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Australian TV coverage of ‘419’ scams

By Levi Obijiofor

The Guardian Newspapers, LagosLAST Sunday was not a particularly charming day for most Nigerians residing in Australia. It was the day in which a local television channel broadcast a sensational report of its investigations into the dubious business proposals known as “419′ scam in Nigeria. Following the harrowing experience of an elderly man and his wife, as well as other Australians who reportedly lost millions of dollars to fraudulent groups in Nigeria, the television channel dispatched a crew to Nigeria to investigate the “419” phenomenon and also to unmask the kings and queens of the scams that have left many people bankrupt, perplexed and angry. During the 15-minute broadcast of the weekly “60 Minutes” programme in Australia’s Channel 9 television channel, I watched in studied silence. To be sure, that was not the first time an Australian news media had exposed the complex web of lies told by Nigerian scam masters to their overseas collaborators in order to extract hard currency from their partners-in-crime. I use the phrase “partners-in-crime” deliberately because foreign citizens who enter – willingly and secretly – into private correspondence with “419” criminals in Nigeria with the sole purpose of defrauding the Nigerian government and financial institutions of millions of local and foreign currency in order for the criminals and their collaborators to become overnight millionaires must be extraordinarily greedy and criminal in nature. This argument rests on the point that there is no government in the western world which encourages its citizens to defraud the governments and financial institutions of other countries. This is what makes the western journalists’ coverage of the activities of the “419” criminals so much one-sided and lacking in meticulous analysis. Not only did the Channel 9 reporter waste a good opportunity to investigate and report on the sleazy “business” proposition known as “419” fraud, he also lost a chance to investigate and report on the underlying causes of this fraudulent activity.

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This is the missing element in western journalists’ reportage of the “419” crime. The most recent report broadcast on Channel 9 in Australia was all huff, fluffy, fuzzy and bang – it was all over in 15 minutes of sensational and shallow insight into a serious crime that demands more serious attention. It was a typical example of tabloidisation or trivialization of a serious issue by a television channel intent on reviving its flagging ratings. This is the kind of stuff that western television audiences get from shallow journalism practice known as “parachute journalism”. What you will not find in this Channel 9 report on “419” crime are the forces that are driving the “419” industry. This major oversight underpins not only the weakness that is inherent in western journalists’ reportage of Africa but it also fits neatly into the characteristic elements of junk journalism. This brand of journalism practice has seriously undermined the quality of international news reporting. In an insightful paper published last year, Ines Wolter argued that, although international news is becoming increasingly important, attention to international news is decreasing owing to two main factors, namely the shift in news agenda which implies that media organisations increasingly fly their reporters in and out of news locations as a cost-cutting measure, rather than establish foreign posts for foreign news coverage. The second factor, according to Wolter, is the low public interest which is the result of trivial reporting of international news. In Wolter’s view, the immediate consequence of this practice of “parachute journalism” is that, when news media fly their reporters in and out of foreign countries to report on news events (such as Channel 9 in Australia did in its report on the “419” crime), the result is that foreign news is reported by inexperienced journalists who lack basic professional skills and who have no fundamental background knowledge of the countries and events they are reporting on. This is clearly evident in the latest report by Channel 9 television network on the “419” crime. In spite of the sensational and headline-grabbing style with which the reporter presented the report, there are aspects of the report which raise questions about the sinister objectives of the reporter, as well as questions about the reporter’s professional and foreign news reporting skills. For a start, there was nothing significantly new in the report. It was a rehash of what the Australian public already knows about the “419” shady business proposals from a group of criminal elements in Nigeria. It was evidently a one-sided report that was carefully crafted and edited to fit the stereotypical image of Nigeria that exists in the heads of the reporter’s home viewers. Western journalists and news media consistently present Nigeria as a country infested with criminals. This image is also deeply embedded in the psyche of western television viewers. And the Channel 9 reporter did all he could to ensure that his report did not deviate from that stereotypical image of Nigeria in Australia – whether or not that image is exaggerated is a moot point. After all, if a group of Nigerians engage in criminal activities that rip off Australian citizens, it is fair game to assume that ALL Nigerians must be criminally oriented in life. Let me make this point clear: there is no question that there are criminal elements in Nigeria who invented and still sustain the “419” fraudulent business proposals designed to lure foreigners and Nigerians at home and abroad into parting with their hard-earned money. Yes, Nigerians are also targeted by the criminals. But it is important to underline the point that more than 90 per cent of Nigerians are honest and decent people. This is the truth that western journalists and media reports on the “419” phenomenon fail to highlight. Unfortunately, western media reports on this social vice are presented as if they were designed to tar the image of anyone who identifies himself or herself as a Nigerian. This is known as guilt by association. If you identify with the name Nigeria, you are automatically a criminal or at best you are perceived as someone capable of engaging in financial misdemeanour. Negative portrayal of developing countries in the news media of the developed countries is well documented in the research literature on foreign news reporting.

