s burnt its fingers in its attempts to either get news faster to its millions of audiences, or when doing in-depth coverage and analyses on volatile issues.
At such times, it disregards, perhaps not deliberately, to observe the basic tenet it cherishes and preaches: “Facts First,” as “Facts Matter” to the network and the viewers it serves.
Lately, CNN’s “fact-finding” approach to journalism and reportage is challenged with the widely publicized shooting and “killings” at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, Nigeria, on October 20, 2020.
The network’s seeming second-hand reporting on the shooting, in the wake of #EndSARS protests that gripped Nigeria for weeks, was anything but accurate, reliable and factual in all material particular.
Even as it states, “We stand by our reporting,” aftermath of the Nigerian Government querying of CNN’s reporting, the network has been unable to impeach the government and the Army rebuttal.
Nigeria’s Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has criticized CNN’s “one-sided, biased and unprofessional reporting” on the Lekki incident, labeling it as the world’s first “Bloodless and Bodiless Massacre.”
Mr Mohammed’s characterization is apt, as there’ve been no reports of actual deaths from the “massacre” nor has anybody claimed they had or knew others that lost persons to the shooting.
Admitted that CNN didn’t “rush to publish the report,” yet, it’s a stretch for the network to insist that “it ensured due processes were followed, which included thorough research.” If this were so, why the discrepancies in its reporting: from 38 to one person killed?
CNN didn’t add substance to the Lekki story, but only to further inflame passion, and worsen a bad situation. Without its reporters for on-the-spot reporting, the network regurgitated what’s in the public domain, based, as it’s affirmed, on “photos and videos acquired from multiple eyewitnesses and protesters.”
Had CNN done a genuine investigation and reported the truth, the network’s figures of the dead wouldn’t be shifty, from 38 to just one person. It’s a mind-boggling, sensational and hatchet reportage!
That’s where the Nigerian Government and the Army got CNN: Where did it conjure the 38 people killed at Lekki, if the soldiers used blank and not live bullets during the “massacre”?
CNN’s explanation, that “photos and videos acquired… were verified using timestamps and other data from the video files,” is designed to fool and possibly sway an unsuspecting public.
But this time, Nigerians, ever so wary of what comes out of official quarters, were even sceptical of the information CNN has clothed as “reporting… carefully and meticulously researched.” Hence, the overwhelming criticism of the network on social media.
Caught pants down, CNN came with a clarification of at least 56 people dead across Nigeria since the #EndSARS protests began on October 8, “with 38 killed across the country on Tuesday (October 20) alone, according to human rights group Amnesty International.”
So, it’s no longer 38 killed at Lekki in its “carefully and meticulously researched” prior reporting, but an attribution to “human rights group Amnesty International” that has tangled with the Nigerian Army due to its “disputed reporting” on the Army’s operations?
CNN has a heavy lifting to do, to convince Nigerians, among them its ardent viewers, that it didn’t deliberately push a “false narrative” on the Lekki shooting. How does one person killed rhyme with CNN’s banner headline, “How A Bloody Night Of Bullets And Brutality Quashed A Young Protest Movement”?
Rather than hanging on tenuously to the Army’s admittance, through Brigadier-General Ahmed Taiwo, the Commander of Nigeria’s 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, that the soldiers went to Lekki with live bullets, as a confirmation of its reporting, CNN should admit its sloppy job, and apologize to the Nigerian Government, the Army, the Nigerian people and the global community it’s deceived.
That said, the Nigerian Government handling of and reaction to the Lekki shooting gave rise to the likes of CNN to prey on its viewers’ assumed gullibility to consume wholesale its news items.
The government didn’t do the first thing first, or did the wrong thing entirely. It shouldn’t have deployed the Army to quell the protests, as soldiers aren’t trained for that. Theirs is to shoot to kill.
But gladly in this case, as evidence has shown, the soldiers were professional in their briefs, and mostly shot into the air, whether with blank bullets, as the Army claimed, or live bullets, as CNN reported.
The government, and particularly the Army, which has a record of denial about its operations, willy-nilly exhibited what it accuses others of doing: not telling the true situation when it matters most.
In the Lekki episode, the government was consistently inconsistent: Denial of presence of the Army; admittance of presence; denial of shooting; admittance of using blank bullets; denial of possession of live bullets; admittance of live bullets.
Must the government join the Army to initially deny its involvement in the shooting because, according to Brig.-Gen. Taiwo, they didn’t have the facts of what transpired at the protest venue?
Yet, in trying to cover for its flaws, the government has iterated the number of deaths, as reported by CNN, social media influencers, human rights bodies, and the protesters of #EndSARS campaign.
Going forward, government should emulate the exemplary conduct of the House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, in handling the killing of a newspaper vendor by his security detail.
Mr Gbajabiamila expeditiously revealed the truth about the shooting, naming and handing over the trigger-happy cop to the police; visiting the victim’s family and promising compensation.
Because the House Speaker was upfront and transparent, no person or medium, in the mold of CNN, tried to “unravel the mystery” behind the killing of an innocent vendor in Abuja.
Nigeria shouldn’t give fodder to its detractors to exploit its weakness, and then blame them for invading its turf. It’s time the government rejigged its information management and kept at bay the nosy CNNs of this world from mis-informedly telling its story.
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos