#OccupyNigeria protesters take on news media coverage

By Mohamed Keita/CPJ Africa Program Coordinator on January 13, 2012 6:23 PM ET

Protesters in Nigeria are not only angry at their government's New Year's Day decision to eliminate a fuel subsidy -- they are also upset about news media coverage of the citizens' movement, dubbed "Occupy Nigeria," and have taken their protests to local media outlets.

According to news reports, on Thursday, protesters descended on the studios of at least two prominent broadcasters, the state-run national public broadcaster Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and the private Africa Independent Television (AIT), to demand more balanced coverage. Protesters managed to enter NTA studios in the commercial capital of Lagos and persuade the journalists to record and broadcast live images of the protests, the reports said. Historically, the government has maintained close relationships to even the private broadcasters in Nigeria, leaving the print media with the most independent voice.

The actions followed expressions of anger over the press coverage on social media, particularly Twitter, where the hash tag #OccupyNigeria has become a global trend since January 3, according to Trendistic.

"NTA fools showing us how to swim when thr are better things to know!" read a tweet by @I_Am_Shattay. "Massive media campaign to promote subsidy removal, misleading, and further waste of money #occupynigeria #shameonGEJ" tweeted Louis Monye, blasting President Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan opened a public Facebook page in 2010, and the transcript of a January 7 national address about the fuel subsidy posted there drew more than 15,000 comments of support and mostly opposition to the policy change.

Some suggested the media should take the side of the protesters. "It's only the truth that will set us free in dis country! The media sud cooperate wiv the masses and stop being biased!!!!" tweeted @topinpin.

Eventually, there were calls to action on twitter. "Its Time We #OccupyNTA ... they Aint carrying the News..." said @Full_depth on January 5. Aliyu Bappa went further :"#OccupyNTA till they broadcast #occupynaija live to the #world." Aminu Tama called on protesters to "Occupy NTA anywhere in Nigeria, they must show the protest."

Opinions were mixed about coverage on independent Channels TV. Paid agent. [...] Channels is working with govt to use media propaganda to confuse..." tweeted @ogbagogo. "Gd analysis 4rm sum of d contributors on #channelstv #OccupyNigeria," tweeted Louis Monye on January 11. "Amongst the many broadcast stations TVC stood out. Showin Live uninteruptd broadcast encouragd people who came out to support," tweeted @iykecedamaestro on January 9.

Some Nigerians suggested the media should take the side of the protesters. (AFP/Pius Utomi Ekpei)

For @nature_gurl, "If you support subsidy removal, watch NTA; If you are against it, watch Channels TV; If you are confused, watch AIT," she tweeted on January 12.  

International media also came under fire for what was perceived as too little coverage. "Know it's not a famine, but could we have some coverage please from the Western media," tweeted writer and author Aminata Forna on Thursday. "I think the lack of news on the whole #occupyNigeria movement is because western media thinks it's just about gas prices/oil subsidy," tweeted @mmmchocolatey.

For some, new media was the order of the day. "NTA is old media. SHUT THEM DOWN," tweeted @boycottPDP. "If traditional local media won't work for #OccupyNigeria, invade socialmedia without limits until the whole world hears," said Collins Olua. "Take pictures. Record videos. Share via twitter, facebook, youtube, etc. They'll encourage others to join us, and tell the world our story!" tweeted Gbenga Sesan.

In the race for relevancy, big players in the print media used Twitter to invite citizen reporters to contribute reporting. "As Labour strike begins... report protest in your area!" tweeted Vanguard newspaper on January 10.

"The beauty of social media is that I control d information I want people to hear. I won't let people listen to lies from govt," said @ekekeee. One professional journalist, however, tried to temper this romantic vision of citizen reporting with a word of advice. "Please use Social Media responsibly and only broadcast what you have confirmed," tweeted broadcast presenter Aderonke Adebanjo.


The social media no doubt provides an opportunity for non journalists to report events from their perspective.
My main worry is the inability of the citizen journalists to conceed to others the right to publish or broadcast what they consider good enough.
There are too many unverified reports in the social media and sometimes outright incitement against organisations and individuals. Professor Wole Soyinka had to deny a report credited to him.
People send comments to reports on websites and dont want to be moderated even when the words used are undully abusive.
Freedom without responsibility is very dangerous.
Notwithstanding the lapses, the new media is a good challenge to traditional journalists to broaden their scope to coverage and be able to report issues as quickly as possible.

Social media has been helpful in mobilising public opinion against an unpopular public policy. But it is also a threat to responsible information dissemination. Unverified claims, outright lies have been dished almost in equal measure in the determination to coaltar the government and its officials. Before anyone retweets or broadcasts the next post that comes, please pause, reflect, and ask if it makes sense. That simple act can reduce by half the verbiage that is being dished out in the name of the new found power to inform the public. Where the information ptoves reliable the social media provide a big boost to the people's right to know.

Rarely do we see citizens take to streets to demand their voices to be heard or to be succinctly recorded. It demands courage; it may demonstrate the highest level of consciousness - self generated from inner conviction or influenced.

If they can take to streets to call for non-escapism by big media and divergent talk by social media; then they can also take to streets to support a media outlet that works for their supposed good or goal. Is that ok? Could we count on that as a new weapon in defence of freedom of the press - expression?

However, if such a development is not incluenced by political pockets or business tables; meaning it is a conscious social drive towards correcting the popular immage of the demands of the majority; then it is a positive development.

We need to study the trends well before we bless or dicard the act. Phenomenal?

ndimara tegambwage

ndimara tegambwage January 15, 2012 4:46:37 AM ET

While it is exciting to read and hear that a section of the public went down to the studios of some media houses to request for a balanced coverage of the oil subsidy wahala in Naija, media officials across the world are also looking forward to the day, members of the public will send a word of congratulation to media houses for the good things they have been doing for public interest.
The social media has come to give a spice in communication and not journalism, but as we social mediatise ourselves, we should watch out for emotional satisfaction and parochial interest. The public and the private media in Nigeria as in other parts of the world, give the exciting opportunity for news balance. However, the signpost of objectivity should not be pushed aside, as we pursue our journey for the truth.

WALTER WILSON NANA January 15, 2012 11:07:10 AM ET

""NTA fools showing us how to swim when thr are better things to know!" read a tweet by @I_Am_Shattay" that was why there was #occupy NTA. While hundreds of thousands of Nigerians took to the streets to protest government' alleged fuel subsidy removal, NTA was showing clips of about five people who say they support the removal but NOTHING of the more than a million who shut down the country. it was unfair for a station run with public funds

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