When I was a young girl growing up in Nigeria, people could not just come up to you and say nonsense or talk anyhow. They would get a “dirty slap,” as Nigerians like to put it. Till today, people still cannot do that, in person. Whether you are in Nigeria, USA or anywhere in the world, imagine you are at a gathering where thousands of people are present. Now imagine someone from the crowd, made his/her way through, went up some few steps, got on stage, grabbed the mic and started to say some really hateful, false and vicious things about a celebrity on stage or a fellow attendee of the event. In America, most likely, such person will get booed and if the crowd is sufficiently angry, they might even throw eggs at the person and what have you. . .
In Nigeria, correct me if I am wrong but such person would be “beaten senseless.” You cannot get up in front of anyone and talk anyhow, unless you want trouble. Guess what, when you come online, it is no different. You cannot get behind a computer and have what is nothing short of “diarrhea of the mouth,” for lack of a better word. People, however, do this, all the time. They believe they have a right to run vicious false rumors about celebrities and non-celebrities alike. By people, I include commenters, bloggers, journalists, social media personalities/influencers etc.
In the USA, in the past, for the most part, such vicious rumors ONLINE came with the territory and most celebrities dealt with it. However, as new media and social media has continued to grow and is now understood much better, trial lawyers like myself and the clients we represent realize the severity of the damage and injury to reputations and the lives of some of these personalities, indefinitely. So, slowly but surely, these legal sharks have become creative and aggressive, consistent with their work, and are filing lawsuits on behalf of their clients against offending parties. If you want to see some of these lawsuits, click here.
Now, let’s stay in Nigeria because that is where we are really focused on. I really, for the life of me, don’t understand why Nigerian celebrities take the extreme, damaging and vicious “nonsense and rubbish” that is written about them by irresponsible news media and bloggers alike.Let’s be clear, there are certain things that comes with the territory i.e. XYZ Naija celeb is dating so so and so person. The silly things that are only worth chuckling about and moving on. It is a waste of time, space and money to sue for that and a good lawyer should not take your money to do that. Put out a press release, if it affects you that bad, and move on with it.
But, there is a clear and fine line and none of you should put up with the following kinds of scenarios: If you are Jim Iyke and you are accused of contracting and being infected with HIV/AIDS, you DO NOT take that mess. People might not like you or your work. I, personally, do not like Jim Iyke’s work, although I happen to think he is very talented. He takes on way too many movie roles where he rapes, batters or badger women and I am tired of it. While it has helped him earn a so called “bad guy” role in Nollywood, it disgust me. (Sorry Iyke. Just letting you know what the deal is.) Iyke needs to push himself as an actor and his personal brand by getting out of his one dimensional stereotypical acting. Show us more of what you got and definitely make sure it includes more refined stories about the modern Nigerian man and how he navigates relationships in a complex world.
Nevertheless, it is absolutely wrong and extremely injurious to Iyke’s reputation to accept and not do something about such horrible, horrible, vicious attack to his name that he contracted HIV/AIDS.
Similarly, if you are Uche Jumbo and a magazine writes vicious and untrue statements about you that you had an abortion, you sue them! Abortion is not only a controversial issue, for some, the idea of killing a human life (pro-life or pro-choice, especially at 6months of pregnancy, it don’t matter) is repulsive. Nigerian celebrities, especially, the legal system is there. Use it! Also, as you use it, you will help Nigerian news media be a lot more responsible. You will also encourage a society where people are civil and can use the court system to resolve their disputes. In the USA, there is freedom of the press and safeguards present so people don’t attempt to stifle the press, bloggers and pseudo journalists alike. In Nigeria, your lawyer can advise you on Nigeria’s constitutional laws and its impact on freedom of the press.
Uche Jumbo in the story reported by Questionmark Magazine who appears to be quoting another source, allegedly states the following:
“You know how emotional I am. I have cried for smaller things but this one, I still curse the person, till tomorrow. It will only take God for me to see the person and not harm him,” she fumed, ”For me, that was my biggest scandal ever. It was really damaging and I won’t stop fighting till I get justice.
Well, I’m currently in court with the soft-sell magazine, for writing what I have come to consider the worst media story in my entire life and career, which was completely false and malicious. During the world premiere of my second movie last year, Holding Hope, I lost so much weight deliberately based on my character as a Cancer patient only for this paper to write on their front page that I aborted a pregnancy at six months, hence the lost of weight.
It’s still all over the net, just Google Uche Jombo/abortion, you’ll see over 500 pages…That story nearly shattered my life, my family legacy and all that I have laboured for in my entire career, in fact, it almost killed me … When you say someone aborted a six-month-old pregnancy, you are not just saying it’s an abortion, you are equally saying that person is a murderer because, six months, a baby is already formed and I don’t know where any one gets off thinking you can lose weight by having abortion.”
I agree that these kinds of libelous statements, especially in Nigeria, is just horrible. What are Jumbo’s options or talents like her who face these kinds of situations?
