Pointing fingers

HuffPost Live's coverage of a nonsensical anti-gay article in a Nigerian newspaper raises questions of its own

On Wednesday, HuffPost Live aired a segment on a student at the University of Lagos, in Nigeria, who claims to have scientific proof that same-sex marriage is wrong. With the aid of magnets, animal mating, arithmetic, and a string of incoherent babble, Chibuihem Amalaha—a PhD candidate in Chemical Engineering at the University—explained that homosexuality is wrong because “like” cannot attract “like.” His “groundbreaking research” appeared in an article in This Day, a popular, Lagos-based daily, and was subsequently ridiculed by various LGBT publications, before ending up on HuffPost Live’s WorldBrief With @ASE.

Amalaha’s alleged research is insulting, insensitive, and patently absurd. But in the HuffPost Live segment, reporter Ahmed Shihab-Eldin informs viewers that Amalaha has appeared on national television and won an award for reporting on energy science before summarizing his “findings”: The north and south poles of a magnet attract each other, while the same poles repel one another. “Now, I went on YouTube in order to try and understand the science behind this, and,” Shihab-Eldin says, “I found this video uploaded in 2010. So, I guess this award-winning scientific discovery has already been documented. Even if the conclusions and observations that he [Amalaha] came to had yet to be realized.” With barely-restrained derision, Shihab-Eldin continues, “This very serious physics experiment and his ‘research’ has been commended by the University of Lagos” and “he has even been told he could win a Nobel Prize one day.”

The segment appeared at the tail end of Wednesday’s WorldBrief, a punchline to more serious stories on Syria and a British debate about the Muslim veil.

Amalaha’s claims are indefensible. But it was all too easy for HuffPost Live to laugh at him and Nigeria for being backward. In fact, there are a few things HuffPo might have mentioned that complicate the picture.

First, it’s surprising that This Day, a major daily newspaper, covered Amalaha’s claims. The paper usually publishes serious stories, like this one on attempts to wean Nigeria of its dependence on imported fuel, and this on Dolphin Telecoms docking a $700 million fiber optic cable in the country later this year, neither of which were featured on the HuffPost Live show.

Also, Nigeria’s educational system is struggling. The Academic Staff Union of Universities has been on strike since July, and Nigeria’s public universities have missed three and a half years’ worth of academic sessions in the last 15 years. Last week, a government official in Kogi state, central Nigeria, reported that 20 percent of public, grade-school teachers could neither speak English properly, nor write their own names in English, Nigeria’s official language. Last month, a graduate teacher in Edo state was caught on camera unable to read an affidavit declaring her age. Just because someone is doing graduate work at a Nigerian institution does not mean they are working to high standards.

And although Nigeria remains staunchly conservative regarding homsexuality, there are dissenting voices. As HuffPost Live mentioned, Nigeria’s House of Representatives passed a bill in May that bans same-sex marriage and could leave couples facing up to 14 years in jail. Yet not everyone supports this law. In The Punch, the country’s most widely read paper, writer Sabella Abidde criticized the bill:

It is not the duty or the right of any government to legislate against private behaviour - especially if the behaviour is in private, harms no one, and harms no private or public institutions. We don’t need this law. Homosexuality and or same-sex marriages do not infringe on our civil and human rights. It does not abridge our national security; and neither does it make us less safe or less human.

There are a dozen and one related matters our lawmakers should or could have worried about, i.e. violence against women and children; sex with minors by adults; the inequality of sexes; adults who marry underage girls; child labour and child slavery; the exploitation and subjugation of the poor and the needy; and the severe lack of goods and services for our nation’s teeming underclass. The negative attention, and the condemnation directed at our fellow Nigerians who are of different sexual orientation and belief and practice are wholly uncalled for.

Outside of Boko Haram militants and corruption scandals, Nigeria receives little coverage in the West. It is disappointing then that The Huffington Post presented the craziest point of view it could find, without much background on the society that produced it, or even suggesting that not all Nigerians might agree with it.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Edirin Oputu is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu Tags: , , , ,