Spotlight Series: Sweet Sweet Codeine

Original and brave storytelling has the power to catalyse real change. The extraordinary Sweet Sweet Codeine, winner of the One World Media TV Documentary Award 2019, exemplifies this perfectly.


Reporter Ruona Meyer prepares to go on a cough syrup with codeine raid alongside a Nigerian anti-drugs squad in Kano, northern Nigeria.


In a world of seemingly never-ending hostility and division, journalists and filmmakers who dedicate their careers to telling stories that highlight our common humanity and break down prejudices have never been more important. Our spotlight series highlights some of the industry’s best examples of media that bridges the divide between cultures worldwide and raises awareness of underreported stories.


BBC Africa Eye’s documentary, Sweet Sweet Codeine, follows Nigerian journalists Ruona Meyer and Adejuwon Soyinka undercover as they investigate Nigeria’s codeine cough syrup crisis.

Using secret filming, they exposed the black-market dealings of key figures in Nigeria’s pharmaceutical industry – illegally selling industrial quantities of the prescription-only product onto the streets and into the hands of addicts.

The film’s impact was profound. Twenty four hours after transmission there was a government ban on all production and importation of codeine cough syrup, 21 million bottles of codeine cough syrup were recalled and dozens of major players in criminal syrup networks were arrested.

In recognition of the extraordinary reporting of Ruona Meyer, Adejuwon Soyinka and the BBC Africa team, the film was awarded the One World Media TV Documentary Award 2019.

The award’s jury noted the remarkable achievements of this investigative piece:

“The journalistic, investigative and personal all came together to deliver a moving and highly impactful investigation on the problem of codeine cough syrup addiction in Nigeria. The team exposed the criminal activities of seemingly legitimate pharmacies through intrepid undercover filming and were able to expose the corruption at the source. The reporter’s own personal connection to the issue added more urgency to the story. This film was underpinned by strong journalism which delivered a powerful impact – after airing Nigeria banned the production and import of codeine cough syrup. A remarkable achievement.”

Andrew Bell and Nisha Kapur (BBC Africa Eye) with award presenter Jonathan Charles, Head of Communications, EBRD


The One World Media Awards look to champion brave and impactful journalism such as Sweet Sweet Codeine; to celebrate stories that demonstrate originality, creativity, and the potential to catalyse change.

Andrew Bell from BBC Africa Eye highlighted the importance of providing a platform for international reporting, “I have been in this game for a long time and it’s been a long time since I can remember an awards evening which was so engaging, so moving and so inspirational; a timely reminder to myself and everyone there on the night of how stories can be so powerful, of how the telling of them can be agents of change. Of how the world needs to hear these stories. We all need to do more of them. The One World Media awards – a beacon of sanity in an increasingly insane world.”


Across 15 categories including print, film, television, radio, audio and digital, the One World Media Awards celebrate underreported stories that break down stereotypes, change the narrative and connect people from different cultures.

The One World Media Awards 2020 are now open for entries! Find out more about the Awards, including eligibility and criteria.

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