CNN’s Biased Narrative: Unmasking the Conspiracy
By Femi Morgan
Recently, a CNN report introduced into the public domain its own conclusion on the EndSARS Lekki Toll Gate incident in Lagos State. The tragedy of the story is the ‘investigative journalism’ toga ascribed to it.
There is no doubt that the CNN compiled hours of footages aggregated haphazardly online, and deliberately evaded other counter images to come to a conclusion that the Nigerian Government and her security agencies were complicit in the Lekki shootings. Before extrapolating, the CNN immediately indicted the Nigerian Government with its introductory statement, tone and expression.
A lot of the videos have been questioned by many Nigerians who have begun to realise that there are many stories and videos that were deliberately designed, distorted and exaggerated. The CNN footage did not express any scepticism with the videos that they had gathered from online sources. There is also no evidence of critically balancing the entire story.
CNN simply tried to validate the videos it gathered by piecing the puzzles, establishing geospatial timestamps to false representations, and making sure that it achieves a linearity of thoughts without giving room for counter positions that could also be aggregated in the same public domain.
Many voices of the EndSARS protesters have been silenced because they could not effectively corroborate their stories when Nigerians had begun to ask questions. Many celebrities on Twitter had also begun to delete their EndSARS posts because they found that they had used their brands to peddle lies, and to declare dead and missing those who were alive and well.
In fact, accounts and counter-accounts presented at the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry have shown that the Lekki incident was not a massacre as fabricated and narrated by some of the promoters of EndSARS. These are some of the issues that CNN failed to dig up while it fixated on its usual narrative of a sub-Saharan African nation which silences the freedom of her people.
While the CNN asserts its geospatial evidences, it does not take into cognisance that time stamps and locations could be deceptive, brining to fore similar attacks and clashes such as the deadly cultist clash in Ketu, Lagos within the same period. The CNN also narrowed its narrative of the EndSARS protest into a single story. It is instructive to note that the EndSARS story is in at least four phases – The Digital Media #EndSARS campaign, The EndSARS Protests, The EndSARS Crisis, and The Post-EndSARS Narratives. The four are not necessarily inclusive of one another. The fourth phase especially has been largely an exploration of fabricated narratives designed to suit the continuing agendas of the EndSARS promoters, and this is what CNN bought into and dwelt on.
While the Lagos Judicial Council of Inquiry has engaged much footage and has so far given prime reliability to the CCTV footages of the Lekki Concession Company, managers of the Lekki Toll Gate, due largely to its coverage and reliability, the CNN relied on random sentimental reportage and video directions and pictures that ask more question than answers.
The Lagos State Government noted that only two people lost their lives at the Lekki shooting, and this is contrary to the Amnesty International report which placed the number of deaths at 38 people. However, this position is quickly evaded by the CNN through its disclosure that the Lagos State Government (LASG) refused to engage its correspondence during its investigation.
Before the inauguration of the Judicial Panel, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Governor of Lagos State had issued statements, and had had live video interviews with Nigerian and international media organisations. The CNN could have used these to drive a robust, clear and balanced storytelling of events. It, however, found it comfortable to showcase the inaccessibility of the Lagos State Government, despite the fact that its silence at that time aligned with standard legal requirement. The CNN insisted that the Nigerian Army fired directly at the protesters, but it was not sure. It said ‘appear to show that they were shooting toward the crowd’. This tonality of doubt pervades major parts of CNN report.
This shows that the CNN only hoped to raise emotions through its sensational depiction of injustice through a postcolonial gaze. The Army has stated time and again that it shot blank bullets into the sky to scare and disperse the protesters.
There are video evidences to show that the protesters tried to attack the soldiers. Such videos have been evaded by the CNN who did not do an extensive search, neither did it speak to the Lekki Concession Company to obtain clear CCTV footages. The CNN reporter was comfortable with lazily aggregating videos that were readily available without any bureaucracy.
Colonel Hassan Stan-Labo (rtd.), a security expert, had reviewed the footages of the Lekki incident as well as the shells at the Toll Gate, shown by the media during the earliest reportage of the Lekki incident. Stan-Labo had said that given his experience in the Nigerian Army, these were blanks. Many civilians who do not know the difference between blank ammunition and live ammunition must have misconstrued the sound of the blanks for live ammunition. Blanks, according to Wikipedia, “is a type of firearm cartridge that contains no projectile (e.g., bullet or shot), and instead uses paper or plastic wadding to seal the propellant into the casing. When discharged, the blank generates a muzzle flash and an explosive sound like normal gunshots.…”
This fully explains the colourful splashes that emanated from the gunshots of the soldiers at the Lekki Toll Gate. When shot at close range, blanks could cause severe injuries. From the videos in the public domain, the soldiers kept a distance and shot in the air.
