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Lagos #EndSARS panel orders journalists to switch off phones during sittings

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The press has threatened to boycott sittings in the light of new restrictions.

The Lagos judicial panel of inquiry probing decades of police brutality, has barred journalists from using their smartphones during plenary–a move viewed as an attempt to censor press coverage of proceedings.

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“Please switch off your phone,” a notice on the walls of the venue of the sitting read tersely on Tuesday, December 1, 2020.

The new rules, which includes a directive that says no one should move a muscle during proceedings, led to a shouting match between journalists covering the inquiry and panelists, amid threats of a boycott of the panel.

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Videos from the panel have enjoyed plenty of clicks on social media platforms and in investigative reports of international media organisations like CNN. Plenty deductions have also been extracted from the military’s presentations at the panel.

All of that will now be things of the past.

Chairman of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi (retd.), cited security as reason for the new rules and restrictions, but the journalists and observers were not convinced.

The journalists view the new rules as fresh attempts at censorship by a government that has frowned at media reports of the shooting of unarmed #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020.

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The presidency directed state governors to set up panels of inquiry in their domains in the wake of the #EndSARS protests that engulfed Nigeria in the early days of October.

The Lagos Judicial Panel on SARS reacts:

Contrary to the attempt of certain mischievous elements spreading disinformation about the sanitization of the judicial panel of inquiry’s hearing process, which has been hitherto disturbed by ringtones and disorderly conduct of some individuals covering the hearings…

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…we feel the urge to restate that the hearings follow court process and there must be order. This was explained to the press and most of them understood the need for decorum as you can see from the pictorial evidence. There is no media blackout as rumored. ⚖️

These pictures were taken by an observer & it clearly marked areas where phones are not allowed for those willing to cover the process with their devices. This is to avoid distractions. The caveats were written in English for easy digestion followed by explanations. ⚖️
https://twitter.com/LagosSarsPanel/status/1333756014689198080

Meanwhile, Editi Effiong, who has been live tweeting the hearings has this to say;

@ me.

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Nobody said there’s a media blackout. The press were protesting because new rules restrict their ability to cover the panel. They asked to speak with the chair – were they granted audience? No.

Disallowing phone cameras beyond that line doesn’t stop ringtones, does it?

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On Friday, a member of LASG joked that they’d have me arrested for what I was doing.

The court registrar repeatedly told me phone cameras aren’t allowed.

You must always work towards to most good. Transparency trumps aesthetics. But hey, if looking nice is that important ��‍♂️
https://twitter.com/EditiEffiong/status/1333763738730684416

Later, Editi Effiong gave an update indicating that the “Turn off your phones” rule has been reversed.

I have been informed that Justice Doris Okuwobi (rtd) spoke with the panel staff about today’s incident.

The barricades have been removed and more accessible space made for press (including phones).

The “Turn off your phones” signs have also been removed.
https://twitter.com/EditiEffiong/status/1333850784371531777?s=19


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