JUST a couple of months ago, the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, put itself on the firing line when it scandalously fined a radio station, Nigeria Info FM, N5 million over an interview with a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia.
The Commission claimed the station violated sections of the controversial Broadcasting Code by airing a live interview which it termed “inciting”.
The NBC has slammed another N9 million fine on three television stations: the Africa Independent Television, AIT; Arise Television and Channels Television for airing live video coverages of the Lekki Toll Gate EndSARS protests which ended on a bloody note with the military reportedly firing at unarmed protesters with live bullets.
The Acting Director General of the Commission, Prof Armstrong Idachaba, asserted that the fines were imposed because the airing of “unverified” live videos of that historic event was also a violation of the Broadcasting Code.
Perhaps the Commission is blaming the broadcasters for covering the event rather than facing the fact that it was the military intervention that sparked off the reign of anarchy by hoodlums nationwide.
It has become obvious that the NBC’s recent actions are geared towards muzzling the media and the social media. NBC is now weaponising the Broadcasting Code.
This same Sixth Broadcasting Code has become controversial, especially as it was alleged it was single-handedly and illegally amended by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, contrary to the law that set up the Commission which gives that power to the Board of the Commission. Among other things, the fine for “hate speech” was increased from N500,000 to N5 million.
Legal experts have already termed these fines “illegal” having been imposed pursuant to a Broadcast Code that was illegally amended.
Besides that, we question the Commission’s sanction of private broadcasters for disseminating live videos of an event of international interest which were also widely used by international news networks. They were performing their constitutionally-assigned roles, which includes holding government to account.
The NBC appears determined to reduce the vibrant private broadcast media to irrelevance and increase unemployment in the media industry.
We urge the various social watchdog and rights advocacy groups which have risen to challenge the Commission’s hostile fines in court not to relent. If care is not taken, we will be taken back to the dark days when we were forced to consume only the outputs of government-owned media which were largely irrelevant to the people.
This must not be allowed. The amended Broadcasting Code cannot override our Constitution and relevant laws which define the media’s place in our hard-won democracy.
These illegal fines must be dropped. Only the courts have the power to impose fines on any erring broadcaster.