A BBC Report: “Shell brought me here …”

In a video posted today on BBC News, the BBC’s International Development Correspondent Mark Doyle is shown in a helicopter, bullet proof vest atop of the foreign correspondent’s uniform–the baby-blue shirt, ‘flying low’ over what Doyle describes as ‘possibly the largest crime scene in the world’. Invited by Shell, and accompanied by some of its engineers, Doyle is flown over pipelines in Southern Nigeria where evidence of local siphoning is clear; home-made refining pits that Doyle describes as ‘cauldrons’ (without irony), and thick black smoke are visible from the aerial images. Doyle repeatedly uses the words ‘illegal’, ‘stealing’ and ‘hacking’, while offering almost no context as to why the locals are reclaiming some of the resources.

The only explanation — ‘the people here are poor’, and of course, invoking the easy stereotype of Nigerian politics- corruption; “the suspicion is that there are some quite senior politicians who are involved in this illegal activity.” Doyle does also makes reference to the fact that while oil is being sucked from these areas, very little money is being put back into the local communities, but this point gets no further explanation at all. But of course, being on the invitation of Shell, Doyle wasn’t about to extend his context any further, only briefly admitting at the very end of the report, that while the locals are creating pollution, yes, Shell admits, their activity causes pollution too. It’s a shocking neutered piece of reporting on an issue that is so clearly generated and exacerbated by the relentless and irresponsible activities by multinational companies in Nigeria. It’s all the more shocking, given that less than 24 hours ago, The Guardian and many other newspapers reported that the huge spill in the Niger Delta in 2008, was ’60 times greater’ than the amounts claimed by Shell at the time, according to documents obtained by Amnesty International.

This BBC news piece is shamefully biased and propped up by Shell’s need to deflect attention, to try and present the local Nigerian population as ‘the problem’.  All this, while they face legal action from 11 000 Bodo residents, whose lives were devastated by the 2008 spill. The case will come to trial in London, later in 2012.

5 thoughts on “A BBC Report: “Shell brought me here …”

  1. Just amazing that the BBC were taken in by this. I guess it’s a symptom of having an “international development correspondent” – what an absurd idea. John Simpson lends him one of his old parachutes and he goes and does some PR for Shell. I wonder if this means the BBC have closed their Lagos bureau. Jonah Fisher only started there last year but I see he’s now in Bangkok. If he wasn’t replaced then this is as good as BBC reportage from Nigeria is going to get. It’s a shame because this (however you frame it) is THE big story in Nigeria at the moment and some good in-depth reporting would be so welcome.

  2. BTW, Lionel Barber (the FT editor) did the same thing on his recent 10 day trip through Nigeria and Ghana (which btw allowed him to generalize about “Africa’s future); Shell took him in a helicopter to see the “theft” of oil by locals; Barber mentioned Shell’s spills in passing.

  3. I think you’re over-reacting a bit here. This is a brief tv report and yet you criticise it for not going into further detail, but tv is never the place for detailed explanation especially not at this length. The report contains no factual errors to my knowledge and presents the viewpoints and criticisms of each side. Perhaps you’d be best looking into Mark Doyle’s recent long-form radio documentary on Nigeria that can go into a lot more detail. There are many bad reporters in Africa, very often non-African, but I think over the course of his career Mark Doyle has showed himself to be one of the rare foreign correspondents who include historical context, and anyone who’s read ‘Shaking hands with the Devil’ will know of the courageous role he played reporting the Rwandan genocide long before anyone cared.

    • Agreed. And this is what makes this brief tv report that much worse, because it comes from someone who knows much better. I have read “Shake hands with the Devil” and know from his reports that Doyle is usually more investigative and insightful than this. BBC’s editorial politics may be at play here, but its up to experienced heavyweights of the company to change this, is it not?

      • Yes, I agree with you Nikia, which is why I was so disappointed. Doyle should know better- a short newsy piece doesn’t really excuse poor reporting. Whether subject to editorial politics, or the constraints of time, this topic is so contentious it deserves far more in depth, thoughtful reporting. Not ‘Blood Diamond’ style reporting.

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