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Cablegate: Nigerian Media and the Recent Elections

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 000819

SIPDIS


STATE FOR AF/W AND AF/PD
LAGOS FOR PAS


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO KDEM PREL NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIAN MEDIA AND THE RECENT ELECTIONS

1. Summary. GON media officials have reacted angrily
to what they view as instances of negative foreign
press coverage of Nigeria recent elections and to
comments by some international observer missions
critical of government-owned media treatment of
opposition candidates during the campaign period.
Minister of Information Gana has threatened to expel
foreign media operating in Nigeria if perceived anti-
GON reporting continues. End summary.


--------------------------------------------- --------
EU Monitoring Report, Foreign Journalists Under Fire
--------------------------------------------- -------


2. In its report following the April 19 elections,
the EU monitoring mission noted a number of problems
concerning the Nigerian media treatment and coverage
of the electoral campaign. The EU report observed
that, federal and state-owned media favored ruling
party candidates and incumbents at the national and
state levels. Equal access to the media, while
officially the policy of the National Broadcasting
Commission (GON media regulatory and oversight body),
was not fully practiced by government-owned
broadcasting organizations. The EU gave higher marks
to the private media, who provided more airtime to
opposition candidates. However, the EU added that
funding disparities among the parties also translated
into unequal airtime and ad space among the
candidates; moreover, the private media were more
reluctant to be critical of paying customers. Despite
these lapses, the EU concluded that the Nigerian print
media overall performance was positive in that
election coverage was ample and broad, but also noted
that reporting focused on personalities (vice issues).
Finally, the EU applauded the Broadcasting
Organization of Nigeria (BON) for its organization of
election debates. (Note: None of the other observer
missions included a critique of the Nigerian media in
their reports. End Note.)


--------------------------------------------- --
GON Refutes EU Charges; Slams Foreign Reporters
--------------------------------------------- --


3. Following an April 23 press conference, Minister
of Information Jerry Gana railed against the foreign
press and the EU report for contributing to a negative
impression of the recent elections. Gana
specifically criticized CNN, BBC, and the VOA for
their reporting. He claimed that, ost of the
correspondents came with a pre-determined idea of what
the election should look like. They came to just find
faults; they did not come to cover the elections.
That is why they just closed their eyes and prayed
that things should happen. Concerning the BBC and
VOA, Gana stated, o country would allow the BBC or
the VOA to do what it does to Nigeria especially on
the Hausa Service. He added that the GON has made
known its dissatisfaction to the respective corporate
offices of the foreign media organizations with whom
the GON is displeased. Gana noted that if such
efforts fail, the GON ill have no option but expel
them from our country. (Note: The BBC later
invited Gana to its Abuja studios for an on-air
interview but the Minister refused to appear. End
Note.)


4. Gana faulted the EU monitoring report for its
criticism of the government media, claiming that no
editorial position was biased, manipulated or guided
by anything but professionalism. He commended the
Nigerian media for its performance throughout the
election period.


5. Falling in line with the Minister of Information
position, Voice of
Nigeria Director General and
Chairman of the BON Taiwo Allimi noted that reporting
by foreign correspondents as shown that these
foreign media have taken a stand against the Nigerian
nation as a peaceful and a united country. Anywhere
in the world, it is not the function of any free press
to deliberately promote an assault on a sovereign
nation and a people committed to ensuring the
sustenance of democracy. Like Gana, Allimi singled
out the BBC, VOA, and CNN for criticism and requested
that they eep their politics in the interests of
their home countries to themselves and be truly
professional. Allimi was reportedly angered by what
he considered to be unbalanced reporting bordering on
inaccuracy and an insufficient understanding of the
problems, constraints, and challenges before the
Nigerian nation in carrying out the elections.


6. Similarly, the Director General of the NBC, Dr.
Silas Babajiya Yisa, said the Nigerian media performed
well during the elections and he congratulated the
journalists for their professionalism. He also urged
the foreign media to resist negative reporting on
Nigeria.


--------------------------------------------- ---
The U.S. Mission View on Media and the Elections
--------------------------------------------- ---


7. The Mission believes that the media provided
adequate electoral coverage overall. However, as the
EU stated, government-owned media did show favoritism.
Although the private media was open to all, airtime
and page space were disproportionately allotted to
those who could pay. This campaign was short on
substantive debate and the media is partially at
fault. By and large, journalists did not attempt to
veer their political coverage toward issues but
instead were content to focus their reporting on
personalities and the political horse-trading that has
been the traditional fare of Nigerian politics. Thus,
the media was competent in covering what was going on
owever, the media was not very creative in trying
to push the political debate to higher ground.


8. In our own monitoring of Nigerian Television
Authority (NTA) coverage during the campaign period,
we have seen regular reporting on PDP candidates and
only spotty attention paid to the ANPP or others. Of
all the government media, the Nigerian national wire
service agency (NAN) did the most balanced job in
providing a wide array of reporting covering all
candidates. We also have monitored VOA and other
Hausa language service reporting of the elections, and
their reporting has been balanced and aired views of
all sides.


9. When government reporters have tried to exercise
independence to the detriment of the GON, they have
come under fire from superiors, as happened on April
12 to an NTA Kaduna reporter. When he reported during
a live national news broadcast that the state INEC
Commissioner was consulting with Abuja before
releasing the Gubernatorial results (the election law
gives each state commissioner authority to announce
results independently), the NTA anchor in Abuja
reprimanded the reporter on the air not to question
the procedure. We also note that where the private
press has violated electoral rules regarding the media
but the reporting favored Obasanjo, no sanction has
been forthcoming. The independent newspaper, his
Day, redicted an Obasanjo victory at the polls and
published a post-election weekend exit poll in support
of the President win prior to the INEC announcement.
The questionable poll served to confirm previous non-
existent polls published by a group believed to be
affiliated with the Vice President office and used
to bolster the impression of strong support for the
PDP.


-------
Comment
-------


10. The Nigerian government pique with foreign
broadcasters is not new; Gana frequently criticizes
the foreign press when it has reported bad news about
Nigeria. The high stakes that occasion the elections
have only made Gana and the GON more sensitive. The
GON very much wanted the international impression of
the Nigerian elections to be one of an uncritical
endorsement of the process and the results. As this
has not occurred and significant criticisms have been
levied, it comes as no surprise that Gana and others
would blame the foreign press and international
monitors for being anti-Nigerian.


JETER

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