Malice aforethought: Pandora Papers and the failed attempt to tarnish Peter Obi's image

Posted by News Express | 11 October 2021 | 303 times

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It will not be out of place to say that the juiciest news in the public space at moment is the excitement over the report entitled Pandora Papers. I have tried to appreciate the effort that went into that exercise and I am convinced, as a journalist, that the profession is still as vibrant as ever, regardless of the intrusions and despoliation of howlers who have invaded the trade. I do not know what informed the ambitious project called Pandora Papers. But I do know that serious journalism is always inquisitive. It works towards breaking new grounds. If that is what motivated the Pandora project, it is all well and good.

The promoters of the project, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, tell us that some 600 journalists from 150 news organisations around the world were saddled with the task of analyzing public records and documents in over 11 million confidential files. In an assignment that lasted for two years, the investigators, through leaked files from offshore services firms, revealed the financial secrets of about 35 current and serving world leaders. The records of more than 330 public officials in more than 91 countries were also laid bare.

It must be noted that a good many of the world leaders who were indicted by the leaked report have denied or rejected its veracity. The major point of distemper in all of this was that the report was based on leaked files, a situation that suggests that those involved in the investigation had an ulterior motive. The received impression is that they undertook the assignment for purposes of indicting or implicating public office holders. Since the mission was clearly determined before the assignment took off, it is being suspected that the investigators went out of their way in a largely contrived manner to ensure that the high and mighty are indicted. That, of course, would be a very good way of justifying the huge funds that were thrown into the exercise. To this extent, the Pandora Papers is already fighting a duel with credibility. Its veracity is being questioned and repudiated.

It was on this shaky ground of the Pandora Papers that a Nigerian online news medium called Premium Times stood when it set out to domesticate the issue on the ground that Peter Obi, the former governor of Anambra State, was mentioned in the report. From what we can discern, the mention of Peter Obi in the report must have provided Premium Times with some flagellation. The news medium must have got excited over the development. Consequently, it set sail. Like the initiators of the Pandora project, Premium Times stepped forward with a predetermined objective. It must feast on this fellow called Peter Obi whose public appearances readily differentiate him from the howling public. How could a Peter Obi whose mastery of the financial world be called to question in his area of expertise? The prospect or possibility of an indicted Peter fired their imagination. On this score, Peter Obi was like a game waiting to be hunted down. That was the ribaldry that captured the imagination of Premium Times.

We must note that it is within the professional right of the online medium to seek clarifications from Mr. Peter Obi over the Pandora Papers. But the snag here is that Premium Times is guilty of predetermination. It had a premeditated intention to harm and impugn the integrity of Peter Obi before setting out to have a chat with him. This is a clear case of malice aforethought.

It was for this reason that the news medium sought to lead the reader by the nose. It meandered freely from reporting to editorialization. While repeating and rehashing aspects of the report of the Pandora Papers as they concern Peter Obi, Premium Times could not resist the pull of bias. It appealed to the emotion of the reader by telling him how the former governor broke tax laws. It also openly incited law enforcement agencies such as the Code of Conduct Bureau to action. It invited the body to prosecute Peter Obi. This is unbridled malice. If the news medium were interested in mere reportage, it would not have strayed into the area of passing judgment and dictating to relevant law enforcement agencies on the issue at stake. By so doing, it made itself a prosecuting agency. In the end, it reduced what was supposed to be a report to a hateful rigmarole that was devoid of credibility.

Incidentally, Premium Times prides itself as a medium that practises journalism of integrity and credibility. Regrettably, it failed to live up to its claims in this matter. In fact, its claim to integrity and credibility is hollow. Why blow your own trumpet? How can you talk about integrity when you have failed the elementary test of fair reporting? When you report and editorialise at the same time, you are simply forcing the reader to accept your report in its rawness without giving him the benefit of independent judgement.

It is evident from the straitjacketed report of Premium Times that it does not understand the intricate details of offshore businesses. That was why it decided to bellyache over Obi’s decision to invest in Monaco, a French city with generous tax laws and policies. I had thought that the report would detail to the reader how Obi misappropriated funds belonging to Anambra State or stashed them away in foreign banks while he was governor. That was completely absent. What we saw instead was a cocktail of quarrels over offshore investments of Peter Obi. This is in spite of the fact that that was already his forte many years before becoming governor.

Unlike the cases of some world leaders like Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin, among others mentioned in the report who acquired assets worth several millions of dollars while in office, Obi has no such sleazy records. Yet, we are suffused with some kind of red herring over offshore investments. When next Premium Times decides to delve into an uncharted territory in its reportage as in this one, it will do itself a world of good if it consults relevant experts. A refresher course with investment and tax experts in this particular instance would have helped. Such knowledge will also save it from giving itself away as biased, as an interested party and as having a sinister motive as in this case. (This column originally appeared in today's edition of Daily Sun)



Source: News Express

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