The media, human rights community and the authorities are battling over a controversial order by NBC restricting news organisations from covering secession and agitation activities.
On Friday, the regulatory body in the broadcast sector ordered television and radio stations to stop inviting guests and analysts to talk on divisive or secessionist issues on their programmes.
The corporation also warned the broadcast media to desist from revealing “details” of the victims of bandits, terrorists and kidnappers in their reports.
The disturbing issue was contained in a statement entitled, “Newspaper Reviews and Current Affairs Programmes: A Need For Caution,” signed by the Director, Broadcast Monitoring, Francisca Aiyetan, on behalf of the new director-general of the commission, Balarabe Ilelah.
Ilelah, a veteran broadcaster, politician and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), was appointed as the new DG of the NBC on June 11, 2021, by President Muhammadu Buhari, so we can guess his agenda.
This is not the first time NBC has been forcing controversial directives on the broadcast media in recent history.
Recall that early in June, the regulatory body ordered all broadcasting stations in the country to suspend the use of Twitter.
NBC DG then Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, in a statement, advised television and radio stations to de-install Twitter handles and stop using it as user-generated content (UGC) for news and programmes presentation, especially phone-in.
NBC warned that it would be ‘unpatriotic’ for any broadcaster in Nigeria to continue to patronise the suspended Twitter.
Also on January 26, 2021, NBC warned media houses in the country to ‘cautiously report’ the issue of insecurity, particularly around the herdsmen crisis in Ondo and Oyo states. The body said it was using the directive to “remind broadcasters of the rules governing the coverage of the crisis.”
On October 20, 2020, NBC gave a tall order to media houses ‘’not embarrass govt with your #EndSARS reports’’.
The regulator said the directive was aimed at preventing embarrassment to “individuals, organisations, government or cause disaffection, incite to panic or rift in the society at large”.
In January 2019, NBC announced that it was sanctioning some top media houses – AriseTV, Channels and AIT – for allegedly broadcasting hate speech and #EndSARS coverage
They were even ordered to pay N2 million fines each.
A group asked NBC to withdraw the fines on the TV stations, saying ‘You’re muzzling free press’.
The Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) had warned of an ‘ongoing assault’ to legitimise attacks on the media by the Buhari administration, in conjunction with the legislature.
The NPO, the umbrella body of media organisations in the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), warned of a design to asphyxiate press freedom and erode the fundamental rights of Nigerians to free expression.
The authorities, in conjunction with some columns working secretly in the National Assembly, had secretly packaged a bill called a Nigerian Press Council (NPC) bill which they say would regulate the media industry in the country, with hard conditions.
Punishments ranging from fines to reprimand, imprisonment and conviction have been listed under the controversial bill.
As we noted in a previous editorial, it is obvious that the amendments which the bill sought to control the media might, on the surface, look harmless, but deep down, they could be outrightly dangerous.
According to the sponsors of the bill, it seeks to regulate the media. ‘uphold truth’, disseminate press code and standards, guide the conduct of media houses and practitioners, as well as approve fines and penalties, among others.
We suggested that it was all part of a process to bear the fangs.
The NPO has begun a coordinated campaign to engage the lawmakers and the authorities on the proposed law, but the lawmakers are stonewalling.
The International Press Centre (IPC) raised the alarm that the government was trying to ‘criminalise journalism’
All the organs of the press organisation in the country shouted that they were not carried along in the drafting and consideration of the bill.
NBC’s new order, it would seem, is an attempt to choke freedom of expression.
For those who do not know, the NPC bill gives sweeping powers to the Minister of Information to register and delist journalists and media organisations who are felt to be engaging in misconduct based on the unilateral determination of such.
Fines ranging from N250,000 to N5 million have been listed as fines. Media organisations may be shut, and journalists were driven out of jobs.
We sincerely hope that Decree 4 maybe not returning from the back door through censorship.
We say a big no to any attempt to gag the press in any way. NBC has a questionable record on that.