…Say It’s an Outrageous Violation of the Constitution, Principles of Fair Hearing …It’s Ploy by Buhari Administration to Silence Independent Media…SERAP …NBC Should Applaud Media Coverage of EndSARS Protests…NUJ Two leading media advocacy groups – Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the International Press Centre (IPC) have condemned the sanctioning of three television stations by
…Say It’s an Outrageous Violation of the Constitution, Principles of Fair Hearing
…It’s Ploy by Buhari Administration to Silence Independent Media…SERAP
…NBC Should Applaud Media Coverage of EndSARS Protests…NUJ
Two leading media advocacy groups – Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the International Press Centre (IPC) have condemned the sanctioning of three television stations by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over the coverage of the #ENDSARS protests, describing the Commission’s action as an outrageous violation of the Constitution and basic principles of fair hearing which cannot be allowed to stand.
By a letter dated October 23, 2020 signed by its Acting Director General, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, the NBC fined each of the three stations – Channels Television, Africa Independent Television (AIT) and ARISE Television – N3 million as penalty for their alleged use of unsubstantiated footages from social media in their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests and gave them three weeks from the date of receipt of the letter to pay the amount to avoid further sanctions.
The Commission said it had earlier written to them on October 21, 2020, where they were “cautioned on the sustained use of Fake News, disturbing visuals, close-up shots and attacks in the coverage of the ENDSARS protests”. It stated that although the social media may be a source of information, it is incumbent on broadcasters to verify such materials before usage and drew attention to some provisions of the Broadcasting Code, implying that the provisions had been breached without indicating any broadcast that breached any of these provisions.
“Channels Television, Arise TV and AIT especially continued to transmit footages obtained from unverified and unauthenticated social media sources. No doubt these pictures stimulated anger and heightened the violence that was witnessed during the crisis,” Idachaba said.
In addition to the fine on AIT, the broadcast industry regulator said it is considering seizing the station’s licence over a false report that the National Ecumenical Centre was set ablaze.
In a joint statement issued in Lagos, the two organizations accused the NBC of turning itself into a “kangaroo court” and called on it to immediately reverse its decision sanctioning the three stations in order to save itself the embarrassment that both the Commission and the country would suffer locally and internationally as a result of its action.
MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, said “a situation where the NBC, which is so glaringly lacking in independence and subject to the direct control of political authorities, wrote the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, creating the offences for which the stations were sanctioned and was the complainant in the allegations against the stations, prosecuted them and sat in judgment on the matter without even giving the stations any opportunity to defend themselves against the charges while also imposing a fine of N3 million on each of them, which it intends to collect and pocket, is offensive to any notion of fair hearing, equity or justice.”
According to him, “Every Nigerian ought to be scandalized by this obscene violation of a principle that is sacrosanct not only under our Constitution but under every regional and international human rights instrument to which Nigeria is a state party. It portrays Nigeria as crude and primitive and will no doubt bring the country to ridicule.” He pledged that his organization would take legal action to challenge the NBC’s action.
Mr. Lanre Arogundade, the executive director of IPC, spoke in the same vein saying, “The NBC has in this matter again constituted itself into the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge in its own case. It is indeed strange that the fines were arbitrarily imposed without giving the concerned media outlets the option of defending the allegations. All this constitutes an affront on rule of law”
Mr. Arogundade said IPC would team up with MRA to use the instrumentality of the law to challenge the absurdities perpetrated by NBC.
This is coming just as three prominent civil society groups, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Network for Best Practice and Integrity in Leadership (NEBPRIL), have also decried the NBC N9 million fine on three broadcast stations.
Last week, the NBC warned all broadcast stations against reporting the #EndSARS protests in a manner that could embarrass the government or private individuals or cause disaffection, incite panic or rift in the society.
SERAP which condemn the action, says, “This action by NBC is yet another example of Nigerian authorities’ push to silence independent media and voices.”
