A local newspaper in Akwa Ibom State, Global Concord, has stirred controversy in the state with a news headline calling Governor Udom Emmanuel ‘armed robber governor’.
The controversial news headline, accompanied with a photograph of Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State wearing a black suit with a red tie, appeared on the front page of the October 1, 2015 edition of the paper.
The Global Concord story accused the Akwa Ibom governor of secretly ordering “50 percent deduction of workers’ salary under the guise of personal income tax”.
Aniekan Umanah, the state commissioner for information and communications, described the news report as “deliberate falsehood”.
The newspaper published, alongside the story, a government circular dated September, 9, 2015 which it claimed it obtained from the state ministry of finance.
Mr. Umanah, apparently disturbed by the story, joined his fellow commissioner at the ministry of finance, Akan Okon, for a press briefing hurriedly put together on Wednesday in Mr. Okon’s office, to respond to the allegations by Global Concord.
On that same Wednesday, the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Akwa Ibom State Council, convened, in the night, a rare emergency meeting of newspaper publishers and editors, including freelance writers and bloggers in the state to discuss how to handle the tension generated by the Global Concord story.
Governor Udom Emmanuel’s Personal Assistant on Local Media, Uko Umoh, and his counterpart in charge of new media, Meflyn Williams, were present at the NUJ meeting which ended around 10:30pm.
“The ethics of journalism dictate that you must cross-check facts before you publish. Did anyone ever make a call to the commissioner of finance asking for an understanding of the tax regime, for a law that has always been in existence?” Mr. Umanah said at the press briefing at the ministry of finance.
“This is a matter of law. The truth is that if we were all to be prosecuted as civil servants we should be in jail for tax evasion. But government has been magnanimous; they say they don’t even bother about making these deductions. And then the governor is even granting a rebate of 50%. I think it’s a decision that should be applauded in the first instance.”
Both the Akwa Ibom State government and the leadership of the NUJ in the state said tby calling Mr. Emmanuel ‘armed robber governor,’ Global Concord crossed the red line as far as decency is concerned in journalism.
“Calling a governor an armed robber is totally unacceptable,” the information commissioner said. “It is the height of journalistic rascality, as far as I am concerned. It should be condemned and should not be accepted by anyone anywhere.”
The Editor-in-Chief of Global Concord, Johnny Solomon, told PREMIUM TIMES the paper stands by its story, but however added that, “We would have gladly done a retraction if we were contacted and confronted with facts to the contrary”.
Mr. Solomon said they were yet to receive any official complaint about the story.
On the Global Concord controversial headline, Mr. Solomon said, “It is the discretion of an editor to cast headline in a manner that best describes his story. Whether the headline is offensive or not is dependent on the assessment of the reader”.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the NUJ in Akwa Ibom State is at a loss on how to handle the issue, having previously disowned Global Concord as not being a part of the union.
The union in a communiqué after the Wednesday late night meeting said it “noted the deliberate attempt by newspapers to disparage and blackmail the state governor”.
The union however advised that persons who feel maligned by any publication should complain to the Ethics and Disciplinary Committee of the NUJ in the state, and the Nigerian Press Council at the national level, or seek redress in the court of law.
In a related development, the Punch newspaper correspondent in Akwa Ibom State, Etim Ekpimah, was detained by the police on Friday for covering an accident scene in Ibesikpo-Asutan Local Government Area.
The policemen from Ibesikpo-Asutan Police Division, who arrested Mr. Ekpimah, seized his telephone and deleted the interview he did at the accident scene, and also ordered him to write a statement to the police.
He was later released after spending several hours behind the police counter.