I am truly mystified by the recent fierce hectoring and bullying of a broadcast media columnist, Onoshe Nwabuikwu, by Channels Television. In her column, AIRTIME PLUS, in The Punch newspaper of last Sunday, December 2, she criticised some alleged unprofessional conduct by the television station. Channels Television reacted without restraints. A most bizarre spectacle.
Before we look at the details of the spectacle, let’s do a brief review of the Nwabuikwu article that got Channels TV all riled up. Titled: “The NTA-nisation of Channels TV,” the article recalls an earlier opinion she wrote about Channels TV, same column, two years ago, on February 14, 2016, titled: “How Not To Interview A Guest, Part 1 & 2,” which was a critique of the uninformed and unpreparedness of Channels TV presenters in interviews with guests. I guess that did not go down with Channels. But they must have kept their claws, awaiting the right opportunity to unleash rage.
Fast forward to last month, it was pay back time when Nwabuikwu wrote again, tackling Channels TV. Reports of unprofessional conduct by television stations in the current political campaign season, Nwabuikwu said, compelled her to write on the subject matter. She noted two key incidents:
One, is the alleged refusal by the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA to air the campaign ads of Atiku Abubakar, PDP presidential candidate, after receipt of payment. The second, is the allegation that Channels TV edited out controversial statements made by Femi Adesina, spokesman of President Buhari, from a video it had uploaded online, following stringent criticisms of the Adesina’s statement.
It all began on Sunday, November 25, 2018 in a live interview with Femi Adesina on the PoliticsToday programme of Channels TV. Asked about the number of Nigerian soldiers the nation lost following reports that over 100 soldiers were killed by Boko Haram, an evasive Adesina said: “All over the world the military does not or rarely disclose the figures of casualties.” It was the video of this live interview that was uploaded online by Channels TV.
But that very Sunday, the Adesina statement became controversial as an avalanche of criticisms from both local and foreign viewers and journalists declared it a false claim. By the next day, Monday, November 26, the controversial statement had allegedly been edited out of the online video.
This report of unprofessional conduct got columnist Nwabuikwu to snap: “Now, this is a new low for Nigeria’s supposedly best TV station. I am not surprised about the station trying to outdo NTA as a better promoter of the government, contrary to their mission statement.” She pointed out some more instances of falling standards by the television station.
Clearly enraged by what it perceived an affront to its corporate image, Channels TV charged at Nwabuikwu like a killer bull. Rage killed good sense. The television station took full and undue advantage of its broadcast powers to castigate Nwabuikwu.
It took a whole three to five minutes of its prime time national news segment to broadcast a public announcement (that commercially costs no less than N5 million) to attack Nwabuikwu. The announcement was all done up with a bold, screaming, deep red, headline: Campaign Of Calumny Against Channels TV. It was complete with a large sized, full color process, passport picture of Nwabuikwu and a logo of the Punch newspaper. It was an overkill for a lady who writes a pretty low key but respectable column which critiques the broadcast industry. Even the police will not burn that much airtime and dramatic design on a most wanted criminal.
The voiceover on the absurd illustration was no less embarrassing. Below are excerpts of the Channels TV declarations in the public announcement. It claimed that:
“The article is false, misleading, fraudulent, and a figment of the imagination of the writer and her sponsors.
“Contrary to the allegations, no video was doctored in the interview with the Special Adviser to the President, Mr Femi Adesina, Channels TV has never doctored any video in its 23-year history and does not intend to do so now or in the future.
“The web department posted the video on our online platforms after the programme. In so doing, some part of the videos which were cut in bytes of 10 minutes overlapped during the upload and suffered a glitch
“When Channels was alerted to the glitch, the web department re-posted the video immediately and this has been up on our website and YouTube channel since Monday, November 26.
“Onoshe Nwabuikwu obviously didn’t understand the issues at stake but chose to latch onto the spurious and unsubstantiated claims on the social media and proceeded to impugn our integrity
“We will not hesitate to use all within our means to seek legal redress against anyone who chooses to malign us or bring our media organisation to disrepute.”
Before we go ahead to analyze this sledge hammer approach to its being criticized, let’s examine a little timeline of the events and the response of another lady, Anna Cunningham, a foreign free lance journalist on the Adesina interview.
On Sunday, November 25, Channels TV’s PoliticsToday had a live interview with Femi Adesina and the video was uploaded same day on Channels online channels.
The same Sunday, at 9.56pm Anna Cunningham wrote on her Twitter handle: “Really @FemAdesina @channelstv? Here is the list British military fatalities list available from the government gov.uk/government/sta… & here is the US list fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec… & the French memoiredeshommes.sga.defense.gouv.fr/fr/article.php…” She and an AFP correspondent responded, providing proof that Adesina was not correct.
The next day, Monday November 26, at 8:38pm Cunningham wrote: “Question @channelstv have you edited the @FemAdesina interview re casualty figures? Jump cut 5 mins 30’ in?”
