By Okoh Aihe
FOR the writer it can be a punishing ordeal to write on issues nobody seems to care about or looks the writer is totally ignored with his writings destined for a contemptuous place in the newspaper heap, until somebody with love for letters and reason climbs the stage.
It can really be exhausting but to give up writing is no better alternative but an act of cowardice that shouldn’t be accommodated by any society in desperate need of deliverance from wickedness and misgovernance. There is so much happening in our nation that places a demand on people of conscience and goodwill to speak up.
On the trending issue of the documentaries on insecurity and banditry by the BBC and Trust TV, we came to the eerie conclusion last week, that the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, would sanction broadcasters even on grounds of speculative guilt, irrespective of what the regulatory books say.
The sanctions came immediately. Multichoice Nigeria Limited, with trade name DSTV, NTA-Startimes, TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV) and Trust TV were fined N5 million each; the first three for running a BBC documentary titled, “The Bandit Warlords of Zamfara”, while Trust TV featured a documentary, “Nigeria’s Banditry: The Inside Story”, on March 5, 2022.
The documentaries, according to the sanction letter signed by the NBC boss, Mallam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, glorified the activities of bandits and undermined national security in Nigeria. The weight of the sanction rested on three sections of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, 6th edition, namely: Sections 3.1.1, 3.12.2 and 3.11.2.
For instance, Section 3.1.1 says: “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,” while Section 3.12.2 says: “The broadcaster shall not transmit a programme that incites or is likely to incite to violence among the populace, causing mass panic, political and social upheaval, security breach and general social disorder.”
This writer has spoken to a number of people, including some former leaders of the NBC, they all come with the opinion that they found no fault in the said documentaries. They pointed out that the Trust TV documentary ran since March 5, 2022, yet it is difficult to point to any documented evidence of any harm it has done in the public space.
One may not want to dwell on these sundry opinions because, from all indications, there will be a cocktail of litigations from this action by the government. Condemnations are pouring in but there is a remote possibility that the leadership of the country may be accumulating invectives for an action he has no direct contribution to.
The Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON, responded to the fine by saying that the NBC even violated contents of its Code by not following the laid down procedure of imposing fine. The operators were not notified of any complaints against them nor were any queries issued before the fine.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, and the Media Rights Agenda, MRA, have asked government to rescind the fine. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, and the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development, CJID, have gone to court to request that the fine be declared arbitrary and illegal. The situation continues to boil over, calling attention to two documentaries that people hardly saw.
Our conclusion in last Wednesday’s article titled, “From Telecommunications to Broadcasting, Desperate Times Indeed”, was informed by two primary factors. One: The NBC had been directed to sanction the broadcasters by the government. At least, the Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said so. Two: The NBC has no right to disobey the Minister when such a directive is given. That is the position of the NBC Act apropos the Minister.
The Power of the Minister to give directives is so important that it occupies a whole Section of the National Broadcasting Act Cap N11, 2004. It states: “Subject to the Provisions of the Act, the Minister may give the Commission directives of a general character relating generally to particular matters with regard to the exercise by the Commission of its functions under this Act and it shall be the duty of the Commission to comply with such directives.”
Those who framed the Act didn’t have water in their mouth nor did they leave room for any equivocations. Since August 24,1992, when this Act was birthed as Decree 38, the authority of the Minister has remained unshaken for whatever reason.
The Act is what emboldens the present Minister to always announce with unrestrained pomposity that government has directed the NBC on what to do when facing some regulatory challenges.
The unfortunate irony is that the broadcasting industry has been deregulated since 1992 to welcome private investors, and this makes the industry a business, although government still wants to have a leash on it and dictate the rhythm of growth and operations.
The industry faces challenges as a result of such regulatory infractions. A number of the operators are exposed to varying degrees of debts owed to banks and individuals, because they wanted to invest in a business in their own country. It may not be appropriate to list some of them because, really, it is their private business!
Since last week I have been asking myself and some friends who still spare some time out of their buckets of worries to engage with me, whether the National Assembly really exists in this nation, for her fortunes, to witness such rapid degradation.
In both houses – Senate and House of Representatives, there are Committees on Information; what oversight do they give the broadcasting industry? Would it not be their responsibility to make interventions where the Act is obtuse? Why would they watch one man completely destroy an industry?
I feel sorry for the staff of that Commission.
I have known some of them since 1992, since when they got employed as junior staff. I have watched some of them grow and build capacity over the years as they gradually climbed the steps of the Civil Service.
I can testify that they are not derelict in knowledge and commitment to duty. It is so painful to see these people look morose just because politicians are allowed to embark on an exaggerated ego trip. Can’t they at least even get help from the National Assembly?
One thing I can tell you. This is the worst of times for the workers of the NBC. But it is like a dress rehearsal for some more ominous things that may come in the days ahead. There outrage is about fines today, in the days and months ahead, leading to a very important election period; it may be something more catastrophic to the nation.
There are all kinds of premonitions and very troubling suggestions about stations that may be shut before the elections. While these suggestions have no similitude in reality, it will be important to caution against arbitrary actions that could throw the nation into further distress. My advocacy here is for the health of the broadcasting industry and the overall health of the entire nation.