An outpour of outrage Thursday greeted the N5million fine imposed on 99.3 FM Nigeria Info, a Lagos-based radio station for yielding its platform to a guest “to promote unverifiable and inciting views that could encourage or incite to crime and lead to public disorder.”
Condemning the sanction, a former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Senator Shehu Sani and the Media Rights Agenda, among others, said the decision was an attempt to gag the media.
A former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr Obadiah Mailafia, had while featuring on the station Monday alleged that an unnamed governor from the north was a commander of the dreaded Boko Haram group.
Mailafia, who was the presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) in the last general elections, had during the interview said: “They told us that one of the northern governors is the commander of Boko Haram in Nigeria.”
“Boko Haram and the bandits are one and the same. They have a sophisticated network. During this lockdown their planes were moving up and down as if there was no lockdown.”
Mailafia also alleged that government was the mastermind of the Southern Kaduna killings.
Consequent upon this, the northern governors called on the Department of State Service (DSS) to probe his claim following which he was invited Wednesday by the security agency and later released same day.
At the end of the interrogation, the ex-CBN boss said he could not corroborate some of his claims.
NBC slams fine
Although details of the interrogation were not made public, the NBC said Mailafia’s claims were devoid of facts and subsequently sanctioned the radio station for violating some sections of the broadcasting code.
Announcing the N5million fine in a statement Thursday, the NBC management said: “In line with the amendment of the 6th edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, Nigeria Info 99.3FM Lagos, has been fined the sum of N5,000,000.00 (Five Million Naira), only.”
It said: “The station provided its platform for the guest, Dr. Mailafia Obadiah, to promote unverifiable and inciting views that could encourage or incite crime and lead to public disorder.”
The agency said: “The National Broadcasting Commission has noted with grave concern, the unprofessional conduct of Nigeria Info 99.3FM, Lagos, in the handling of the programme, “Morning Cross Fire”, aired on August 10, 2020, between 8.30am and 9.00am.”
The NBC further said the fine would “serve as a deterrent to all other broadcast stations in Nigeria who are quick to provide a platform for subversive rhetoric and the expositions of spurious and unverifiable claims, to desist from such.
“The Commission wishes to put it on record that it will not hesitate to suspend the Broadcast License of broadcast stations that continue to breach the Code.”
The regulatory agency warned other stations “from airing unwholesome content, or be ready to face appropriate sanctions.”
Taking a strong exception to the NBC’s action, former Vice-President Abubakar said the regulatory agency was seeking to “exterminate” the media under the watch of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In a statement Thursday, Atiku said the NBC was using its newly launched code to gag the media.
Atiku, who was the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last elections, accused the authorities of constricting free speech in the guise of preventing hate speech.
He said: “It is globally acknowledged that one of the core functions of the mass media is to inform the society on all ranges of issues, not even to the exclusion of national security issues.”
“In many advanced democracies the world over, criminals on even wanted lists of law enforcement agencies have reached out to the media to express their opinions about the crimes that they had perpetrated and the media space was not denied to them.
“As a matter of fact, it seems somewhat contradictory that a country like ours, which is in the throes of national security skirmishes, would choose to shrink media access to critical information.
“It is not known if any society had won the war against terrorism by placing a restriction to access to information, in the way the NBC had done.”
The former VP said: “Whether or not what Dr. Mailafia said on the radio station was a false claim, it is outside of the objectives of a responsible regulatory framework to sanction a radio station for a comment an individual made, more so that the personality in question, Dr. Obadiah, had been quizzed and released by law enforcement agents.”
“If for any reason the authorities are not satisfied with his explanations, they are at liberty to prosecute him in court, but not to make a scapegoat of the media platform that provides opportunities for citizens to ventilate their views.
“The claim by the management of NBC that ‘this (the penalty) is expected to serve as a deterrent to all other broadcast stations in Nigeria who are quick to provide platform for subversive rhetoric and expositions of spurious and unverifiable claims, to desist from such’, is a naked attempt to gag the media in Nigeria.”
He asked the NBC to review the amended code and also drop the N5 million sanction it imposed on Nigeria Info.
Similarly, a former lawmaker from Kaduna state, Senator Shehu Sani said the former CBN deputy governor should not be punished for his revelations on Boko Haram.
Rather, he said, the northern governors should focus on resolving the bloodshed in their regions instead of clamping down on Mailafia.
Sani tweeted: “Mailafiya should not be used as a scapegoat or distraction. Northern Governors should focus their attention on finding solutions to the bloodshed and violence consuming and demonising the region.”
