Nigeria on Monday slapped sanctions on CNN Nigeria for an investigative programme on the Lekki-Ikoyi toll gate, without providing evidence to support its allegations.
The sanctions included:
Banning CNN from being officially accredited to the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), a decision the commission chairman, Oluwole Osunsanmi, later explained to the Nigerian press.
Blocking the transmission of any program or news story on CNN.
Unlawful termination of production and dismissal of all CNN staff working on the programme.
CNN Nigeria was told to cease production and disband its studio operations, according to a new notice by the NBC on Monday.
However, while CNN did not acknowledge the sanctions issued by the Nigerian government, it did provide the media and the Nigerian public with explanations about its sourcing and stories.
The Nigeria administration of Goodluck Jonathan, followed by President Muhammadu Buhari, had attacked the documentary as a plot to portray Nigeria in bad light.
A one-hour documentary aired on CNN Nigeria on Friday titled, Lekki to Ibom toll gates, Buhari must go, was broadcast for the first time, in a live broadcast, on Friday. It claimed that President Buhari was “criminally pocketing billions of dollars” from the Lagos toll gates. It was later broadcast in Nigeria on another network.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was heavily involved in the production of the documentary, which had been picked up by other Nigerian networks.
In a detailed explanation on Monday, CNN acknowledged that it had approached Lagos government on the project, which is part of its wide coverage of Lagos.
It told Nigerian press that the documentary started the press engagements and had been entirely financed from its own operations.
The infractions on CNN were “illegally, unlawfully and maliciously” carried out in defiance of CNN’s ethical and professional standards, the British-owned network said.
Reasons behind CNN ban by Nigeria on Friday are not yet clear, though a source familiar with the recent developments at the Nigerian presidency said that on Friday it had sent Nigeria a cease and desist letter.
On Monday, the NBC spoke on CNN’s behalf, claiming that it had been told by “the authority that the disciplinary process has already begun.” It said it had been told, however, that there would be no sanctions imposed until CNN Nigeria was in compliance with journalistic standards.
CNN had previously issued a statement on Saturday saying it was “surprised and saddened” by the news from Nigeria. It expressed solidarity with its Nigerian production team and urged Nigeria to reinstate the four experienced journalists involved in the programme.
By mid-morning on Monday, however, CNN had retracted the original note and withdrew the content of the documentary, describing it as “misleading and inaccurate.” It stressed, however, that it does not hold CNN Nigeria responsible for the error.
It has also asked CNN Nigeria to provide proof that it was an accurate depiction of facts.
“CNN has learned that the investigative program has been removed by CNN TV networks, CNN.com and various offshoots and that government officials in Nigeria are demanding that it be destroyed. It is our understanding that officials are also threatening CNN with sanctions,” CNN Newsource said in a statement.
“CNN regrets that this program was written, produced and broadcast in a manner in which it created any misunderstanding, damage or allegation of wrongdoing.”
CNN NIGERIA said Monday it would not disclose the circumstances of its action in the documentary until it is issued a formal complaint by the Nigerian government, which has yet to do so.
“The Cable Channels Regulation Commission (CCRC) have asked us to refuse to divulge the reason for the removal of the program,” it said.
“We will only reveal this once they formally sign our complaint and allow us to conduct an independent, external investigation.
“We reserve our rights to give us access to the facts and to analyze them to determine whether or not our investigation into the program is credible.”