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(Credit: PM News, screenshot)

Nigerian governor Abiola Ajimobi is suing PM News‘ publisher for N1 billion (about $6.4 million) over its Oct. 30 article “Anxiety over Florence Ajimobi’s alleged arrest in UK,” the Nation Online reportedThe Osun Defender reported  that the story claims she was arrested “for allegedly being in possession of $400,000 (N100m).”

PM News and The News’ editor-in-chief Bayo Onanuga told iMediaEthics by email that PM News retracted the report and that it did try to verify the arrest story.  Onanuga wrote:

“We were not the original source of the story; we were trying to intervene, to get at the truth. But we were fooled by a computer auto response that has fooled a number of other people, even after we goofed.”

According to Onanuga, the story was published online and “For us, the lesson it teaches is that we need to  exercise more caution in the future.”  He also provided iMediaEthics with PM News‘ “full explanation” on getting “entangled with the story.” That “statement from the management” explains that for its report, PM News contacted the UK Metropolitan Police asking if Ajimobi had been arrested, but that PM News misinterpreted an auto-response from the police, confirming receipt of the email but not the arrest.  PM News‘ statement explained:

“Still trying to dig the truth, pmnewsnigeria.com sent  an e-mail to the London Metropolitan Police,
asking the organisation to confirm or deny whether the woman was ever arrested.

“It was a familiar path in investigative journalism that the company behind 
pmnewsnigeria.com had trodden  so many times before, one of which was over the certificate forgery and age
claims of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“After about one hour,  pmnewsnigeria.com got a response from the
Metropolitan Police, that said at the bottom of its query: ‘Confirmation: Yes’. 

In another part of the response, MET said: ‘Thank you
for your email. I am sorry, we are unable to disclose any information to you 
under the Data Protection Act.’ It was signed by ‘The Email Office, 
Lambeth CCC, Metropolitan Police.”’ Pmnewsnigeria.com wrote its report about the ‘confirmation of 
the arrest’ based on this response. Was it an auto-response? Was the ‘Confirmation Yes’, standard 
computerised response, confirming something else?
We interpreted the MET’s ‘Confirmation: Yes’, as a 
confirmation of the question we had asked, viz: ‘We are trying to confirm whether the story (about Mrs. Ajimobi) is true and whether the MET is planning
 to press a charge.

“Was this where we went wrong?  Events thereafter appeared to suggest so, as the report was vehemently denied by the Oyo state government, acting on behalf of Mrs. Ajimobi.”

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Further, the statement from PM News added that the police “won’t just talk on this issue, because of a UK law that bans them from talking.”  And, PM News said:

“With the strength of denials since then,  we want to believe that pmnewsnigeria.com must have been misled by the robotized, programmed  response to enquiries from this police establishment, which suggests that its story must have been based on a very questionable foundation.”

In retracting its report, PM News wrote that it “did not deliberately go out of its way to seek to malign Mrs Ajimobi or bring her into
public opprobrium” and denied any political or bias motives.

iMediaEthics wrote to the UK police asking if the police detained or arrested Ms. Ajimobi, if the police know where the story of the arrest originated, if the police will confirm emails with PM News over the reports, and if the police can offer any information about the auto-response email. A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police told iMediaEthics by email:

“We have no knowledge of this individual being arrested by us. With regards to how the story originated, you would need to speak with the media organisation in Nigeria. We have never confirmed this individual has been arrested, nor would we ever identify someone until they are charged (assuming they are over 18 years old).”

The governor’s “media aide” Festus Adedayo called the report “not only wicked, but a figment of the writer’s imagination” as well as “amateurish,” according to the Nation Online.

Check out iMediaEthics’ other reports on Nigerian media ethics.  In September, we wrote about Ogun state Information and Strategy commissioner Alhaji Yusuf Olaniyonu’s claim that Compass Newspaper published a false, libelous report.

Hat Tip: All Africa

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