US embassy cable - 01ABUJA2520

THE TERROR ATTACKS AND U.S. POLICY IN THE NIGERIAN MEDIA

Identifier: 01ABUJA2520
Wikileaks: View 01ABUJA2520 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2001-10-03 15:49:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: KPAO OIIP SCUL PREL PROP NI
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 002520 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
STATE FOR AF/PD, IIP/G/AF 
LAGOS FOR PAS, POL 
 
 
E.O. 12598:  N/A 
TAGS: KPAO, OIIP, SCUL, PREL, PROP, NI 
SUBJECT:  THE TERROR ATTACKS AND U.S. POLICY IN THE 
NIGERIAN MEDIA 
 
1.  SUMMARY:  This cable provides a thumbnail summary of 
trends in the Nigerian media since the terror attacks on 
New York and Washington on September 11.  On the whole, 
Nigerians were as shocked by the attacks as Americans.  The 
media accurately reported the story and the immediate 
condemnations of the terror attacks by Nigerian leaders. 
They reported that there were also Nigerian casualties. 
Media and commentators in the south have tended to be very 
supportive of the U.S.  While also indicting the terrorism, 
media in the north have urged restraint and caution, and 
they have demanded proof that Osama bin Laden authored the 
attacks.  North or south, there has been a generous amount 
of "yes, but" commentary.  (Yes, we condemn the attacks, 
but the U.S. must change its policies.)  In recent days, 
some northern newspapers have begun to include anti-Semitic 
propaganda.  The first column outrightly supporting the 
Taliban and Osama Bin Laden also has appeared.  Topics in 
this cable: 
 
 
Media Trends Since September 11 . . . . . . .Graf 2 
South and North . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 
Main Themes of Criticism. . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 
Anti-Semitic Disinformation . . . . . . . . . . . 14 
The First Pro-Bin Laden Column. . . . . . . . . . 15 
Elite Opinion and Street-and-Market Opinion . . . 17 
END SUMMARY. 
 
 
Media Trends Since September 11 
------------------------------- 
2.  The news story of the attacks on New York and 
Washington was so overwhelming that it took up to 2/3 of 
the domestic TV news for several days.  Nigerians know what 
happened, and they are keen to learn what the U.S. response 
will be. 
 
 
3.  The newspapers gave generous ink to the big story, with 
many running sensational front page color photos each day 
during the first two weeks after the attacks.    Several 
leading dailies continue to fill 2-6 inside pages daily 
with news related to terrorism, the U.S. response, and the 
results of the investigations. 
 
 
4.  More or less sound stories have, however, often been 
preceded by inaccurate, yellow journalism headlines that 
would make William Randolph Hearst proud.  In the 
headlines, the war tocsins are sounding. 
 
 
5.  The media gave full coverage when Nigeria's government 
and the nation's political, religious, and social leaders, 
north and south, Chrisian and Muslim, expressed their 
condemnation of the attacks.  The Embassy has reported that 
the early reports of jubilation in Zamfara State were 
baseless -- an unverified report by a rookie BBC stringer. 
 
 
6.  Most of the news coverage has come from the 
international wires, and from the international papers and 
newsmagazines (summary articles, "culled from ---" in the 
local argot).  The use of the international wires is good 
news for the maturing of journalism in Nigeria, but it 
initially depressed PAS placements.  We are putting out 
half a dozen Washington File articles a day to 20 major 
newspapers -- but for the first two weeks after the attacks 
we had barely half a dozen direct placements.  Editors are 
relying on the wires to report U.S. policy, not the 
Embassy. 
 
 
7.  Nigerians have also gotten the message that non- 
Americans were killed in the attacks.  Nigerians know that 
compatriots are among the victims, but because many of 
these victims were illegally in the U.S., using false 
names, the specific number and identities of Nigeria's 
losses are unknown. 
 
 
8.  Serious reportage and commentary shares the pages with 
lighter fare.  Many articles have explained to readers how 
the attacks were predicted by ... Nostradamus ... the Bible 
... the Blessed Mother ... the Koran ... and/or various 
contemporary prophets. 
 
 
South and North 
--------------- 
9.  It must be recalled at all times that the media in 
Nigeria reflect the ethnic and religious diversity of the 
country.  Also, the attacks on the U.S. occurred just as 
Nigeria was undergoing a cycle of social/ethnic/religious 
tension.  Our best estimate is that 2300 people died in the 
violence in Jos, which began four days before the attacks. 
This no doubt colors individual Nigerian perceptions of the 
terrorist attacks and the possible U.S. response thereto. 
 
 
10.  Some regional differences in the amount of coverage 
are evident.  Most of the major newspapers in Lagos covered 
the story with eye-catching photos and headlines, with 
several inside pages developing the story along different 
lines.  Their pages included dozens of columns, mostly 
expressing sympathy for the U.S.  In many of the Lagos 
papers, there is an undertone of "we've been telling you 
so" about religious extremists. 
 
