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Broadcast media and national security – Part 1

By Martins Oloja
19 September 2021   |   3:21 am
Thank you for the opportunity and privilege to speak on the complicated subject, ‘Broadcast Media And National Security at a time such as this when our national security definition appears controversial...

Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC)

Thank you for the opportunity and privilege to speak on the complicated subject, ‘Broadcast Media And National Security at a time such as this when our national security definition appears controversial. I have been asked to speak on how broadcasters should consider national security implications of what they broadcast at this time when social and digital technologies have disrupted journalism and succeeded in making it a conversation. Oh yes, journalism has become a conversation, especially on numerous digital platforms. There are still so many conventional editors but they can no longer be as magisterial as they used to be. Everybody is now involved in reporting and editing. That is why some people call this time the age of ‘citizen journalism’. Which has also democratised access to information. That phenomenon has disrupted the business life of journalism, forever. 

But something should be noted immediately: convergence of digital media to the extent that it is difficult to discuss broadcast media alone without contextually reporting it in the realm of organic journalism. Who wants to implicate me in this age of the high tech giants that control the content that editors cannot monopolise anymore, as I was saying. How do we handle this within another construct that defines the majesty of democracy: freedom of expression? In other words, how do we discuss today’s broadcasters state actors using regulators claim constantly, undermine national security at a time like this? Should broadcasters or journalists be afraid of the regulators who are generally believed to be reading the body language of state actors and leaders to undermine the rights of the public to know details of the spate of insecurity, which apparent incompetence in governance drives? 

What is this thing called national security? What is it that national security isn’t that the state actors push through a section of this remarkably undercapitalised media? I mean here that only well capitalised media organisations can beat chests about independent journalism. In this same vein, whose interest is insecure, really, in the circumstances? Are we talking about the interest of the power elite (who are in power) or interest of the people the constitution claims actually possess sovereignty? 

As I was saying, can we actually implicate broadcast journalists that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) watches every minute? Can’t we agree to talk generally about ‘Journalism and National Security?’ Is there any government even in the most democratic of the democratic world that won’t like to regulate digital journalism that we now practise? Will there be a time when state actors and digital journalists would be at peace with each other? Let’s make the journalism-and-national-security question a bit elastic: can the broadcast journalism regulators actually regulate content conscientiously in any jurisdiction where most citizens are complaining bitterly that their government has actually failed to provide welfare and security, which the organic law of the land, the constitution says, is the primary purpose of government? Here is the construct: Journalism, which is a constitutional responsibility as defined in Section 22 of our constitution, pursues what is bizarre, what is odd, what is unusual about people, places and events. That is what we define as the news. 

What is news?
News in its classic form is what somebody, somewhere is trying to hide, the rest is advertising. So, if journalists have capacity to investigate why government cannot provide welfare and security to the people, and publish or broadcast such findings, should regulators be right to punish such broadcasters for doing their constitutional job as the Fourth Estate of the Realm? Let’s ask more questions: Do today’s media organisations have capacity or enough capitalisation to hire professional broadcasters that can follow professional standards that even regulators cannot exploit to classify offenders to punish? Will the world ever have iconic leaders like Thomas Jefferson who would tell state actors and even leaders that they should deepen their understanding about the concept of freedom of expression? Will there be another Jefferson who would prefer a free media without government to a government without a free media? Will there be a time state actors and publicists or reputation managers understand that there is no such concept as freedom of the press, that the freedom the press exercises derives from Freedom of Expression doctrine, which the First Amendment in the United States Constitution addresses so clearly? Why do the state actors, especially in Africa, seek to criminalise journalism, which they always demonise as threatening national security? What undermines national security more than celebration of mediocrity and impunity in governance at all levels? Whose actions actually threaten national security in a state where the law isn’t allowed to rule, where only man rules? 

What is broadcasting basically?
Broadcasting is a branch of communication that uses video and audio content on a variety of platforms. Broadcasting companies create original content or buy the rights to broadcast local and national content, such as news, music programmes, talk shows, movies and advertisements. You can deliver a message, announcement or gig, in real time, as it happens without any delay. No limits – events can run as long as necessary, as they are not limited to TV scheduling, DVD/video length. Cost – webcasting content is cheaper than using commercial television transmission platforms such as satellite.