Also, the Media Rights Agenda(MRA) berated the broadcast regulator, describing as appalling the haste with which the NBC sanctioned the radio station.
It said the commission was apparently doing the bidding of the Minister of Information by punishing Nigeria Info 99.3FM.
In a statement, MRA Programme Director, Ayode Longe said “the NBC disregarded due process provisions in its own regulations and rushed to judgment without conducting any investigation or awaiting the outcome of investigations by any other law enforcement or security agency or giving the radio station adequate time and opportunity to defend itself against the absurd charge of hate speech in accordance with the requirements of the constitution.”
“We are seriously concerned by this latest development in Nigeria of a supposed media regulatory body taking the country down a dangerous path of official censorship by constituting itself into a legislature making criminal law and acting at the same time as an accuser, a prosecutor and the judge in its own cause. This situation is an affront to the rules of natural justice.
“We are aware that the NBC is empowered to make regulations for the conduct and operations of broadcast stations in Nigeria, but it cannot usurp the legislative powers of National Assembly, the prosecutorial powers of the Executive and the judicial powers of the courts by making laws, interpreting the laws, imposing punishment and executing its judgment as it has done in this case. Such action is obscene and offensive, particularly in a democracy,” Longe said.
The organisation recalled that only a week ago, on August 4, 2020, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed announced at the unveiling of the revised NBC Code that the federal government had increased the fine for hate speech from N500,000 to N5million and a few days later, the NBC was already abusing the provision to censor a media organisation without due process for a broadcast that cannot be defined as hate speech under any circumstance.
MRA called on NBC to rescind its decision, saying it would only subject itself to public and international ridicule by failing to do so and trigger a wave of global condemnation of Nigeria that the country can ill-afford.
Board tackles minister
Meanwhile, the last seems not to have been heard of the controversial 6th edition of the Broadcasting Code Amendment issued by the NBC as its board chairman, Mr. Ikra Aliyu Bilbis, is accusing the information and culture minister of “unilaterally” amending the country’s broadcasting code.
The controversial amendment was launched in Lagos August 4, 2020, despite opposition by stakeholders in the industry.
Some operators and experts in the sector had expressed anger and frustration over the provisions of code that summarily outlaws exclusivity and makes investing in original content a waste of resources.
The NBC, however, insisted that the broadcasting code was to protect local operators, promote creativity, and maximise local contents, even as the operators which the commission is said to be protecting have accused the agency of plotting to take over private enterprises.
Addressing journalists in Abuja, Mr. Bilbis said the board had received over 50 position papers for the 6th amendment of the code but none of the input was considered.
“Following the 2019 general elections, some members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) made observations to the Minister of Information at a FEC meeting about the divisive broadcasts some organisations engaged in before, during, and after the elections and the need to strengthen the operations of the NBC to avert such future occurrence,” the chairman said.
He said: “This noble observation of Mr. President was unfortunately misunderstood by the Minister of Information who instead of studying and following the law, relevant rules, and regulations, and direct the appropriate authorities as stipulated by the law to review the code, erroneously embarked on the review alone.”
“As a board, we have received and taken our time to compile the responses of numerous stakeholders which include our Nobel Laureate, activists, legal practitioners, broadcasters, investors, BON, Content Creators, Copyright experts and professional organisations. Most of them have adduced reasonable reasons against the proposed amendment.
“The NBC was set up by law and there is an Act that guides its operations. The Honourable Minister therefore cannot usurp the powers of the board as clearly stated in the Act. Any such action by the Honourable Minister is illegal.
“The board of the NBC wishes to make it quite clear that as long as it is in place, the only NB Code that we recognise and which we shall work within the setting of operating policies and standards for the NBC is the 6th edition of the NBC code which was launched in 2019 in Kano.”
Bilbis decried the fact that members of the board were in Lagos for meeting with the commission’s management but were not informed of the launch, noting that out of 60 stakeholders the minister picked, only four were present.
“You may all recall that by March 26, 2020, (the day of the ‘Public Presentation’ in Lagos), the federal government had already announced a COVID-19 lockdown of Lagos, Ogun states and the FCT.
“It was therefore not a sincere effort to present such an important ‘review document’ which affects people’s investments and livelihoods under such a situation,” he further stated.
While lamenting that the amendment would destroy investments and lead to job losses, the board chair said the minister had failed to show the approval of “his own version” of the code by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The NBC is made up of a board of commissioners appointed by the president as a policy-making body, while the NBC DG is a member of the board and over oversees the day-to-day running of the organisation.No tags for this post.