This morning, Friday, May 25th, the BBC world service news bulletin had “downgraded” the Woolwich terrorists to “British Africans.” In the mass media industry where every word is carefully chosen and sensibilities and political correctness seriously taken note of, the choice of British Africans as against the initial tag of British Nigerians to describe Michael Adebolajo and Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale is definitive.
When the news of the terrorist atrocity broke in the international media, Nigerians like every other people were shocked at the sheer barbarity of the brutal attack on an unarmed, off-duty British soldier. But opprobrium against the terrorists turned to indignation at the British Media for ‘framing’ the perpetrators as Nigerians and later British Nigerians, when obviously they were born in Britain, hold British passports and were radicalized in the UK. Unfortunately, the Nigerian media, lacking the infrastructure and reach of their British counterparts, where “voiceless.”
In 1980, Sean MacBride, an Irish Nobel Peace Laureate was selected to chair a commission to study communication problems by the UNESCO. The findings, published in a report titled Many Voices, One World and which later became the MacBride Report, detailed the imbalance in the communication and information flow between the developed world and the Third world. The MacBride Commission demanded for democratization of communication and strengthening of national media to stop over dependence on external sources. Though the MacBride Report received a hostile reception from the United States and the United Kingdom, the developing world embraced the ideas espoused in it, and in fact the MacBride report is enthusiastically taught in Communication classes here in Nigeria.
Prior to the advent of the internet and Web 2.0, foreign media had the power to effortlessly dictate the discourse and set the agenda, but in today’s world, with citizen journalism and social media, the feedback loop in the communication model is fully active and instantaneous. Thus the Nigerian social media sector vehemently and rightly rejected the undue tag with all its negative connotations. Correlation was drawn with British athletes of Nigerian descent who excelled at the Olympics and whose African origins were never alluded to. So, Nigerians quarreled with the notion of tagging the British born criminals to Nigeria. Adebolaja and Adewale are Nigerian names of Yoruba extraction, no doubt, but the media with all their power to set agenda and influence the public discourse have the responsibility to do so without covert insinuations. One can even argue that the slant may have motivated the English Defence League, a neo-fascist organisation, to take to the streets of London.
Thirty plus years after the MacBride Commission “assaulted” Anglo-American ideals of freedom of the press, the structures which MacBride, Fred Omu (the Nigerian member in the Commission) and co complained about are still in place. However, the internet has become a genuine game changer. The web has truly democratized media access and use. Today, the many voices alluded by MacBride are vociferously shouting from the ramparts. I think with the BBC, that bastion of Western mass media, acknowledging that sensibilities were being assaulted by the use of the tag British Nigerian, the Western media is heeding.