Broadcast media involves electronically and simultaneously sending information containing signals, print messages and audio or video content to a vast group of recipients using television, radio, newspapers, magazines and digital media including the Internet, emails and texts. The convergence I was talking about resonates here. Which is why the University of Columbia Journalism School in New York has simplified this concept of digital journalism with the disruption of its journalism curriculum, which now reads: ‘Journalism Plus Computer Science is equal to Digital Journalism’. In other words, digitisation has enhanced media convergence, which sells content in print, sound and video at the same time. Here is the thing, all websites, broadcast, print and sound now have all the three digital elements: print, sound and video. And that is why in 2012, it was easy for the New York Times to recruit the then retiring director-general of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Mr. Mark Thompson as its managing director/CEO. Thompson is a digital journalism guru and his digital journalism skill has raised the bar of digital journalism even in the United States. That is why broadcasting should not be singled out for overregulation. Journalism is now a consolidated discipline. 

In other words, modern media comes in many different formats, including print media (books, magazines, newspapers), television, movies, video games, music, cell phones, various kinds of software, and the Internet.

Who created broadcasting?
In 1898, Guglielmo Marconi, a 24-year-old Italian, began the world’s first commercial radio service. For citizens of the United States, radio—and later television—not only introduced an abundance of entertainment and information, it also raised many legal questions surrounding its implementation and regulation.

Public officers won’t be tired of harping on this: Radio and television are essential organs for national development and should, therefore, be used for the promotion of Nigerian’s cultural, economic and political development. As the media utilises the airwaves, which belong to the public, the broadcasting media should be used to improve and promote unity and security of the people of the nations. There is indeed, no doubt, that there should be a body that will regulate their operations. While this body is expected to have controlling powers over the broadcasting media; it shall at least provide operational code that will prevent the abuse of the media.

Regulation and national security scare…
On August 24, 1992, the then military president, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, signed into law, Decree No 38, which allows private participation in broadcasting. This was done through the establishment of the National Broadcasting Commission. Decree No 38 authorised the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to issue licence and regulate broadcasting in Nigeria. This is why every transmission of sound and vision either by cable, television, radio, satellite or any medium of broadcasting from anywhere in the country is subjected to its authority.

NBC was, among other things, empowered and designed to carry out these functions:
 Setting up standard on acceptable content and quality of broadcast content in Nigeria.

 Seizing transmission equipment or withdrawing licenses where necessary, should any broadcast media breach the NBC code.

 Upholding the principle of equity and fairness on broadcasting.

Section 3.1.1 of the Federal Commissions Act authorised the National Broadcasting Commission to withhold the licenses of stations indicated for violating the NBC code.

Let’s examine two provisions of the Broadcasting Code, which sets the bar for broadcasters and journalists in crisis times and the threat of misuse, manipulation or negligence to national security: The Nigeria Broadcasting Code sixth edition section 1.3.1 states:

“In the event of a crisis, the advantages of broadcast technologies may be used but not in a manner to aggravate the situation…”

Section 1.3.4 states that:
“Sensationalism shall be avoided by refraining from speculations, statements, details or exaggerations that could create mass panic or hysteria”. 

Lastly, section 1.3.6 states:
“The Broadcaster using media sources or any emerging technology for coverage of a disaster or emergency shall exercise due caution and professionalism, ensuring the veracity and credibility of the originating material”. 

Finally from the Code in section 3.9.1(b), which states that: “The Broadcaster shall ensure that no programme contains anything, which amounts to subversion of constituted authority or compromises the unity or corporate existence of Nigeria as a sovereign state. 

Regulators and security agencies will continue to claim that in 2001, a news broadcast on Cross River State Broadcasting Corporation accused a border community in Akwa Ibom State of land encroachment and expansionism. A counter broadcast from Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation fueled the crisis, which degenerated into three days of communal violence. From 1995 to 1998, the NBC had to constantly report the broadcast of Radio Kudirat to the National Security Adviser’s office because of its alleged threat to national security. They also add that today’s challenge of Radio Biafra has brought to the fore the damage such a broadcast can cause on the sovereignty of the Nigerian state. These things exist in any state, what is required is proper management with good emotional intelligence.  

How does broadcast journalism affect national security?

What is national security?
National security or national defence is the security and defence of a nation state, including its citizens, economy, and institutions, which is regarded as a duty of government. Originally conceived as protection against military attack, national security is now widely understood to include also non-military dimensions, including the security from terrorism, minimisation of crime, economic security, energy security, environmental security, food security, cyber security, etc. 

Similarly, national security risks include, in addition to the actions of other nation states, action by violent non-state actors, violent state actors, narcotic cartels, and by multinational corporations, and also the effects of natural disasters. 

To be continued…

Being talking points for MARTINS OLOJA, Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian at the Foundation for Ibadan Television Anniversary Celebration (FITAC) 2021 Seminar on National Security at the Press Centre, Iyaganku Ibadan, on Thursday, September 2, 2021.