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As far back as 1999, editors of the Media Studies Journal had noted quite rightly that international news reporting is particularly challenging because “Journalists’ portraits of another country are usually influenced by the questions, concerns and conceptions they bring from their own land”. In other words, foreign news coverage is not only influenced by journalists’ cultural background but also by journalists’ personal biases, attitudes and expectations. Here is the other side of the story on the special report on “419” crime broadcast by Channel 9 last Sunday. In his eagerness to show how “419” criminals were rounded up easily through the prompting of the Channel 9 reporter, with the solid support of agents of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Channel 9 reporter did not deem it worthwhile to sit down and interview Federal Government officials in Nigeria, including the police hierarchy or even Nuhu Ribadu, the boss of the EFCC. Of course, an EFCC official spoke but it was more a comment about the activities of the criminals rather than any explanations about the major causes of the crime. Professional journalists are required to achieve balance in their reports. The Channel 9 reporter did not think balance was necessary in this particular report. If the reporter had interviewed senior government officials and top officers of the nation’s security agencies, he would have been able to provide deeply lacking insights into the underlying causes of “419” crime in Nigeria and what the security agencies are doing or not doing to apprehend the criminals and to end the abhorrent crime. The reporter could also have interviewed criminologists and legal experts in Nigeria, including those in the universities, in order to understand the social, political and economic causes of so much crime in the society, not just the “419” phenomenon. Perhaps in the reporter’s fluffy judgment, Nigerian universities have no credible criminologists and legal experts whose views would be useful in his report. But the reporter found it useful to interview a member of the anti-fraud police in Australia. Hey, what about Nigerian officials? What about those who live and experience the crimes, those with the contextual background knowledge of what is going on in the society? Those who seek to defraud the government and financial institutions in Nigeria through secret email and phone correspondence with criminals in Nigeria are criminals in intent and action. The question which never really gets asked by sensational western journalists is: what if these western “victims” of “419” fraud had succeeded in collaborating with the scammers to fleece the government and people of a developing nation? This is the part of the “419” scandal which western journalists and news media conveniently choose to ignore.” The message must be that people who attempt to reap illegally where they did not sow should keep in mind that there are consequences for every action. 

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May 19, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

4 Comments »

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    Comment by devdaslover | May 20, 2007 | Reply

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  4. fell in love with a man said he was livin in kenya later on said he was from lagos nigeria Never new anything about the 419 Learned from experience and gave much money 12000 all togeath including phone bill( 3500) I am not a stupid person I really fell for it and as i heard storys from my friends the story started falling into place You go as far as barrowing money from friends and family to give to him and then your taken..I am still in love with him but as i dont send money for him and his so called son Phone calls and emails are getting less I have turned him into the investigator for lagos Nigeria internet scams but have heard nothing from them They just put down a id number and sent it to me..would like some one to frame him at western union over there I feel he is using a bank pretty close to his home in Ikeja Nigeria because one time he wanted me to send the money western union to that address and he never showed id to get it he just used question answer and I didnt know until almost the end why he uses that he went as far as to put himself on oxygen and talk to me so I would think he was still in the hospital. Please have someone notify me and so I can get him caught because there is quite a lot of people participating in scamming me..I cant tell the whole story here there is two much and i have papers and emails to prove everything including his phone number…thank you for your time..leatrice my number 9316480954

    Comment by leatrice allen | June 11, 2007 | Reply


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