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The NBC Whip: When Broadcasters Step Out Of Line

In Nigeria, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is authorised by its enabling Act (the National Broadcast Commission Act 1992) to license, monitor, sanction, intervene, and arbitrate in conflicts, as well as create a code setting the standards of the contents and quality of materials for broadcast in Nigeria.

In 2016, the commission issued the sixth edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, and on 11 June 2020, NBC released the amendment to the Code. Although some stakeholders in the broadcasting stations find some amendment quite unfavourable, the implementation remains a subject of controversy.

A recent incident has led NBC to impose a fine of N5 million on Channels Television for alleged breach of the broadcast code in its live programme titled, “Politics Today”.

In a letter which was signed by the Acting Director-General of the NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, to the Managing Director of Channels Television, NBC accused Channels TV of allowing the spokesperson of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, (IPOB), Emma Powerful to make secessionist and inciting declarations on air without caution or reprimand contrary to the broadcast code.

The Commission further alleged that in spite of the fact that IPOB has been proscribed by a court of law, ChannelsTV in its 7 PM live broadcast programme on 25 April 2021, allowed its spokesperson to make what it called “derogatory, false and misleading statements about the Nigerian Army.”

According to NBC, the interview hosted by Seun Okinbaloye on the live programme, “Politics Today”, was in contravention of several of the broadcast codes and extant laws of the land. Part of the letter reads thus:

“This is reprehensible; especially that IPOB remains a proscribed organisation as pronounced by the courts of the land. This much, Channels TV, ought to know and respect. The programme was very clearly in violation of the provisions of the Code, and extant provisions of the Broadcasting Act.

‘‘Please also note that broadcasting is expected to influence society positively, setting the agenda for the social, cultural, economic, political and technological development of a nation for the public good (section 0.2.1 of the Code).

“Similarly, the Broadcasting Act in section 9 mandates the holder of a license to use it to promote national interest, unity and cohesion, and it shall not be used to offend the religious sensibilities or promote ethnicity, sectionalism, hatred and disaffection among the people of Nigeria.

“For obviously breaching the above provisions of the law, your station remains liable to sanctions provided in section 15 of the code which prescribes among others – suspension of broadcast license and a fine of N5million.

“Please be reminded that your station owes the country the responsibility for a truly professional and ethical guided broadcast station, especially at a time of crisis. Please ensure an immediate stop of the programme.”

This is not the first time that NBC has applied Sanctions against a broadcast station. Before now the NBC had fined Nigeria Info 99.3FM N5 million for providing its platform to be used to promote unverifiable and inciting views that can stoke violence and cause public disorder following its Programme, “Morning Cross Fire”, aired on 10 August 2020, between 8.30 AM and 9.00 AM.

In that programme, Dr. Mailafia Obadia commented on the “Southern Kaduna Crisis” and alleged that a northern state governor is a commander of the terror group, Boko Haram. The NBC discovered that Nigeria Info 99.3FM, violated sections Code 3.1.1 of the Nigeria Broadcasting which reads:

“No broadcast shall encourage or incite to crime, lead to public disorder or hate, be repugnant to public feelings or contain offensive reference to any person or organisation, alive or dead or generally be disrespectful to human dignity.

The same year, NBC also fined African Independent Television (AIT), Channels TV and Arise News between N2million and N3million claiming they used unverifiable video footages from the social media in the coverage of the #EndSARS protests.

The Acting NBC Armstrong Idachaba then warned that further sanctions will be harsher and announced that the owners of AIT, DAAR Communications, would be fined separately with not less than N2 million for alleged reports of a fire incident at the National Christian Centre that was not verified.

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NBC disclosed in its 2nd quarter of 2020 that it recorded 716 infractions of its broadcasting code between April to June of 2020.

Some analysts opine that Channels has an inclination for extensively promoting issues that set the people against government especially the issue of insurgency, amongst others.

Recall, that Channel Television reported on 25 April 2021 that “Boko Haram has hoisted its flag in some parts of the Geidam community, in Yobe state, two days after the terrorists reportedly attacked Geidam local government area of the state.

“Geidam is the hometown of the acting Inspector General of Police, Mr. Usman Alkali Baba.”

According to Channels Television, “Some of the residents confirmed that the insurgents have hoisted their flags in some parts of their community, moving from house to house preaching to them to accept their ideology.

“Although the Army battalion in Geidam is still present in the community, it has not stopped the insurgents from propagating their missions. Already, some telecommunication networks have been tempered, thereby hampering communication. Many families have been thrown into panic as they are unable to communicate with their relatives in the community.”

Cases of infractions by broadcast institutions in Nigeria have continued unabated in the last few years. Speaking on this, the Minister of Information revealed that “Out of the 716 infractions, only 22 (3%) were a financial penalty.

“The remaining 694 were either cautions or warnings for obscenity, political, hate speech, unverifiable claims, unprofessionalism, advertisement, and technical breaches.”

Pundits have said that the NBC broadcasting code, which ought to be a guide for broadcasters, is often ignored as media guests are always given the latitude to speak and never get reprimanded on derogatory, false, and misleading statements they make on air.

However, some of the imposed fines on the broadcasting stations are subject to legal appeal. Many human rights groups such as Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) have intermittently offered to go on appeal on behalf of some media houses.

Other eminent Nigerians, institutions and group have condemned the fine on Channels and any other media bodies as cruel and crude, as well as a new attempt to gag the media. Kolawole Oluwadare, deputy director, SERAP said: “The suspension of Channels Television is unconstitutional, illegal, arbitrary, and without any legal basis whatsoever.

“This action by the government and NBC is yet another example of Nigerian authorities’ push to silence independent media and voices.”

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan described the action as draconian and suggestive of intolerance and high handedness by the regulatory body.

On its part, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on 9 November 2020 filed a lawsuit at the Federal High Court in Ibadan, Oyo State, questioning the powers of NBC to impose fines on radio stations, arguing that it is not a judicial body.

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MRA also asked the court to declare the fines imposed by NBC on ARISE Television, Channels Television, and the Africa Independent Television (AIT) over their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests null and void; set aside the fines as unlawfully imposed, among other prayers.

Findings have indicated that claims of some individuals and groups have been somewhat eccentric on the allegation that the country is sliding gradually into draconian media control. The fact is that governments of various countries, including the developed world have equally promulgated laws with sanctions and regulations, and have established agencies to regulate broadcasting, so Nigeria is clearly not an exception. The regulations rather are aimed at reinforcing the position of the broadcast media as an authoritative and dependable platform.

Where there is no law, anarchy will reign supreme. Therefore, the broadcasting stations, especially Channels should educate their programme presenters to moderate their interviews and other programmes effectively by cautioning or reprimanding their guests in accordance with the broadcast code. Doing this will make sanctions very rare as the last option.

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