Black News Execs Take A Junket p. 12

By: M.L. Stein IN A MOVE to win support for a regime accused of human rights abuses, including press crackdowns, the Nigerian government recently hosted a visit of American black editors and publishers to that country ? and picked up the tab.
Following the weeklong trip, some 200 black newspapers in the U.S. reportedly accepted a paid advertising insert, titled, "Nigeria . . . A Closer Look," in which that government struck out at its "detractors who deliberately persist in a negative view of Nigerians" and "fail to take account of all that Nigerians have achieved in a short time."
Relations between Nigeria and the United States and other Western nations have been strained since the hanging last year of Nigerian author Ken Saro-Wiwa and nine other dissident activists of the country's Ogoni region.
The Committee to Protect Journalists in the U.S. and Canada have reported that the attacks on the Nigerian press have escalated since the executions.
The Toronto-based Canadian group (CCPJ) said, "Journalists are being arrested weekly and newspapers are being closed down or simply torched."
In a recent bulletin, the American Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in New York denounced what it described as a series of Nigerian government assaults against the independent press, including the arrest of Nosa Igiebor, editor of the popular Tell magazine, who won CPJ's International Press Freedom Award in 1993.
CPJ also reported that three Nigerian photojournalists were assaulted by police while covering a National Democratic Coalition rally in the capital city of Lagos. In addition, according to CPJ, the Guardian newspaper was damaged by arsonists and the AM News office was raided by 10 government security operatives demanding to know the whereabouts of editor in chief Bayo Onanuga, who is in hiding.
Los Angeles Times correspondent Bob Drogin reported from Lagos last November that the military regime of Gen. Sani Abacha shut down about 20 newspapers and magazines in 1994, although most were allowed to reopen several months later.
In the eight-page color insert, Nigeria was portrayed as a "leading contributor to international peacekeeping from Africa." The nation also was termed a "media giant in Africa" with more than "66 major newspapers" and 60 "regularly published magazines," as well as 50 state-owned television stations.
The advertisement also contained a statement by Dorothy Leavell, editor of the Chicago Crusader and president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), who led the 19-member delegation, 12 of whom were members of NNPA. Also in the group was Roy Innis, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CRE).
Leavell, in an interview, acknowledged that the visitors' expenses were borne by the Nigerian government, adding: "If Editor & Publisher would like to send us on a trip, we'll be glad to accept."
She said further junkets to Nigeria are planned for NNPA members.
Asked about allegations of press clampdowns in the country, Leavell replied: "We did not have evidence of repression nor did we have any evidence that there has not been repression. We could not put a stamp of approval on anything, but one thing is clear: The United States government needs to use even-handed tactics in dealing with all countries. We don't think that happens with black countries."
Noting U.S. sanctions against Nigeria which restrict travel here by its officials, and the recall of the American ambassador to Nigeria (the United States still maintains diplomatic relations with Nigeria), Leavell commented: "You've got China, which has committed some of the worst human rights atrocities in the world, and there are no sanctions against that country."
Leavell expressed doubt that U.S.-style democracy will work in Nigeria because of language and tribal differences. "Besides," she went on, "American democracy is not all that it's cracked up to be as I can attest to, having suffered numerous years of oppression as an African American."
In her article in the advertising insert, Lea-vell says she believes "African Americans must take the lead in helping our ancestral brothers and sisters in Nigeria, as Jewish leaders are very active in providing assistance and promoting the cause of their breth-ren in Israel." For too long, she said, "The black press has not asserted its power and influence in a positive way for our native land Africa."
Innis' Dec. 26 letter to President Bill Clinton was reproduced in the ad insert. He said the group concluded after its tour of Nigeria that, "All Nigerians expressed a longing for democracy," but that almost all of them "believe that General Sani Abacha is a man of his word and this government is necessary to stabilize the country at this time to save it from slipping into civil war." Nigeria, Innis said, "is inexorably on the road to democracy." The CRE leader asserted that Nigeria should not be penalized by the U.S. for the execution of Saro-Wiwa, observing: "It is not our intention to demonize Mr. Saro-Wiwa; he advocated many good things. But like any of us, he had his flaws." Michael House, president of Amalgamated Publishers Inc., in New York, the ad rep for many NNPA members, told E&P that about 200 black newspapers accepted the insert.
"A couple of them turned it down," he recalled. He said he could not name them.One who did refuse it was Cloves Campbell, owner and publisher of the Arizona Informant in Phoenix, who said, "We didn't agree with it and their payment was well below our rates." But other publishers and ad directors of black newspapers contacted said they ran the ad as they would for any other paid insert.
"As far as I'm concerned, it was just another paid editorial," said Brian Townsend, publisher of the San Bernardino, Calif., Precinct Reporter and president of the West Coast Black Publishers Association (WCBPA). We're just doing what the mainstream press does all the time," he added, in reference to page and insert ads sponsored by China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and other countries with questionable records in human rights. "We're not in favor of what they [Nigeria] are doing, but the issue is that both sides should be presented." WCBPA is independent of NNPA, but most of his members belong to both organizations, Townsend said.
Townsend's view was echoed by Michigan Chronicle publisher Sam Logan, who characterized the Nigeria ad as an "educational piece." "It's no different than what I've seen in white papers," he said.
Gary Matthews, national advertising consultant for the Afro American newspapers in Baltimore, Washington and Richmond, said the insert was "routinely accepted" by the group.
Leavell said in the interview that Nigerian officials "were quick to admit they have problems. The main thing is that we got another side of the story." She said that during the visit, Gen. Abacha "freed many political prisoners," but that when the group asked to see two particular publishers, they were told the pair were no longer in the country. CPJ reported that last month, Gen. Abacha told a meeting of Nigerian editors that their publications were "full of rumors, falsehoods and worthless things" and that their journalists were "highly crude, unprofessional and unethical. They saw what their government handlers wanted them to see," said Kakuna Kerina, CPA program coordinator for Africa, of the NNPA sojourn. "What is the purpose of such a mission if they're only going to be shown the official version? Publishers and journalists in Nigeria are paying a very high price to get out their newspapers and magazines. Their biggest problem is the physical act of distributing their publications to the population," she continued. "Many of them live and work in hiding ? in safe houses. They are making a great sacrifice on behalf of an independent press. Some go into exile for fear of their lives. Four journalists that we know of are being held without trial.
"The commitment of all these individuals to their profession goes beyond admirable."
?(Some 200 black newspapers in the U.S. reportedly carried a paid advertising insert from the Nigerian government which touted the country as a media giant. The insert failed to mention that Nigeria has been described by press groups as being one of the worst countries in the world in committing atrocities against the media.) [Photo & Caption]


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