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Criticisms greet NBC’s fines on Channels, AIT

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Nigerians based in South Africa protest outside their embassy in Pretoria on October 21, 2020 in solidarity with Nigerian youth who are demanding an end to police brutality in the form of The Nigerian Police Force Unit, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). (Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP)

Commission asks Arise TV, others to pay N3m each
• Action attempts to discourage free press, says NUJ, PDP
• Group asks commission to cancel fines or face legal action

National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has come under fire for fining Arise TV, Channels Television and the African Independent Television (AIT) about N3m for alleged “unprofessional coverage” of EndSARS protests and the use of unverifiable social media reports.

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Acting Director-General of NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, who announced the punitive measures yesterday, in Abuja, had alleged that at the early stage of the protest, reports available to the commission indicated the broadcast industry largely gave a fair and balanced coverage but the trend became completely reversed when violence, wanton destruction and looting were introduced.

Idachaba alleged that “Channels Television, Arise TV and AIT especially continued to transmit footages obtained from unverified and unauthenticated social media sources, adding that the pictures stimulated anger and heightened the violence that was witnessed during the crisis.”

He said: “We believe the whole country has now seen why the spurious and recklessness on the social media must not be patronised by the mainstream traditional media. We are at the stage of our nation’s history when our broadcasters have a crucial responsibility for responsive and professional broadcasting. By picking unverified, unsubstantiated social media sources and repeating the narratives, our broadcasters have shown crass lack of professionalism and a disposition to be escalators of conflict and, more seriously, a threat to Nigeria. Look at the level of damage, killings that have happened on account of unverifiable reports”.

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He described as very disgraceful a situation where traditional broadcasters turned themselves to social media pundits, citing a DJ as a news source.

“Where is the authenticity, where is the credibility,” he queried.

He said the development was a total abdication of professional checks.

“It is beginning to look as if it is a deliberate ploy, so the option available is to shut down the industry but that is not the position of the government. Left for me, I would have considered some of that portion We decided to categorise the offence as Category B offence but it is easily escalated to A and A will be a shutdown. But we still pin it down to B, which is a heavy fine between N500,000 to N5 million and none of them will pay less than N2 million but any further breach will lead to the withdrawal of the licence,” he warned.

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BUT the Nigeria Union of Journalists has urged the NBC to immediately withdraw the fines.

NUJ, which called for an end to contempt and disrespect for the Media by NBC, said the fines were unnecessary, discriminatory, an attempt to discourage a free, independent media, and should be withdrawn immediately.

In a statement, yesterday, in Abuja, the National President of the union, Mr. Chris Isiguzo, observed that the NBC decision further exposed the nation’s anti-democratic tendencies.

It noted that rather than trying to muzzle the media, the NBC should applaud media coverage of the protests and the professionalism of journalists who, despite enormous risks to their lives, ensured comprehensive coverage of the protests.

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The statement read, “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 shortcomings, remain the most viable tool for good governance and democracy and should be jealously guarded and protected.

“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.”

REACTING, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the rush to impose fines on television stations by the NBC smacked of a fresh attempt to further gag the media, suppress free speech and Nigerians’ access to information.

The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the clampdown had heightened widespread public apprehension of attempts at concealments of details and suppression of material evidence relating to human rights violations during the protest.

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“In fact, this display of high-handedness by the NBC has hugely detracted from the efforts being made by well-meaning Nigerians to douse the tension in the land and reassure Nigerians at this critical time,” the PDP said.
 
It advised NBC to withdraw the fees and handle its regulatory role more professionally. 

“While the PDP calls for caution by all Nigerians, especially in the handling of information, we urge agencies of government to be mindful of actions that are capable of acerbating the already precarious situation in which we have found ourselves,” the party added.

SIMILARLY, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) yesterday condemned the fines, describing them as unconstitutional and illegal.

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The group also threatened legal action against the NBC if the fines were not rescinded within 48 hours.

SERAP, in a statement by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said: “This action by the NBC is yet another example of Nigerian authorities’ push to silence independent media and voices.

According to SERAP, the fines represent a new low in Nigeria’s protection of freedom of expression and the ability of independent media to function in the country.

It urged President Muhammadu Buhari to caution the NBC against intimidating and harassing independent media houses and to respect the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) and the country’s international human rights obligations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

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