…Say Action is Designed to Muzzle the Media, Stifle Democracy
Three media-governmental organizations have slammed the suspension by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) of the broadcast of Daar Communications Limited, owners of the African Independent Television (AIT), Ray Power FM radio, describing the Commission’s action as “unwarranted, unjust, and a violation of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom.”
In their joint statement in Lagos signed by Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA); Mr. Lanre Arogundade, Director of the International Press Centre (IPC); and Mr. Richard Akinnola, Director of the Media Law Centre (MLC), the organizations accused the NBC of “constituting itself into the accuser of Daar Communications, the prosecutor and the judge, in violation of the rules of natural justice and the right to fair hearing.”
Announcing the suspension of Daar Communications’ broadcast license at a press briefing in Abuja on June 6, Mr.Ishaq Modibo Kawu, the NBC Director General, accused AIT/ of embarking on the use of inflammatory, divisive, inciting broadcasts, and media propaganda against the government and the Commission.
Mr.Kawu said: “Recently, NBC monitoring reports on AIT indicate the use of divisive comments accredited to the segment of Kakaaki, tagged, ‘Kakaaki Social’ inciting comments like, ‘Nigeria is cursed,’ ‘we declare of Niger Delta’, ‘Nigeria irritates me’, ‘this country is gradually Islamising’ and other similar slogans were used without editorial control in breach of the broadcast Code.”
But they disagreed, arguing that the content referred to by the NBC does not violate any legitimate international professional broadcast media standard as the comments are not hate speeches and are not inciting.
They stressed that “it is not the role of a broadcast regulator to protect a government from scrutiny or criticism,” adding that “by seeking to shield the government from embarrassment contrary to acceptable standards of media regulation, the NBC had become too partisan, thereby exacerbating its obvious lack of independence and concerned only with ingratiating itself with the political party in power.”
They expressed concern that “the NBC as currently constituted is obviously being held hostage by the government with its immediate past Chief Executive Officer and the current Director-General both facing trial on charges of corruption under this same government,” adding that “under these circumstances, it is difficult to see how the Commission can perform its functions independently, fearlessly and with credibility when it continues to operate under such a cloud.”
They argued that “the role of the media is to serve as the marketplace of ideas with a clear responsibility under Section 22 of the Constitution to hold the government accountable to the people and provide the government with unvarnished feedback from members of the public who rely on the media to express their views on all issues relating to the management of their affairs.”.
They also described the NBC’s action as “an attempt to muzzle the media and unduly restrict freedom of expression, adding that it is unacceptable for the Commission to attempt to punish a media organization for providing feedback to the government from members of the public by airing opinions which though potentially embarrassing to the government, were not illegal or prohibited under any law.”
The organizations contended that “even if the NBC was correct in its claim that the airing of certain content on AIT was wrong, that could not justify the closing down of the entire station and other sister radio stations which had not been accused of any wrongdoing.”
They called on the NBC to immediately reverse its decision by lifting the suspension of the broadcast license of Commission, saying if it failed to do so within one week, they would “approach the court to enforce their right to receive information and ideas through the media under section 39 of the Constitution.”
Also, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has condemned in very strong terms the indefinite suspension of the licences of Daar Communications Limited.
The Guild in a statement signed by its President, Mrs Funke Egbemode and General Secretary, Mrs Mary Atolagbe, demands in clear terms “the revocation of the suspension order as it runs contrary to the ideals of free speech and the fine tenets of press freedom. This is a case of executive highhandedness and it paints our dear country in the darkest tar of dictatorship.”
“The Fourth Estate of the Realm remains the watchdog of society and any attempt to gag it in any guise is an affront on democracy and the people. The NBC must and should rescind this ignoble and despicable decision.
“The Guild strongly believes the NBC action is a draconian form of regulation, being out of tune with democratic principles.
The Guild says, “it is concerned about the violation of the constitutional rights of DAAR Communications and absence of media freedom, independence and the stifling of operations of media outfits which are performing their roles as the watchdog of the Nigerian society.”
The NGE condemns in strong terms “the barbaric crackdown on the broadcast outfit and demands immediate cessation of this atrocious repression and excessive show of power by the NBC, whose duty is to regulate and not kill the media.”
“Muzzling the media and throwing thousands of Nigerians into the already saturated labour market should not be the trophy for good corporate governance of a regulator; it is something to be ashamed of and NBC should be ashamed at its action in a fledgling democracy in the 21st Century.
The Guild is strongly of the opinion that the NBC, in exercising its regulatory powers, should concentrate on implementing policies that will position Nigeria’s broadcasting to compete in the global spheres, rather than engage in witch-hunting and unnecessary show of excessive force.
The Guild hereby expresses its solidarity with the AIT/Raypower family, urging the staff and management to remain calm as the Guild liaises with well meaning Nigerians and other media professionals to get justice.
The NGE also appeals to President Muhammadu Buhari to use his good offices to call NBC to order.
“It is to be recalled that NBC had, before the 2019 general election, shut down Joy FM in Jos for violations of the broadcasting code. Last year, the NBC shut down Ekiti Radio/TV station. Shutting down stations and withdrawing licences are too extreme in the circumstance. There must be humane and saner ways to resolve disputes bordering on violation of the Broadcasting Code”, it says..