Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on Monday urged the National Assembly to launch an investigation into the regulatory activities of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), accusing it of succumbing to the control of an overtly politically partisan Minister of Information to cow broadcasting stations in Nigeria in an effort to prevent them from criticizing government officials and powerful political figures.
MRA said in a statement issued in Lagos that it was compelled to seek the intervention of the National Assembly in the light of Friday’s imposition of fines of N2 million each on two television stations, Arise News and Television Continental (TVC), by the NBC for alleged breach of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, describing the action as the latest in a pattern by the NBC of abusing its powers to repress broadcasters in violation of basic rules of natural justice.
MRA’s Programme Officer, Ms Maimuna Momoh, noted in the statement that “It cannot be fair or just that the NBC, which wrote the Nigeria Broadcasting Code to create offences, is the complainant in the allegations of violation of the Code by broadcasting stations, investigates the alleged breaches itself, prosecutes the accused stations, sits in judgment on the matter, frequently without even giving the stations any opportunity to defend themselves against the allegations, sanctions them through the imposition of fines, which it collects as part of its revenue. This is clearly an affront to principles of fair hearing, equity and justice.”
In separate letters dated February 3, 2023, signed by NBC Director-General, Mallam Balarabe llelah, to the Chief Executive Officer of Arise Global Media Limited, owners of Arise News, and the Chief Executive Officer of Continental Broadcasting Service Limited, owners of TVC, the Commission accused them of violating the Broadcasting Code in their coverage of political campaigns and gave each of them two weeks to pay a penalty of N2 million.
MRA condemned the action saying this pattern of behaviour by the Commission has reached alarming levels as, in most cases, it is either being used as a weapon by the Information Minister to impede broadcasting stations from performing their constitutional role of upholding the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people or it is on its own turning its regulatory function into a revenue drive, and in both cases, frequently dispensing with the imperative of giving accused stations the opportunity to defend themselves.
Ms Momoh said: “In recent years, we have seen several dozen examples of such outrageous sanctioning of broadcasting stations, even in the absence of any complaint from anyone and without their being given any opportunity to defend themselves against baseless accusations in many cases as the NBC has turned its regulatory function into a scavenger hunt for revenue or succumbs to pressures from the Executive branch of government to sanction stations which criticize government officials or their actions.”
Observing that the NBC has also sometimes claimed to be sanctioning broadcasting stations for inaccurate or untruthful reporting, she remarked that “It is not only ironic but outright dangerous that the NBC is seeking to enforce truth and objectivity in the outputs of broadcasting stations while it is taking directives in so doing from a partisan Minister of Information who is notorious in this country and beyond for his own disregard for truth and objectivity.”
According to her, “If the NBC is not deterred from this its approach to regulations, Nigerians will be fed only the Minister’s version of the truth, thereby defeating the purpose of Section 22 of the Constitution.”
Ms Momoh stressed that “An established principle guiding the operations of a regulatory authority exercising powers in the area of broadcasting is that it should be independent and adequately protected against interference of a political, commercial or other nature. Contrary to this internationally established norm, the Minister of Information continues to interfere in the regulatory functions of the NBC and frequently deploys it as a weapon with which he prevents broadcasting stations from performing their duty to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people or for punishing those that dare to do so”
She therefore called on the National Assembly, in the exercise of its oversight functions, to conduct an open and transparent investigation into the NBC and the conduct of its regulatory functions in order to prevent it from completely destroying the broadcast sector in Nigeria.