 
11.  The state government-owned newspapers in Nigeria's 
largely Muslim north -- the Triumph in Kano, the New 
Nigerian in Kaduna, the Path in Sokoto -- have given the 
story conspicuously less news coverage.  Columns initially 
emphasized the need for American restraint, asked for clear 
proof of Osama bin Laden's involvement, and advised against 
a hasty U.S. response.  As the shock of the initial attacks 
wears off, however, a few northern columnists are voicing 
harsher criticisms of the U.S. 
 
 
12.  South or north, however, it would be wrong to say that 
Nigerian news has been crowded out.  The news of the 
attacks and the U.S. response competes for reader attention 
with the normal, contentious political news of the country. 
 
 
Focus on the Critics 
-------------------- 
13.  Most editorial comment and most columnists -- south 
and north -- fall into the "yes, but" category.  Yes, the 
attacks have been a terrible tragedy for the U.S. and the 
world.  Yes, we condemn the perpetrators.  But ... 
 
 
... the United States has been humbled. 
 
 
... the United States, all now can see, is not as powerful 
as its image. 
 
 
... the United States is rushing to judgment against Osama 
bin Laden when there is no real proof of his involvement, 
violating its own democratic precept that one is innocent 
until proven guilty. 
 
 
... the attacks expressed in a terrible way ... 
 
 
... how much the U.S. is hated for its unilateralism 
and its arrogance in international affairs, or 
 
 
... how some have reacted to America's one-sided 
support of Israel and its sanction of Israeli violence 
against the Palestinians, or 
 
 
... how America deserves punishment for being the 
world's worst terrorist (either by act or by silence), in 
the Gulf War, in Sudan, against the Iraqi people, against 
the Palestinians, etc. 
 
 
The United States should not rush to judgment against Osama 
bin Laden.  Remember that the Oklahoma city bombing was 
carried out by an American.  Remember that one of those 
tried for the Lockerbie bombing was found innocent. 
 
 
The United States cannot act ... 
 
 
... unless it gives the world conclusive proof that bin 
Laden ordered the attacks. 
 
 
... if any innocents will be harmed. 
 
 
The killings, assaults, mosque bombings, burnings of 
businesses and homes, and racial profiling of Muslims in 
the United States are shameful indications of deep American 
hostility toward Islam. 
 
 
The attacks are a consequence of the rich curtain of 
dishonesty in the 2000 American election, which put George 
Bush in the White House even though he had not been elected 
by the majority of the people. 
 
 
Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories 
-------------------------------- 
14.  Newspapers over the weekend included some new 
conspiracy theories pointing the finger toward Israel and 
the Jews as the true perpetrators of the attack.  The 
independent Weekly Trust -- citing Jordan's Al-Watah -- 
reported that 4000 Israelis, tipped off by the Israeli 
government, stayed away from work on September 11.  The 
tabloid News Express, reporting the same story, simply said 
4000 Jews stayed home.  It also reported conspiratorily 
that "the 14 story adjoining edifice to the WTC-owned by 
the well known Jewish firm of Solomon & Co. was sold off 
suddenly about 2 weeks prior to the attack."  These 
unfortunate stories indicate that a minority of Nigerian 
journalists are tuned in to criticisms of the U.S. 
emanating from the Middle East and journalistic sources 
there.  We may need to consider how OIIP can counter this 
kind of disinformation. 
 
 
The First Expression of Support for Bin Laden 
--------------------------------------------- 
15.  In its Sunday edition the independent Weekly Trust, 
published in Abuja, printed a "Friday discourse" by Dr. 
Aliyu Tilde.  It is, to our knowledge, the first outright 
expression of support for Bin Laden.  "While we sympathize 
with all nations and families that lost their members in 
the WTC attack and hope that actual truth behind it will 
one day be discovered, we have chosen today to side with 
the Taliban and pray for the safety of Bin Laden or his 
martyrdom.  America has accused them unjustifiably." 
 
 
16.  Tilde, an educator from Bauchi State, has been known 
for many years as a strong critic of the West.  This column 
is not yet on his web page, www.fridaydiscourse.com. 
 
 
Visible Elite Opinion and 
Village, Market, and Street Opinion 
----------------------------------- 
17.  The newspapers and the television tend to capture 
elite opinion -- the views of those who speak and write 
English and read newspapers.  The government and prominent 
Nigerians who have spoken have roundly condemned the 
attacks. 
 
 
18.  We believe, in this instance, elite opinion reflects 
general public opinion.  Nonetheless, currents less 
sympathetic to the U.S. are visible.  What reading and 
listening can't tell us, however, is precisely how 
widespread this negative reaction is at the popular level - 
- in streets and markets.  Media coverage generally does 
not reveal what the imam may say at Friday prayers, or the 
deacon when speaking to fellow congregants.  They don't 
offer much about how the attacks and American reaction may 
affect the matrix of pre-existing social, ethnic, and 
religious tensions in Nigeria.  The appearance of anti- 
Semitic disinformation and a column in support of Bin Laden 
may, or may not, be the first in-print expressions of a 
more volatile, minority segment of public opinion that 
lurked below the surface immediately after the attacks.  We 
will be alert for further trends. 
JETER 

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