It asked the NBC to “drop the fines and uphold Nigerian constitution and international obligations to respect and protect freedom of expression and media freedom. We will sue NBC if the unconstitutional fines are not rescinded within 48 hours,” a statement by its Deputy Director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare read.
“This is a new low in Nigeria’s protection of freedom of expression, and the ability of independent media to function in the country. The fines are detrimental to media freedom, and access to information, and the NBC must immediately withdraw the decision.”
SERAP further said: “President Muhammadu Buhari should caution the NBC to stop intimidating and harassing independent media houses and to respect the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international human rights obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
In a statement titled, “Unending Assault on the Media,” signed by its President, Mr Chris Isiguzo, the NUJ, which also upbraided the NBC’s decision to penalise the three private TV stations over what it alleges as unprofessional coverage of the #EndSARS protests across the country, says, “it further exposes the nation’s anti-democratic tendencies.”
“Rather than trying to muzzle the media, we suggest that the NBC should applaud media coverage of the protests and the professionalism of Journalists who despite the enormous risks to their lives, ensured a comprehensive coverage of the protests.
“This development is of major concern to the Union as journalists and media organisations are targets of attack by both protesters and Government. The media, despite all its perceived short comings remains the most viable tool for good governance and democracy and should be jealously guarded and protected,” the NUJ said..
It contends that, “Actions like this only bring back unpleasant memories of the long tenure of Military rule and the established culture of intolerance against the media when Nigeria recorded her most grievous crimes against the industry. Sadly, we are once more witnessing actions that seek to undermine the profession by both State and non-State actors.”
“We call for an end to this open contempt and disrespect for the Media by NBC and note that the fines imposed on the media houses is unnecessary, discriminatory, an attempt to discourage a free, independent media, and should be withdrawn immediately,” the Union noted..
The NEBPRIL, which is also miffed by the action, cautioned “the NBC not to inflame passions by seeking to truncate the free flow of information to the citizenry.”
Frowning at the fines imposed on the broadcasting trio of Arise TV, AIT and Channels Television, NEBPRIL stated that the NBC could ill afford to act as complainant, prosecutor and judge in one fell swoop.
In a statement in Abuja on Tuesday and signed by the group’s Chairman, Hon. Victor Afam Ogene, a former member of the House of Representatives, NEBPRIL wondered why NBC did not query the television stations before arriving at the decision to impose fines on them, especially for carrying out their constitutional mandate.
The rights group said: “Like many Nigerians, we read with consternation the fines of between two to three million naira imposed on the stations over their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests which recently swept across the country.
“These are tenuous times that require circumspection by public officials in the discharge of their duties; leaving many to wonder what the rush to fine the stations was all about, especially as the Panel of Enquiry and Restitution for Victims set up by the Lagos state government was yet to be inaugurated when the NBC slammed its hammer.
“The rationale for the sanctions, as announced by the NBC’s Acting Director-General, Professor Armstrong Idachaba, does not sound plausible to us and in fact, to every sane Nigerian who followed the protest via the media channels while it lasted.
“From what we know, these sanctions by the NBC are an affront to the Journalism profession. We, therefore, view it as an attempt to muzzle free press and cow the media from informing the public about the goings-on in the society and to chiefly hold the government accountable to the people
“Recently, the world witnessed #Blacklivesmatter protests in the United States of America occasioned by the unlawful execution of a citizen, George Flyod, by a police officer.
Despite replaying footages gotten from the different sites of the protests, oftentimes from participants of the various marches, no station was fined for discharging their constitutional mandates of informing the members of the public.
“If, indeed, Professor Idachaba was to do anything noble, he would have commended the Nigerian media for ensuring all-sides, all-angles coverage of the #EndSARS protests rather than imposing the infamous sanctions on the three TV houses.
“To this end, NEBPRIL calls on the NBC to immediately withdraw the fines and also desist from acts that will gag free press and free speech in Nigeria,” the organisation said.