If you are the talent, you have two options:
1. You can consult with a lawyer and look into bringing a large lawsuit against all internet service providers and website owners (obviously this might have to be Nigerian websites with ISP providers in Nigeria) just like Chanel Inc. recently did here in the States, although that case involves trademark litigation.
2. You can consult with your lawyer who would target internet service providers as well as negotiate and liason with Google to take all 500 specific pages down. You don’t have to and you should not live with your name and reputation being tarnished in this way.
If you all do not take action, you encourage people to continue to do this. This diminishes your brand value. Remember you are not going to be an actor, singer or what have you forever. You will age and in addition, you might not be relevant in future. It is what it is. We are talking business here. Your name is an asset and you should protect it, at the very least for when you have a family. Your children should be proud when to carry your name. They can’t when you have just sat there while others just tarnish the living day lights out of it.
For the legally curious minds among you reading this, here is an extensive focus on Tort Law complete with Nigerian case laws to study. It is 165 pages long but worth checking out.
Read below on how to Shut Down False Stories on the Internet Via Internet Service Providers
Blogger/website publishes a story that you are HIV+, aborted your baby or circulates allegedly nude photos of you on the internet. Identify the blogger/websites where it originated and the key sites carrying this rubbish/false information. Contact the owners and politely ask they delete the page and also recount the story to their audience because: 1) the information is FALSE ; and 2) if they don’t, you most likely will “shut down” their site and may even sue them. Before I go further, let’s get this straight. If the information is TRUE, it stays on. You can make all the noise you want or get all the lawyers you want, it stays on. If you can’t do the time in public jail i.e. media/bloggers or real jail, don’t do the crime. It’s that simple.
You didn’t really believe the owners of the site would do something about it, did you? Don’t expect those who publish inaccurate vicious rumors to take it down. So, guess what? YOU take it down for them.
How do you take down the site?
Log on to http://whois.domaintools.com/. On that site, identify two key things: 1) the name of the host company e.g. bluehost.com, hostgator, godaddy.com etc. 2) identify the administrator’s email. You should also see the full listed mailing address of the owner of the site, not all owners list it.
Contact the host. Let the host know the website owner(s) have violated the host rules on how the site is to be used. How do you know this? In the West, all hosting companies and frankly websites should and do have a terms and conditions that website users including publishers and bloggers “click to accept” to use their services. It is located on the bottom on the host webpage or you can google it. They typically have language that says you can’t use their site to injure people in this “tortious” manner. Doing so opens the website owners to liability from the host and persons injured as a result of the website owners’ actions.
NOTE: Companies like Godaddy, hostgator etc. have money. We trial lawyers call them “deep pocket defendants.” If they have notice and do not do something about it, then they are a party to a lawsuit and of course bad publicity. Unlike Nigerian companies on the ground in Nigeria, Western companies never want to be sued much less be around bad media publicity on their services. Typically, most hosting companies will remove or disable the information you claim is unauthorized anywhere from 24hrs to 1week. In a matter I handled, it was removed in less than 24hours. In addition, the hosting companies will send a warning to the the offending site owner(s) to take down the aggriegious content or at a minimal show why their site should not be suspended or else face it being “shut down.” That needless to say is your ultimate goal.
Task #1 completed, now on to the next big task, getting the information removed from GOOGLE. Google is the giant of search engines. Like the host companies, they have even “deeper pockets.” Trial lawyers like myself will tell you everyone wants to sue google. Google and their lawyers know it and do not want the drama.
Contact Google and your goal here is to have Google remove the website from its search engine so that the information does not appear in google search results. Just doing that alone is huge success. When you contact google, let them know your privacy has been invaded and if applicable, your copyright infringed, especially in instances where your images might be published and used to accompany the story. Google typically responds fast! See Google’ step by step process on how to get this done here.
When all Else Fails, Get a Lawyer
Assuming the blogger/website, host company and google do not respond, get a USA based lawyer. For Nigerian celebrities in this situation, you are not limited to fighting the situation alone on the ground in Nigeria. Also, while you work on doing the press releases, putting positive information about you on your social media sites , you can hire a USA lawyer to help remove these false content online about you.
FINAL NOTES ON THE WHOLE SHIN-DING
This area of law is under the umbrella of what is called “Tort Law.” More specifically, the allegations are Libel, Slander and Defamation. You’ve probably heard these terms thrown around both in Nigeria, online and watching Western TV like CNN. Libel is what this kind of scenario is called where the content is published in a written fixed form.
NOTE: For defamation, the key requirement is that the information be false. If the information published is true, then too bad so sad. It is what it is. YOU the celebrity or artist have a responsibility in how you conduct yourself. You don’t want such vicious rumors said about you. It is said but is it true? If it is true, then case closed. There is nothing to fuss about. So, conduct yourself appropriately. Do not put yourself in compromising and vulnerable situations or invite people into your personal space that are out to harm you. Use common sense.
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