‘NBC’s N5 million fine on Channels TV anti-democracy’
Stakeholders in the media industry have continued to express dissatisfaction with the recent National Broadcasting Commission’s (NBC) fine on Channels TV, saying it portends grave danger for the nation’s democracy.
On Monday, the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) petitioned Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, complaining of alleged high-handedness in the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) imposition of N5 million fine on Channels TV for supposed tolerance of treasonable outburst of a guest.
The organisation, in a statement, slammed the regulator for being the “accuser and the judge” in the matter involving the interview granted vice presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP) in the February 25, 2023 general elections, Datti Baba-Ahmed.
Recall that the guest, who featured on Politics Today by Seun Okinbaloye, had advised the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) against swearing in President-elect Bola Tinubu.
He had submitted that his inauguration would signal end of democracy in the country.
The petition, issued by BON’s Executive Secretary, Dr. Yemisi Bamgbose, reads: “We found it absurd that NBC, as a regulator, could impose illegal fine on a broadcast station without employing all avenues to investigate the complaints nor give room for defence from the station so accused.
“Honourable minister, sir, the attitudes of NBC towards broadcast stations in recent past are not only arbitrary, but smack of high-handedness, which is almost suffocating the broadcast media in the country.”
Appealing to Mohammed to use his good offices to rein in the NBC, BON added: “It is in the light of the above and for many other reasons that we are calling on the minister to urgently call NBC to order to avoid total decimation of the hitherto respected regulatory body.”
Venting its mind to NBC DG, BON said the watchdog was “gradually sliding to agent of media suppression, which may lose its credibility as unbiased regulator.”
Bamgbose noted, “we did not see any area where the interviewer committed any infraction against rules of NBC. The onus is on the presenter to try and caution the interviewee, which the presenter did and attested to by everybody. He did all he could to caution the interviewee. As long as you act professionally on an issue, your station is not expected to be fined, and that has been the position of BON.”
Calling for a review of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code, he added, “we know there is a lot of importation into the Code that the stakeholders do not agree on. The code is not National Broadcasting Code but Nigerian Broadcasting Code, which means it is not NBC that should draw the code but the stakeholders. There is need to call the stakeholders and review the code.”
Last week, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, had joined other Nigerians, who condemned NBC’s action.
The octogenarian said he watched the programme keenly and saw the valiant efforts of the interviewer to ensure fair hearing.
Prof. of Mass Communication, Chukwuemeka Odumegu-Ojukwu University, Anambra State, Angela Nwammuo, also condemned NBC’s decision, insisting it did not augur well for the nation’s democracy.
She joined other stakeholders that called for a review of the Broadcasting Code.
Winner of the 2006 CNN African Journalist of the Year and President, The Crest Publishing, Shola Oshukeye, suggested that instead of imposing fine, NBC should have issued a query, even as he advised the President-elect to extend hand of fellowship to others to calm frail nerves.
IN a related development, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) have sued President Muhammadu Buhari and two others at the Federal High Court, Lagos over the fine
Joined in the suit, as defendants are NBC and the minister.
In the suit numbered FHC/L/CS/616/2023 and filed last week, the plaintiffs are asking the court to determine whether the NBC code used to impose the fine and threat of ‘higher sanctions’ are not in inconsistent with access to information and media freedom.
In the case filed Kolawole Oluwadare, Andrew Nwankwo and Blessing Ogwuche, the group is asking the court for a declaration that the activated code and threat of ‘higher sanctions’ are arbitrary, unconstitutional and unlawful, as “it violates the rights to fair hearing, freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.”
The plaintiffs are seeking an order setting aside the fine for being “inconsistent and incompatible with Sections 22, 36 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended), Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
They are also seeking an order directing and compelling NBC to reverse its “arbitrary and unlawful decision to impose a fine of N5,000,000 on Channels TV forthwith.”
Media analysts, who spoke to The Guardian, said they had expected NBC to conduct thorough investigations before imposing the fine. They argued that in an era where people’s media options are not only endless, but audience-ship itself has become quite fragmented, NBC needed to re-imagine and re-think itself in the 21st century.
MEANWHILE, Executive Director, Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER), Adewale Adeoye, does not believe NBC needs court warrant to impose sanctions, just as a traffic officer does not need court order to fine a driver, who runs foul of traffic rule.
While insisting press freedom is not absolute all over the world, Adeoye said the fine might be considered too harsh considering the dwindling national economy and the grave impact on media stability.
In Nigeria, he observed there are the Nigerian Press Council and the NBC that regulates media practice.
With Decree 38 of 1992, which created NBC, later amended as an act of the National Assembly by Act 55 of 1999, and known as the NBC Laws of the Federation 2004, it has the responsibility to “regulate and control the broadcasting industry in Nigeria.”
Making specific reference to the UK, he said Ofcom is for communications that regulates TV and radio and can impose sanctions or withdraw licences.
In the US, he cited the Federal Communications Commission that regulates radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all the 50 states including, and in the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. It also imposes fines and has done so in many instances.
He recalled individual journalists are also sanctioned like in the case of Graham Phillips, 43, from Nottingham for his perceived anti-British coverage in the BBC.
He added a BBC sports presenter, Gary Lineker, was recently removed on the spot for presentations considered anti-British.