DJ Switch’s narrative has so far been problematic. Her representation of events and her posture so far has shown that her videos were made with intentions to bolster up her brand as a hero and to use the situation to advance an asylum agenda. DJ Switch, whose video streaming was the primary source of reportage for many media groups, said that she and her comrades helped place the bodies of the dead at the feet of soldiers who were still shooting. Her narrative extends farce into magic realism, and her cameras failed to capture a single corpse at the incident. Her actions only significantly portray her ambition to popularise her DJ career and escape to the West through the channels of an asylum.
The CNN in collaboration with the Balkan Investigative Network also identified some of the bullets reportedly used at the Lekki Shootings as purchased at the Serbian Weapons Market. It ascribed the ammunition to purchases made by Nigeria from Serbia.
While such ammunition could be in the armoury of the Nigerian Army, it is not exclusively so. There are many interests in the country that make it difficult for ammunition to be imprinted in the name of the Nigerian Army. The Lekki-Epe corridor is a seaward area with cultists, pirates and pockets of illegal businesses. Some of these individuals have access to the ammunition black market.
The Nigerian Army has made constant and consistent efforts through its human rights codes and standard policy practice established in 2016 to strengthen relations between the Army and the civilian populace, and to disabuse the people of perceptions of the army through the lens of a military era. It has made immense improvement in educating the rank and file in the engagement of civilians in several scenarios and has improved communications with the populace in order to respond to their complaints as and when they arise.
Having invested several years in building a new human rights outlook for itself, the Army could surely not be inclined to destroy its hard-earned trust by killing civilians. The Army is aware that with the support of Nigerians as informants, patriots and law-abiding citizens, the insurgency in the Northeast would be quelled in no time. It is based on this that the Nigerian Army has stated that there was no way that it would kill its brothers and sisters.
Unfortunately, the CNN played a premeditated script that sought to condemn the Nigerian Government and the Nigerian Army. The media network also asserted through so-called eyewitnesses that the Nigeria Police officers arrived at the scene to shoot and kill the protesters. Even the EndSARS promoters had not said that in their own reported narratives.
When did the soldiers leave the scene and how far gone were they before the police arrived? Such a narrative would have helped to exonerate the soldiers and lay the blame on the police. But the Army is not trading in falsehood, and has not tried to save itself by bringing in the police.
Nigerians are aware of the withdrawal of the police from its duties after it had been smeared with the same paint as the notorious SARS operatives. During the EndSARS protests, especially when the hoodlums hijacked the protests in the Lagos Mainland areas, and other parts of South-west, public infrastructure were torched and police officers were assaulted. The police gradually vacated the scene having imbibed the notion that it could not be an enforcement agency in a case that concerns one of its units. It is therefore a piece of fiction to assert that the Nigeria Police appeared on the scene to ‘finish off’ from where the soldiers supposedly stopped.
In order to convince Nigerians and the international community that many people died at the Lekki Toll Gate, the CNN featured one Elisha Sunday who stated that his brother died at the protests ground at the Lekki Toll Gate. CNN showed a picture of a badly injured Nigerian as Victor Sunday.
The reportage did nothing to prove that the man on the ground who was being administered CPR was Victor Sunday. The reported only expected that the audience would trust its voice because it is CNN. A single photograph of a man that is critically injured, alongside quick flicks of other injured persons, cannot suffice for the many that were said to be killed during the Lekki shootings. While the rabble has asserted that many people died at the toll gate, no one has come forward to claim or demand justice for its family members that passed on during the Lekki incidents. Even prominent lawyers who promoters the EndSARS protests have not come out to seek redress for alleged victims.
CNN failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that it did not try to heat the polity by playing to the gallery. CNN also made a hazy presentation of faces and a flippant presentation of narratives from the respondents as quickly as possible. The video was meant to dwell on six persons who would at least tell their full accounts through the footages.
That the CNN story could have been sponsored by the political detractors of the government is within the range of possibilities. Before the report, Reno Omokri, a staunch PDP media personality based in the USA, had used his social media platform to call on the United States politicians to give attention to the Lekki Toll Gate incident if they wanted to gain the votes of Nigerians who had American citizenship.
Without doubt, the CNN manipulates information in order to achieve far-reaching populist visibility across Africa. It allowed itself to be drowned by the cacophony of the EndSARS promoters without digging deep. It has consistently followed the path of consistently promoting a chaotic perception of Africa.
According to UNESCO Handbook for Journalism Education and Training, the ‘purveyors of disinformation prey on the vulnerability or partisan potential of recipients whom they hope to enlist as amplifiers and modifiers. In this way, they seek to animate us into becoming conduits of their messages by exploring our propensities to share information for a variety of reasons.’
The CNN abides by what Martina Chapman calls ‘Fake News’ because it brings to bear in its story elements of mistrust, misinformation and manipulation. It purposefully created a slanted reportage that emboldens the biases of the political promoters of EndSARS. Its reporters presented a sloppy journalistic angle that does not explore all the dimensions of the incidents, therefore creating silences, and currying faulty emotional perceptions. It failed to create the critical balance needed to give journalism practice the global reputation that it deserves.
(Femi Morgan is a Lagos-based writer and media analyst).
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