"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 01/03/15

Saturday, January 3, 2015

AFP reacts to my column on Emir Sanusi fake Twitter story

Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi
 
The West Africa Bureau Chief of Agence France-Presse (AFP), Phil Hazlewood, sent me two emails in response to my last two columns on their false story on Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II. The first email was sent before my last class column was published and was informed by the back-and-forth exchanges we had on Twitter. I called his attention to the fact that Nigerian news editors said they didn’t find AFP’s retraction of the story in their AFP newsfeed. The second email was sent after my last column was published. I have decided to publish both emails in their original forms. My brief response comes after the emails.




“Dear Dr Kperogi,

Twitter is not my preferred means of communication for the point you raised about the Emir of Kano story. Too few characters!

But just so you are clear about the retraction -- I deliberately avoided the term "kill" that we use, given that it might not be widely understood outside the media -- below is an email alert from our AFP Direct service of what went out on the wire to all of our subscribers. 

A mandatory ‘kill’ is issued priority 2 -- the same category as a news alert -- and should appear to clients in red, differentiating it from other stories that go P3 or P4. This is what I meant by due prominence. 

Kills happen rarely but are obviously something that writers and editors wish to avoid at all costs. It seems that in this case, we weren't the only ones taken in by the Twitter handle if you check other respected commentators and media organisations that referred to it before the account was suspended. 

Obviously it is an unfortunate mistake but as you will be aware, it's not the first time a media organisation has been duped and I'm sure it won't be the last. 

I can't comment on why your news editor friends in Nigeria couldn't find it. But the kill carried the same slug as per our style guide and should have been in their filters under "Nigeria". 

I emailed the Daily Trust reporter a copy of the kill from the wire, which was the basis for the article linked. He was the only one who asked. 

I can't see what else I can say about this matter. But thanks for your close interest. We are all aware at AFP how much attention is being paid to Nigeria at present, not just the Boko Haram insurgency or the upcoming elections, and always strive to provide a balanced, impartial view of a range of events and issues. 

Best wishes, Phil 

Keywords:

KILL Boko Haram 'will be defeated': leading Nigerian emir

This story is killed because the Twitter account was fake

LAGOS, December 21, 2014 (AFP) - KILL our Nigeria-unrest-religion of December 14, 2014. The Twitter account used as a source for the story was fake. No new version upcoming.

NIGERIA-UNREST-RELIGION - 12/21/2014 11:42 GMT - AFP

Second Email from AFP

I've now read your column in the Daily Trust and seen your blog.

I will be expecting a correction as soon as possible to your assertion that AFP did not kill the story, as stated in the following paragraphs:

"Well, it turned out that AFP probably didn’t send the retraction in their news feed to their subscribers."

"This leads me to think AFP was probably too embarrassed to send its retraction to its subscribers worldwide and chose merely to mollify me."

"AFP needs to do more than hurriedly put together a tepid, egotistical, one-paragraph retraction that it did not, in fact, send to its subscribers. It should do a proper mea culpa."

I have given you a detailed response and an explanation as to why you didn't receive an immediate reply to your tweet. I've also said that I cannot comment as to why your Nigerian editor friends claim they did not see the "kill". As I mentioned, I received the notification, which is automatically generated from the wire. That means the "kill" WAS issued.

To repeat so we are clear, AFP published the story in good faith. It was retracted once the authenticity of the account was called into question. Unfortunately, this happens sometimes and is obviously something we want to avoid. It is not a case of being "probably too embarrassed" to admit a mistake. On the contrary, we issue prompt corrections because our credibility in terms of accuracy is paramount.

There is nothing more to the Emir of Kano issue than a simple mistake.

Best regards, Phil”

My Response
The bigger issue, I think, isn’t the fakeness of the tweet; it is AFP's extrapolation from that tweet. The extrapolation denudes the story of the faintest pretense to impartiality. I leave it to AFP to determine the best way regain their credibility with Nigerians, but an apology won't be half bad. AFP’s reporting—or more appropriately their editorializing—based on that fake tweet played right into Nigeria's delicate political and social fissures. 

I think they should go beyond retracting the story because the Twitter handle that informed their story turned out to be fake and has been suspended. They should also apologize for their error of interpretation (by asserting that the fake tweet was “presumably” an endorsement of General Buhari by the Emir of Kano, implying that the emir and General Buhari are using Boko Haram to blackmail President Jonathan) and their error of fact (by stating that the Emir of Kano is the second most important Islamic leader in Nigeria).

Related Articles:
Journalism is Dying a Slow Death in Nigeria
Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II and Vanguard's Internet-Age Junk Journalism 

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