Same Monday, November 26, at 11.33pm Cunningham again wrote: “Strange @channelstv your YouTube version of @FemAdesina interview with disappearing words (that you yesterday quoted him as saying) has itself now disappeared. But here’s what I was talking about.” She then posted the erring video to prove her point.
On Thursday, November 29, 2018, an online platform, devdiscourse.com noted on its update on the interview that: “Even a journalist of CBC News based in Lagos, Anna Cunningham recently discovered that Channels TV had edited the said interview on their YouTube page and removed that part where Adesina made the controversial statement.”
On Sunday, December 2, 2018, a clear week after the controversial interview and alleged editing of the uploaded online edition, Nwabuikwu wrote her article. And somehow it was her article that got the management of Channels TV so hot around the ears, it pulled out all its guns hot and blazing.
Now here’s the thing. It is obvious that by 11.33pm on Monday, November 26, 2018, Channels TV was still being reminded by Anna Cunningham that its video uploaded over 24 hours before, had been edited “with disappearing words (that you yesterday quoted him as saying) has itself now disappeared.”
Channels TV claimed it made corrections on Monday, November 26. Was it done done in the less than 30 minutes after Cunningham wrote and just before 12 midnight into Tuesday? It is possible. But I have my doubts.
Channels TV also claims to have been alerted to the deleted parts of the interview. Who alerted it? After making the correction, shouldn’t it, as a responsible corporate body publish an apology and announce the correction to its publics? It did not.
It also claimed that in uploading the video, “some part of the videos which were cut in bytes of 10 minutes overlapped during the upload and suffered a glitch.” Really? A glitch? That glitch was in place for 24 hours? That glitch happened to have affected only the controversial part of Adesina’s statement as stated by Anna Cunningham? Tell it to the Marines if you ask me.
Even if we believe the “suffered a glitch” story, wouldn’t it have been more civic and professional for Channels TV to explain the technical problem to its publics including Nwabuikwu rather than bully and threaten her with a public announcement on prime time television.
Why did Channels TV pick on Nwabuikwu, denouncing her article as false, attacking her person on nationwide, prime time television and threatening her with legal action? Why not Anna Cunningham? Perhaps because Nwabuikwu went one step further to analyze the impact of the alleged professional misconduct, giving more instances. Channels TV however, did not claim this in its announcement, so it can be discountenanced. Or because she is a local and not so high profile columnist, she is fit as a scapegoat?
Could it be as Channels TV claimed that Nwabuikwu has sponsors who caused her to discredit the television station? But this is no more than a puerile claim from an otherwise respected corporate body. It is the kind of open ended foolishness, which shameless politicians are wont to say. Does Channels have names and proof of the alleged sponsors? If not, it is a sad and disgraceful allegation.
The Channels TV reaction to the article is most unbecoming. A pointer that something is going wrong with the company. Criticisms by its publics is cause for a responsible company to search inwards to see where it might be erring to make amends. It is a time for a public opinion research on performance. If Channels TV does an honest research, it would shock it to learn that its brand is currently suffering not because of a Nwabuikwu or Cunningham, but because of its internal challenges.
Take the charge of unpreparedness of its presenters. Was Femi Adesina’s false claim challenged with background facts by the interviewer? Did the interviewer research reporting of military casualty before the interview? On the matter of the “glitch”, why would just the controversial and heavily criticized statement of Adesina suffer the technical hitch and for at least 24 hours? Why did Channels TV not put out an apology? Its attempt to stare down opinions and fears about unprofessional conduct by throwing the fish of a glitch to its publics won’t do.
I say unequivocally that given the circumstances, nothing, absolutely nothing, stops a column that critiques the industry from weighing in on the matter. Given the instances Nwabuikwu listed in her article, it was right to point out the dangers of misdemeanour in the industry.
I have always loved John Momoh, founder of Channels TV. I believe he is brilliant and started out very professional. I have also always loved the station. But truth be told, the station’s standards are falling and need be reviewed. Channels Tv ought listen to its publics. The truth is often not told in honeyed verses. But truth is truth. Listen and get better.
I think Channels TV’s long stream of successes is getting into its head. It is probably now suffering from a massive dose of corporate conceit, the Achilles Heel of many companies. Channels TV must review its corporate character – that of uncontrolled rage, resort to the threats and the hammer instead of agreeable discourse, arrogant disdain for its publics and undue abuse of its capabilities and powers among other complaints against it.
Finally, if I were Onoshe Nwabuikwu, I will head to the courts and make a neat bundle of Muritalas from Channels TV for the threats and slander. But there is a silver lining to the dark cloud. Her readership has soared as many folks I know were scrambling to read her article. Many are glad, she gave it bare knuckles to Channels TV. And if I were John Momoh and the management of Channels TV, an apology should be publicly tendered to Onoshe Nwabuikwu. It is the proper thing to do.