The Federal Government’s threat to sanction the BBC for circulating The Bandit Warlords of Zamfara, a video of interviews of bandit warlords in Zamfara state in the Northwest, did not come as a surprise. The Federal Government has never hidden its disdain for negative press and sharp revelations of its shortcomings. This is particularly true of the government’s reactions to international media coverage, such as the CNN story on the Lekki gate shootings during the #ENDSARS protest, and negative international indices, such as those published annually by the Corruption Perception Index and the Fragile States Index. The banning and unbanning of Twitter for spreading fake news is yet another example.

Nevertheless, the BBC Africa Eye documentary under discussion is somewhat different from these examples. For one thing, the video, circulated on social media, specifically, YouTube, goes to the heart of the most serious social problem in Nigeria today, namely, insecurity, which, in many parts of the country, is a matter of life and death. This problem is accentuated by the impending presidential election, scheduled for February, 2023. The heightening of insecurity in recent months has led some observers to question the propriety of the election, if the present trend persists. The recent attacks on the presidential fleet, leading to fatalities, could only compound the problem.

The existential nature of the problem requires that its coverage be handled with utmost care. To be sure, the public has a right to know, which is a motivation for any media outlet to cover any event. However, that right must be balanced with the government’s need to tackle the problem without undue media interference that might complicate matters. It is one thing to criticize the government for not doing enough to fight terrorism; it is another thing to give voice to the same terrorists in the name of performing journalism’s function of providing information to the public, thereby satisfying their need to know.

The BBC failed in achieving proper balance, by showing images and voices of bandit warlords, thereby etching banditry in the viewers’ mind and creating fear. Can such images provide closure to survivors of banditry or victims’ families? Absolutely not. What is worse, the dreaded subject of ransom is confirmed in the video, with the bandit confirming a high figure, which he claimed he witnessed with his own eyes.

To be sure, the video might have provided some clues to the government as to how to deal with banditry, but the overall implications of the video are damaging to the government’s effort.

What is particularly troubling about the video is the propaganda effect it has for the bandits. It is rather unfortunate that a global platform, such as the BBC, turned itself into a venue for terrorist propaganda. To be sure, this may not have been the intention of the BBC in making the documentary. Nevertheless, it has become its inevitable outcome. Anything that propagates violence, such as banditry, creates fear in citizens but difficulty for the government in allaying peoples fears and in coming up with a suitable strategy of containment.

On closer scrutiny, the BBC Africa Eye documentary is the more troubling for two reasons. First, it is circulated on social media, specifically YouTube, apparently in order to achieve wider circulation. But propagating banditry, which has claimed thousands of lives, should not be used as a bait for high rating.

Second, it would appear that the BBC is not consistent in its coverage of violence. Neither the violent struggles of the Irish Republican Army nor that of Sinn Féin, its political arm, was given a voice on BBC nor was a documentary released about their activities while their struggles were still going on. It is high time media international coverage of Africa adopted the same global standard that applies everywhere. There should be no more one standard for the North and another for the South.

It would have been a different matter if the BBC shared its findings with the Nigerian government or its law enforcement agencies before airing the documentary. Such sharing will allow government officials to offer appropriate editorial advice to lesson the propaganda and fear-creating effects. Perhaps the BBC just went ahead to avoid discouragement from airing the documentary.

It is as well that the Federal Government has now registered its displeasure with the documentary. It is not clear what censorship the government is planning to issue. Whatever it is, the censorship must include the requirement for shared footage of future documentaries or similar investigations before release of the final product. It is also not too much to have the BBC pull down the documentary from YouTube with immediate effect. Already, over one million views had been recorded within one week. That should do it for BBC’s rating game.