The federal government has written to the United States-based global television station, Cable News Network (CNN), over last Wednesday’s airing of a report on the alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Tollgate on October 20.
The federal government, in a letter addressed to the CNN Vice President on Communications, Mr. Jonathan Hawkins, and signed by Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, faulted the report titled: ‘How a Bloody Night of Bullets Quashed a Young Protest Movement,’ and demanded a retraction.
The letter, dated November 23, 2020, described the report as blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organisation.
The letter was in furtherance of the government’s earlier excoriation of CNN for broadcasting the report, which prompted Mohammed at a news conference last Thursday in Abuja to call for sanctions against the CNN.
However, a few hours after Nigeria threatened sanction over the CNN report, the global television station defended the integrity of the report, saying it stands by the investigation.
In the letter, Mohammed noted that the airing of the protest was not the first time that CNN was carrying an inaccurate or hoax story about Nigeria.
He also protested that the report did not just fall short of journalistic standards, but reinforced the disinformation being peddled around on the issue.
He described as inexcusable and indefensible, CNN’s failure to live up to the principles of journalism on balance and fairness by rushing to air the story without presenting the government’s side.
The federal government also said it was a breach of journalistic standard for the global news network in its investigation to rely on unverified footage, sourced from the social media while it had no reporter on the ground at the Lekki Tollgate on the night of the incident.
It complained: “In airing its ‘investigative’ report, CNN conveniently forgot that on October 23, 2020, it emphatically tweeted, from its verified Twitter handle, that the military killed 38 people when it opened fire on peaceful protesters on Tuesday, October 20, 2020.
“Almost a month later, the same CNN – after a supposedly exhaustive investigation – is now reporting only one death from what the world was made to believe was a massacre. Is CNN not embarrassed by this sharp climb down? Has CNN owned up to this and apologised for its faux pas?
“It is also interesting that while CNN obtained footage showing when the vehicles carrying soldiers left their barracks and arrived at the Lekki Toll Gate, it could not obtain any footage showing the bodies of those supposedly killed in the ‘massacre.’
“After all, forensic ballistic experts will most likely testify that firing military-grade weapons into a crowd will not leave anyone needing a microscope to look for blood or bodies at the scene.”
The federal government demanded an immediate retraction from CNN, asking for an exhaustive investigation into its ‘investigative’ report on the Lekki Tollgate incident to determine, among others, its authenticity and if it met the basic standards of journalism in addition to the selective use of unverified social media videos to manipulate public opinion.
The federal government added that it was baffled by CNN’s insistence on the reliability of the sources of its story, describing it as a face-saving measure by a news network caught in the blinding glare of ‘fake news and disinformation’ headlamps.
It also punched a hole in the evidence of DJ Switch, one of the eyewitnesses that CNN relied on to develop its investigative reporting.
He said DJ Switch’s story on the Lekki shooting had changed several times.
According to FG’s letter: “From claiming she counted 78 bodies of protesters who were supposedly killed by soldiers on the night of the Lekki Toll Gate incident, she has twice, at least, changed the casualty figure from 78 to 15 and then to seven, without a shred of evidence. CNN cannot pretend not to know that for anyone to act as a witness, his or her credibility must be unimpeachable. DJ Switch’s credibility does not meet that threshold.
“In one of social media videos of DJ Switch that was used by CNN (see attached link 1), the lady (DJ Switch) claimed she and some unnamed persons carried dead bodies and dropped them at the feet of the soldiers. She also claimed she spoke to their commander before the soldiers threw the bodies into the vans. Curiously, for someone who was streaming live on Instagram during the Lekki Tollgate incident, there was not a single video or picture of the dead bodies. Not even Godson (Uyi), another CNN star witness whose video was also used by the network, or any of the hundreds of protesters, all armed with smartphones, at the scene recorded a video or shot a picture of dead bodies being carried away by soldiers.”
The federal government faulted CNN for failing to acknowledge that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed during the #EndSARS crisis, which also left 196 policemen injured, and the monumental destruction of government and private property across the country, saying the network instead, was fixated on a massacre that never happened.
It threatened that while it is up to CNN to accede or not to its request for a retraction of the report, it reserves the right to take any action within its laws to prevent CNN from aggravating the #EndSARS crisis with “unprofessional, irresponsible, one-sided, inciting and sensational reporting that is capable of pitching Nigerians against themselves and setting the country on fire.”