The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) must immediately withdraw the fine against Arise TV, AIT and Channels TV over the coverage of the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria.
The NBC released a statement dated October 26th alleging that the User Generated Sources (UGS) in the coverage of the #EndSARS protest by the above mentioned television stations were unverified and a breach to the broadcasting Code.
The statement read: “In line with the provisions of sections 5.6.9 of the Nigeria Broadcasting code which states that “the broadcaster shall be held liable for any breach of the code from the use of material from User Generated Sources. The Commission has therefore sanctioned Arise TV, Channels TV and AIT in line with the provisions of the broadcasting Code. This is to serve as deterrent to broadcasters who deliberately ignore to verify stories before they broadcast”.
Africa Media Development Foundation (AMDF) considers the sanction on these private broadcasters unnecessary and arbitrary, and must be immediately revoked by the commission.
It is commendable that the commission acknowledged the professionalism with which the Nigeria media carried out its duty during the COVID-19 crisis in the country, but shocking to see the media receiving a strike for doing the same thing for which it received an applause.
However, it is worthy of note that the nation was already tensed by rumors flying around before the mainstream media reported the alleged violence that had taken over the erstwhile peaceful protest.
All over the world, except under repressive regimes, the media, including major news outlets like BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera are known to have relied on many sources, including amateur and unverified social media videos to generate stories. If the social media is a bad source for news, why does Nigerian government, including the presidency use the social media to propagate their messages and statements?
NBC must stop the use of its code to threaten broadcast stations in Nigeria from carrying out their professional roles and functions.
If NBC is not happy with any story aired by a broadcast station, it should go to court for breach of code and not to sit in their office and issue out a fine. The power to impose sanction on media organisation lies with the courts, not the Regulatory body. That has been clearly spelt out in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and widely acclaimed by Nigerian courts. This is clearly revealed in various cases, including the case involving National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) v. Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (ExxonMobil) (2018) LPELR-44210(ca).
In delivering the judgement, the Court of Appeal held that NOSDRA does not have powers to impose fines on EXXONMOBIL without going to the Courts, whilst considering the powers conferred on NOSDRA by Sections 6(2) and (3) of the NOSDRA Act.
The judgement also made it clear that only a court of law can establish whether an offence has been committed, not a regulatory agency.
As a media development organization and a press freedom advocate, we strongly condemn the sanction on the three broadcast stations by the NBC and we are calling for an immediate withdrawal of the sanction.
It is expected that all government agencies should promote the full recovery of peace in the country as many are still counting their losses and the social space is still susceptible to tension.
We are also calling on Nigerians to desist from peddling of fake news and support the work of government and its agencies to see that peace is fully restored to all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.