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NTA, TERRORISM AND MEDIA COVERAGE

August 26th 2011 will for a long time to come remain the darkest day in Nigeria’s international history because of the fact that it was on this day that a suspected lone suicide bomber carried out a successful terrorist attack on the premises of the United Nations in Abuja.

Even as most Nigerians and international observers have expressed sadness over this unfortunate event that portrayed Nigeria in very bad light, some few media observers have passed judgment on what they considered as less than professional coverage of the dastardly incident by the publicly funded Nigerian Television Authority. Simon Kolawole of Thisday and another in-house opinion writer in The Guardian were among the frontline media observers that expressed consternation over the nature of ‘restrictive’ coverage of the terrorism attack of August 26th 2011 in Abuja by the Nigerian Television Authority.

The above cited writers are some of the respected authorities in the field of Opinion writing and are therefore seen by so many media patrons or rather consumers of media product in the country as authoritative. I, too view them as some of the best but again their Opinion on how the Nigerian Television Authority covered the terrorist attack as aforementioned were fraught with factual inaccuracies.

I will return to debunk their claims that the Nigerian Television Authority did not professionally covered that dastardly crime of terrorism which left several dozens of innocent persons dead and destroyed several choice property.

First, let me remind readers that the United Nations has been working to tackle the widening threats of international terrorism just as successive administrations in Nigeria have also participated in several international conferences organized by the United Nations on terrorism.

In 2005, Nigeria participated in the eleventh congress of the United Nations Congress on crime prevention and criminal justice which took place in Bangkok, Thailand and a salient theme that resonated at that high profile event was how the world could unite to tackle terrorism.

Nigeria attended with a high powered delegation headed then by the Justice Minister and Federal Attorney General Chief Akin Olujimi, a senior Advocate of Nigeria, even as yours faithfully was a member of that delegation. Nigeria told the world that it was ready to battle the scourge of terrorism.

It is therefore surprising that several years after until very recently, Nigeria did not set up Institutional and legal framework to combat terrorism. Nigeria has only recently passed a national law against terrorism but the security community was caught napping for lack of competence in intelligence gathering mechanism when these armed religious insurgents embarked on the August 26th 2011 deadly suicide attack on the United Nations building in Abuja.

Germany at that 2005 United Nations Congress on crime prevention and criminal justice presented a well researched 104 page report in which the World was told that Institutional and legal framework for fighting the menace of terrorism have been established by this European nation. Other developed nations presented similar impressive scorecards.

In the foreword to the report, the then Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries asserted thus; “The eleventh United Nations Congress on crime prevention and criminal justice demonstrate once again with its agenda that crime, in its various manifestations, is becoming increasingly international in nature. Organized crime, terrorism, diverse forms of corruption, computer and white - collar crime are areas which demand heightened international cooperation over and above our national effort in order to combat them”.

At the 2005 United Nations meeting, the World was reminded that since 1963, the United Nations have so far adopted twelve conventions referring to the prosecution of specific acts of terrorism. They include among others; the Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft of 14 September 1963; the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft of 16 December 1970; and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation of 23 September 1971. Unfortunately, no strong treaty on terrorism was in place as at then.

The question that writers in our newspapers should be asking is why Nigeria did not do anything pragmatic to put functional institutional and legal frameworks to prevent and combat terrorism since 2005 that the federal government appeared on the World stage to lay claim to its readiness to do so. Is any one in doubt that for the fact that over twenty five thousand Nigerians have been killed since 1999 in religious/ethnic related conflicts is not strong enough evidence for the nation to institutionalize effective legal regime against terrorism?

To return to the claims that the Nigerian Television Authority never covered the terrorist attack of August 26th 2011 at the Abuja United Nations House, I will emphatically affirm that this claim is pedestrian, false and uncharitable because even the foreign television stations like the Aljazeera borrowed the recording of that dastardly terrorist incident from the Nigerian Television Authority because the logo of the NTA could be seen conspicuously on the screen except and unless the person watching it chooses not to see it.

As a human rights and development practitioner, when my attention was drawn to the allegation that the Nigerian Television Authority did not broadcast the terrorist attack in Nigeria I undertook comprehensive research and discovered that it was a smear campaign targeted at rubbishing the formidable professional Image that the current management is building for that publicly sponsored television station.

In addition to my independent findings to the contrary, an authoritative source conversant with the broadcasting industry in the country informed me that the news directorate of the Nigerian Television Authority broke the news of that August 26th 2011 terrorist attack on the United Nations House and the television station kept their viewers updated as events continued to unfold.

The reliable source told me that he is in the know that the NTA news directorate deployed their best hands in the news crew which headed to the bombed United Nations office and that the first ever telecast of the event was shown by 12pm news of the Nigerian Television Authority.

On the allegation that NTA edited out some sensitive scenes of persons killed by the bomb blast, I was informed that it was a deliberate decision not to show images that are emotionally offensive but the catastrophe was shown to the audience of the NTA without fundamentally tinkering with the substance of that unfortunate event by way of over editing.

Writers who are quick to pass judgment on how the NTA covered the bomb attack never spared some thoughts and time to reflect on the extant legal framework regulating media contents of broadcasting stations as stipulated by the National Broadcasting Commission.

Specifically, article 3.10 of the Nigerian broadcasting Code talks about coverage of violence, cruelty, pain and horror. Article 3.10.1 Stated thus; “broadcasting is highly susceptible to imitation especially by children. Therefore, the portrayal of violence, cruelty, pain and horror that has the potential of causing moral or psychological harm shall not be broadcast before the watershed time-belt of 9.00pm. The bomb attack occurred around 10 am on August 26th 2011 and NTA is obliged by law not to glamorize violence but to report the event nevertheless which it did in the best professional manner.

Besides, article 3.10.2 of the code provides thus; “A programme portraying excessive pain, physical violence or horror shall not be broadcast, unless relevant to character development or to the advancement of the theme or plot; even so, graphic and gory details shall be avoided”.

The NTA management in the coverage of terrorism related crime cases has so far complied substantially with extant laws.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko, Human Writers’ Association of Nigeria. [email protected]


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