In the past two weeks since #EndSARS protests erupted across the country, the coverage by a significant portion of the Nigerian press has been uneven. Newspaper publications and local television and radio stations have been found wanting on several occasions, with some of them initially ignoring the demonstrations altogether, and sometimes helping in the spread of misinformation and propaganda by the government.
Just yesterday, Channels Television was on hand to show the Federal Minister of Works & Housing, Babatunde Fashola, conveniently “finding” a camera at the Lekki-Victoria Island tollgate, five whole days after the Nigerian military attacked peaceful protesters. This sort of shoddy coverage has largely been effected by guidelines put in place by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the regulatory body for media content in Nigeria. In the heat of the Lekki tollgate massacre, the NBC put out a statement outlining the rules for covering the #EndSARS “crisis”, basically urging the Nigerian press to not embarrass the government while reporting.
GUIDELINES ON THE COVERAGE OF CRISIS. pic.twitter.com/Oj4icOiRKG
— nbcgovng (@nbcgovng) October 20, 2020
Evidently making sure their guidelines are being adhered to, the NBC has sanctioned Africa Independent Television (AIT), Channels Television and Arise Television, for some of their reportage of the events in the past week. The Acting Director-General of the commission, Armstrong Ichaba, announced these sanctions during a press conference in Abuja earlier today, stating that these stations had violated broadcast code, especially in their use of “unverifiable” video footages that have made it to social media. According to the DG, the sanctions will carry a fine of at least three million naira for each television station.
In addition, AIT has also been sanctioned for reporting untrue information of the Nigerian Christian Centre in Abuja being demolished and set on fire by hoodlums. The station has since retracted this report, which the NBC acknowledges, and it is unknown what the consequence for this sanction will be. While this particular sanction is justified, sanctioning television stations for reporting on tragic events using first-hand witness sources is bogus.
The spread of misinformation is a well-known downside of social media, but in the past few days, Nigerian citizens have used these platforms in documenting and spreading information of real-time happenings. It isn’t wrong to demand that media platforms do due diligence on the sources of their information, but punishing them for even using them at all sends a wrong signal that any and all reports found on the internet is unfit to be a part of news coverage.
Dennis is a staff writer at the NATIVE. Please share any useful resources for the #EndSARS protests with me @dennisadepeter