#5 President Obasanjo's Visit to U.S. Press Report OUTCRY Magazine
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Shame of the U.S Main Media

Questions About the Monica Lewinsky Issue

Starting from the White House news conference of President Clinton and President Obasanjo, it was obvious the U.S. main media was uninterested about positive news from Africa. Not a single question about Nigeria or Africa was asked from the U.S. press side. Most of the questions about Nigeria and Africa were asked from the Nigerian press side since we were alternating questions. I could understand if some of the questions were about other issues, but the first question asked by the U.S. media was unsuitable for the occasion.

Terry's question during the news conference about Monica Lewinsky's scandal was totally inappropriate. It was supposed to be a celebration not a lynching mob. By African standard and tradition, we do not wash dirty linen in  public and certainly not before invited guests. It is like a husband and wife who invited guests to their house to celebrate and later started a fight in front of the guests. In Nigeria, this behavior is considered rude  and inept -- and a total disrespect for President Clinton and the invited international guests and lack of regard for the celebration. This was not the first time the U.S. media did this -- they did exactly the same thing the last time President Clinton went to Africa.

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Nigerian Ministers during the Joint Press Conference of President Clinton and President Obasanjo at the White House on October 28, 1999

There was a time when decency ruled the U.S. main media, and many of us smaller presses looked up to such standard. The rest of the garbage was left for professional tabloid newspapers. But, America's main media has been infected with the vicious virus of sensational journalism. This illness has denigrated the value of good journalism and sacrificed decency in news reporting on the altars of tabloid, provocative and voyeuristic journalism. Sometimes you would think enough is enough with this Monica Lewinsky garbage! When Terry asked the stupid question, I saw disgust on the faces of many of the Nigerian journalists present at the conference. The U.S. main media should have respected other people's culture and not been carried away with their own arrogance. There is a time and place for everything. You do not engage in an attempt to ridicule the President of the United States in front of the  international guests no matter the media excuse. This is not only unacceptable, it is a bad example of media coverage for other countries and an irresponsible form of journalism!

I can understand the questions about Russia, guns and the budget, but that of the Monica Lewinsky issue was totally inappropriate and out of place. However, I applauded President Clinton's calmness in handling the whole incident. He answered the question with the gentleness of a lamb, sincerity of a passionate man, and the sagacity of a leader for such a ridiculous question!

What the U.S. main media should consider is the agony many journalists endured in non-democratic countries and the abuse and oppression they experienced just to report the news. Some of these reporters were beaten, others were jailed and tortured. Some jailed reporters became insane as they were chained down like dogs and stripped naked in prisons. Other journalists were murdered by the government trying to hide behind the wall of enormous corruption. Many private newspapers were shut down and others published in great fear, and the list of terror continues. After seeing the suffering of those who fought for liberty, how can anybody in their right mind denigrate the value of liberty in a democratic and open society? Many times I have heard Americans on the radio angry at the government over some trivial issues, and I thought about the Nigerian situation during the military rule. I said, "Americans just don't know how good they have it" -- and I have repeated this on some of my radio shows.

The precious gift of liberty and free press is highly important and valued by journalists from the countries of young democracy like Nigeria. It is therefore   incumbent on those who choose to exercise their rights of liberty under the banner of democracy to define a line of limits due to common decency.

President Obasanjo Warns the U.S. Press

oba7.jpg (36103 bytes) When President Obasanjo addressed the U.S. press, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the Western media's highlights of only bad news coming from Nigeria. There are opportunities for them to educate Americans and Europe about Africa and especially Nigeria. They refused because tabloid journalism is more palatable for some people.

Based on my personal experience after living in the United States for over 27 years, I realized that few Europeans understand anything about Africa and the strategic role Nigeria has played in the world peace.

For example, beside C.N.N. and P.B.S., the U.S. main media like the main television network will not report the visit of President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria in the evening news or flash his picture in front of newspapers.

But they are willing to flash news of war, hunger and AIDS in Africa on the front covers. Yet the news of Nigeria spending eight billion dollars in a peace keeping operation in Africa is hardly ever heard of in U.S. main news. It is a flaming hypocrisy for the same media to anxiously report negative developments from Africa and refuse to accentuate positive developments such as the visit of President Obasanjo of Nigeria after a democratic election.

What the U.S. Main Press Should have Done and Why

The democratization of Nigeria is a very positive development coming from Africa and the Western media should have done justification to the news coverage for many crucial reasons. Part of the stabilization of a growing democracy is dependent on how the system is designed to work and most importantly, supports from already thriving democracies like U.S., Britain and Germany. Such support will guarantee and establish cooperative efforts   to help solve existing human problems in a young democracy. If such help cannot be established, such democracy remains fragile and may be subjected to fragmentation and a crash. When a government crashes, the result is usually a military coup or a war or both with great human tragedies.

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A Cross Section of the Media During the Joint Press Conference of President Obasanjo and President Clinton at the White House

The Western media plays a very vital role in this process  of supporting a young African democracy such as Nigeria. Report of positive developments in Nigeria will continuously put the issue of Nigeria before the general public. Consequently, this makes it easier for example, for President Clinton to market Nigeria to the nation. If the issue of Nigeria's democratic progress remains before the public, prospective investors will be interested in the country.

The survival of Nigeria's democracy is in the vital interest of the United States. The Western media needs to establish the importance of Nigeria and the value of its strategic position  and role in both Africa and world peace. Americans need to know about the value of  oil supplied to the U.S.  produced by Nigeria. If such supply is interrupted, gasoline prices may go up at the pumps.

Presently, most of the people living in the Western World are unaware of the importance of  Nigeria and its role in the world at large. The only time headlines are highlighted in newspapers about Nigeria are when bad things happen. Moreover, the lack of public awareness and outcry kept many dictators in power supported by the U.S. during the Cold War period. These type of international policies helped to destabilize the economy of developing countries and prevented the implementation of democracy. It has encouraged military coups in many developing nations with the establishment of government by autocracy and the citizens continue to suffer. In some situations, the Western World has benefited from the money looted by the corrupt African leaders. Consequently, governments of the Western World either looked the other way or helped a dictator to oppress his people.

At the time of Africa's exploration, it could have been an open door to the Western World and the establishment of bilateral relationships between African and European countries. But the discovery of Africa was followed by a period of economic exploitation and that of human resources including servitude and the results of great human tragedies. In short, Africa was raped! But, Europe still do not want to accept responsibility for this because of the shame and embarrassment. The post imperialism period followed a struggle for African nations to govern themselves since the countries were left in disarray after independence. Even today, there is still an ongoing struggle to establish effective democracy in many of these African nations. As a result, the Western World cannot say it is without fault in the destabilization of African governments.

Nobody can take back history. We should therefore stop bashing each other over the head with the shame of the past. But, we can take positive actions and work together to influence a positive outcome for the future.

Whether the Western media will continue African news coverage with the prejudice and bigotry of yesteryears remains to be seen in the future. The answer to such question lies in the ways positive developments in African countries are reported and highlighted by the main media in the U.S. and other European countries. It is cheaper and more effective to support the building of a nation under a democratic government like Nigeria than to spend billions of dollars to wage wars of liberation like in the former Yugoslavia.

V. 'Yinka Vidal reporting from Washington, D.C.

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