Two journalists jailed for airing “false information”

New York, December 23, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the indictment of two Nigerian radio journalists for airing an erroneous report of a bridge collapse, which their station retracted.

Klem Ofuokwu and Cleopatra Taiwo, journalists for the private radio station Rhythm 93.7 FM in the southeastern city of Port Harcourt, were remanded today on charges of disseminating false information and threatening state security over a report that a local bridge had collapsed, according to news director David Obi.

A Port Harcourt judge denied bail and ordered the pair held until a hearing scheduled for January 3, local journalists told CPJ.

On December 17, the local state government condemned the report and threatened action against the station. It said in a statement that the report was especially dangerous “on a day when the entire leadership of the state had crossed that bridge to attend the burial of one of our elder statesmen,” the independent newspaper Daily Champion reported.

The same day, armed police shut down Rhythm FM for several hours and detained Obi and program manager Loknan Dombim overnight. Obi and Dombim were released without charge, but they were ordered to report to the local branch of the State Security Service (SSS) daily. The station aired a retraction of the story on December 18.

“CPJ is disturbed that local authorities have chosen to criminally prosecute these journalists even though their radio station took the appropriate step of retracting the false report,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “It is outrageous that they have been denied bail as if they were dangerous criminals rather than journalists who made a professional error. We call on the authorities to free them immediately, and drop all criminal charges against them,” Cooper said.