Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Sahara Reporters: Between real journalism and mudslinging, by Mohammed Sani

Headline

tiamin rice

In their book The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel identify the essential principles and practices of journalism. Journalism’s first obligation, according to them, is to the truth. This “journalistic truth” is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Then journalists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning, subject to further investigation.

Most stories have at least two sides. While there is no obligation to present every side in every piece, stories should be balanced and well contextualised. Objectivity is not always possible, and may not always be desirable but impartial and objective reporting builds trust and confidence.

The model of the online ruffle-rousing platform, Sahara Reporters, falls short of the above definition of real journalism. Sahara Reporters, an online news based in New York, with a focus on Nigeria, is notorious for publishing half-truth, libellous and disparaging stories against individuals and organisations often without slightest recourse to Kovach and Rosentiel’s principles of what journalism should be.

Sahara Reporters has gotten away with series of unethical stories since 2006, and the list of their victims is by now a very long one. The latest of such slanderous shot was aimed at Alhaji Nasiru Danu linking him to an alleged N51 billion fraud against the Nigerian government, through the Nigerian Customs.

Mr Danu, in a report published by SaharaReporters on Friday, was named among other (unnamed) top officials who were alleged to have siphoned money meant to improve the Nigeria Customs Service, a part of which was allegedly transferred to a foundation owned by President Muhammadu Buhari’s daughter, Zahra.

The scant “story” would placated interest of readers as yet another expose of corrupt activities of our political elite, but for the fact that it was coming from an outfit so well-known with dishing out falsehoods.

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Reacting to the report, Mr Danu, through a March 6, 2021 letter to SaharaReporters by his lawyer, Bode Olanipekun of Wole Olanipekun & Co., described the publication as false, baseless and malicious. The elaborate letter is worth quoting in some details to properly point out the folly in Sahara Reporter’s gibberish:

“With particular reference to the Nigeria Customs Service, our client has informed us that he is not in any business relationship whatsoever with the Nigeria Customs Service and reference to him as part of a “Revenue Assurance Fraud”, or any scheme by which money was allegedly siphoned from the Nigeria Customs Service is deficient in any factual basis whatsoever. Emphatically, our client denies being part of any fraud including that alleged in your publication as involving “N51 billion,” Mr Danu said in his rebuttal.

“In the same vein, our client asserts, in the most vehement manner possible, that he did not transfer, or know about any transfer of N2.5 billion to any foundation, which he is purportedly a signatory to.

“From the content of your publication under issue, the undisguised import, aim, purport and intention it set out to achieve was/is to injure our client’s reputation and name, as well as deflate his estimation in the eyes of well-meaning people. With all respect, what is discernible from your publication under reference is acute malice, spite, viciousness and predetermination to lower and diminish the esteem of our client.

“You might wish to note that our client is involved in legitimate business enterprises that are widely acclaimed, both in Nigeria and within international business circles. He is the Chairman and Chief Executive of several companies, some of which he founded, and others, which, as a result of his reputation for being honest and fair handed, he was invited to chair. These companies, apart from providing unique solutions to societal problems, provide jobs and means of livelihood to at least 2000 Nigerians, as well as contribute their quota to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product. These, amongst other leadership qualities, earned him the conferment of the revered traditional title of the Dan Amana of Dutse.

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“Our client’s position is that your publication was made, either with actual or constructive knowledge of the falsity of its content or without any effort to verify the authenticity of such damaging stories which any media outlet should be loath to publish. This is obvious, for instance, from the paucity of details as to time, place, account details, etc, in the publication. Such action is clearly indicative of bad faith and/or, recklessness, with respect.”

Mr Danu then demanded the retraction of the publication from Sahara Reporters’ official website and Twitter account. He also wants the news platform to publicly apologise to him on its website as well as in at least three other newspapers with online and physical presence for seven days.

For Sahara Reporters to come out nowhere and fabricate such falsehood explains how lies, fake news, and misinformation have become a stock in its trade: nothing as irresponsible and satanic as this to the noble profession of journalism and its principles of fair hearing, objectivity, and fact checking and balancing.

In an attempt to flesh up the tiny detail of lie they had, Sahara Reporters cited another lie linked to Danu, which was his purported arrest with a fake passport and  the sum of £200,000, at the airport in London. A simple Google search would have shown to them that Danu was a victim of fraud at the time and the person who facilitated the Maltese passport for him is currently being prosecuted by the EFCC. His money has also been returned by the UK authorities as he proved that it was legitimate income. All this information is available online, as carried by reputable media organisations.

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As an organisation with penchant disregard for disregard to the most basic requirement of journalism, Sahara Reporters did not make the slightest attempt to contact Danu for his side of the story before rushing to publish a concocted story trapped with lies, misinformation, libellous and injurious to Alhaji Danu, his family, associates and well-wishers.

It is heart-warming that Alhaji Danu is poised to use available legal means to clear his name from sponsored falsehood aimed at distracting him from his legitimate ventures in an exercise that appeared as a journalistic mischief .

It is a good sequel to a similar action taken by former Senate President Bukola Saraki over similar publication, for which he obtained a judgement against the platform and its publisher.

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The mudslinging and mischief journalism engaged by Sahara Reporters is an attacked on the moral values of good journalism. Sahara Reporters is willing to sacrifice everything, at all times, to achieve what is mostly a premeditated agenda to smear the names of persons and institutions, with the conviction that they are beyond reproach.

Mr Sani wrote from Abuja.

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