The Guardian
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The BBC documentary on Lagos


THE angry reaction of the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III to a recent documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) portraying the city of Lagos as a slum and the abode of human scavengers is understandable and patriotic. The Sultan expresses a position that is shared by many Nigerians who also consider the BBC report subjective and tendentious.
Sultan Abubakar had specifically said that if he had the authority of the Federal Government, he would have ordered that the BBC be banned henceforth  from Nigerian airwaves. The Sultan has every right to express his heart-felt, patriotic objection but his additional position would amount to unfair censorship, advocating that the BBC be banned is absolutely unnecessary.
The documentary in question is titled ‘Welcome to Lagos’ aired on BBC2 at 9 p.m on Thursday April 15 and April 22, 2010 and on BBC4 the following Friday. The documentary depicts Lagos as “a jungle, a city of abject poverty, filth and where there is no dignity in human labour.” The series focused on waste dumps located in several parts of Lagos where ‘scavengers’ combed heaps of refuse allegedly for wealth or food, under severely dehumanising conditions.
The BBC documentary without a doubt is not a balanced portrait of the true face of Lagos. Focusing on filth and poverty alone, it ignores the concerted efforts by the Lagos State Government since 1999 to give the city a face-lift; it should not have been too difficult to admit that there have been marked improvements in parts of the city and the state.    The Sultan perhaps summarised his displeasure thus: “We have good and bad sides. If you show the bad side, then it is incumbent on you to show the good side as well. If we are to show the bad side of America, so many people will not visit that country.”
Indeed, there is a happy and more positive side to the Lagos story which the BBC report overlooked. What is signposted again here is the danger of parachute journalism, and the imbalance in the world information order. Developing countries which appear disadvantaged in the flow of information in the age of globalisation, often complain about the lopsidedness of international news and the unfair reporting of  news and stories from the South. Hence, there are regular protests about the promotion of stereotypes and stigmas, particularly about the African reality.  
Citizens and governments are easily offended when notable media organs such as the BBC broadcast inaccurate representations of their country, moreso when these organs do not promote such reports about prominent cities that harbour similar ghettos in the West and elsewhere.
In truth, Lagos or other parts of Nigeria may have many slums, but they also have several clean if not exotic landscapes in other areas. The BBC has a professional responsibility to present a balanced picture knowing that people all over the world take its reports seriously and that one-sided reports such as the one in question can only scare away foreign investors and tourists, and discourage genuine efforts at urban renewal.
In the long run, the onus is on developing countries complaining about misrepresentation by the Western media to develop the local capacity to tell their own stories, and for concerned governments to raise their level of performance.  This will require expanding the space for media entrepreneuship, and professionalism and the scope of media freedom. It will also involve paying better attention to the objectives of good governance and the development of human capital.  
The Nigerian Government has already advised the BBC to stop forthwith the broadcast of the controversial documentary, “in the best interest of relations between the BBC, the government and the Nigerian people”. We do not expect that this matter should degenerate into strained  relations. For, the  controversy notwithstanding, the BBC has a rich history of positive relations with the Nigerian people, as it has for many decades proven to be one of the more reliable international sources of news about Nigeria, its society and politics.

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