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In defense of Trust TV

Ismail Misbahu The message is clear: documentary or film has the power to override our emotions of morals, and it is important to be aware…

Ismail Misbahu

The message is clear: documentary or film has the power to override our emotions of morals, and it is important to be aware of the process. Joshua Oppenheimer.

Nigeria is not aware and so ‘must be told’.  Her president must be told bandits were planning to lay siege on him, he was not aware! The Trust Television Network, Trust TV, must owe him a real life-deal and tell him [and the rest of fellow Nigerians] how others were killed before him; he was not aware! 

Conversely, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) must also be told the Trust’s documentary is untrusted and contravened the Broadcasting Code, it was not aware! Indeed, like the person telling the president is in danger seems unaware of his safety, so is the person telling the NBC to damn Trust TV and impose them a toll also seems unaware of her albatross. At the end, it all brings confused debris exploiting, in the name of patriotism, the country’s Sword of Damocles.

Kadaria Ahmed in her ‘new soldier’ of Wednesday 27 of the penultimate month, favoured ‘professional dogma’ over life, and mismatched the former with ‘act’ rather than a ‘cause’ of killings. Whereas, the ‘act’ suggests a portrayal of brutal operation of criminality and the infernal character of perpetrators, the ‘cause’ shifts a focus on victims and victimology. Both ‘act’ and ‘cause’ can be understood from the perspective of intent and purpose and could be professionally applied to unhide the darkest truth hitherto unheard of, more so when this is done in the interest of the larger public.

To Kadaria, this is far from correct because, the argument of Toronto Mahmoud Eid she appealed to, about the ‘relationship’ between media professionals and terrorists, seems peculiar to her views, therefore unchallenged. The problem of professional dogma being employed by the likes of Kadaria is that, it tends to portray reality as far more evil than even the greatest villains labouring crimes and genocide. There’s no ‘relationship’ for example, between the Trust TV and bandits as such, and if there’s, Kadaria too, must have maintained a relationship with Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) whom she interviewed in July 2017, in which acts of terrorism and media profession joined hands together in the declaration of ‘Biafra ‘life or death’!  Yet, Kadaria is brave to have boldly emphasized in her article, “there must be no interviews with perpetrators during acts of violence”!

There was in 2017, a similar professional dogma being employed to challenge the intent and purpose of two popular documentaries of the American-born film photographer and documentarian, Joshua Lincoln Openheimer: The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. He’s quoted in an article written by Sam Spencer, January 2017, to have argued instead that, ‘documentary is as much about ‘act’ as it is about ‘killing’ and through this, a dark truth is discovered’. The implication of his two documentaries in presenting a figure of about 1,000,000 casualties of Indonesian genocide is actually incomprehensible, ‘not only to us as viewers of this film’ he said, “but also to those involved, and it is this incomprehensibility that allows those involved to continue with their lives after committing unspeakable crimes.”

It is on this same road Kadaria wants us to map our debate. Her argument reads: “By not upholding the same standards as they would uphold in the UK, in their work in Nigeria, the BBC Africa Eye producers in their latest documentary titled ‘The Bandits Warloads of Zamfara’ have provided a global platform to terrorists and can be accused of becoming an accomplice to terror in the name of reporting it.”

She disapproved of its significance and disparaged that the documentary has helped nothing as the ‘inept’ government of President Muhammadu Buhari is not ready to follow suit. She ridiculed interviewing terrorists as the only way of making the public understand the state of insecurity, and cautions instead of the grave danger in making the self-confessed murderers feel even more appealing to their act of crime.

While she appeared to have provoked the BBC, Kadaria’s views sing sweet to the ears of NBC, now imposing a N5m fine on Trust TV over its recent documentary, “Nigeria’s Banditry: The Inside Story” aired on 5th March, 2022. And because, they’re not told, they must have thought that the Trust TV’s documentary is an all-inclusive paint of Kadaria’s imagery! Kadaria must have attested to the fact that the Trust’s documentary did not significantly oppose her conviction of a German Code saying “In reporting actual and threatened acts of violence, the press should carefully weigh the public’s interest in information against the interest of victims and other people involved. It should report on such incidents in an independent and authentic way, but not allow itself to be made the tool of criminals…”

Indeed, this is not quoted from Nigerian Code despite the possibility of its universal significance, and it must be unfair if NBC only imposed fine on Trust TV in accordance with the quoted German Code.

Besides, it’s not always bad interviewing terrorists if the intent is clear and purposeful. Terrorists and terrorist organisations all over the world have been interviewed by journalists and their voices have been heard often and documentaries on their heinous acts even more often than not. This does not also suggest that doing so is solidifying their invincibility but simply as one of the widely suggested approaches to conflict resolution. This position is widely recognized and no one would like to mismanage his time proving it.

In Nigeria (and especially in the Northwest), where crimes in the face of banditry and kidnapping are widely perceived to have stemmed up from the years of old Fulani grievances, i.e. of land alienation, dispossession of grazing areas, acute shortage of veterinary provisions and all sorts; the views of the bandits most likely prove the right message to both national and international communities that, while the issues of grazing lands and constant displacement have been the root causes of the criminal violence, politics of interest is increasingly becoming dirty and deadlier, amidst the grand corruption that characterized the Nigeria’s leadership failure which has been popping up above every other reason.

The seemingly unavoidable perception widely held by international communities that this act of violence is necessarily an ethnic affair between ‘Hausa farmers’ and ‘Fulani herders’ would therefore, assume a completely different look and would be squarely quantified and measured up for more balanced understanding.

Debates on ethical standard of documentaries, especially on genocidal killings and massacres did not start today, and in most cases, state actors tend to oppose than justify their cause. The case of Kagame/BBC imbroglio heightened by the latter’s documentary on Rwandan genocide provides an interesting example here. For all reasons however, documentaries are wont to iconoclasticism and they recount true and reliable events, no doubt about this.

Filming documentaries on genocides did not only confine to countries like Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, Darfur and now Nigeria. It started with the dawn of film in the early twentieth century when the first atrocity film was released to transatlantic audiences in 1918 following the massacre, by the Ottoman imperial government, of 1.5 million Armenian civilians during World War I (1914- 1918). This attempt was followed by a host of other documentaries on genocides and massacres. 

The history and reception of these films suggests that filming a documentary has always had a political undertone. Films rely on audiences to lend meaning to representation and in the case of representing history; such responses have a utility in shaping understandings of the past. Politicians, humanitarian organizations, victims and international institutions all have a stake in how a particular event is represented in mass culture.

In a moment, when the line between fact and fiction seems ever so tenuously drawn in public discourse including media platforms, the question of how to depict the horrors of genocide and crimes against humanity to audiences in a meaningful and candid way has a new urgency.

Ismail Misbahu writes via [email protected]

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