The West Africa Media Lawyers Association (WAMELA) received the disturbing news that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Yesterday 26th of April 2021, suspended Channels TV with a Five Million Naira (N5, 000, 000) fine, for the 7pm live broadcast programme of Sunday, 25th April 2021, where the TV station spoke with Emma Powerful, the spokesman for the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The NBC claims to have acted pursuant to section 3.11.1 (b) and 5.4.3 of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code which states as follows:3.11.1 (b) – ‘‘The broadcaster shall ensure that no programme contains anything which amounts to subversion of the constituted authority or compromises the unity of corporate existence of Nigeria as a sovereign state.“Section 5.4.3: In reporting conflict situations, the broadcaster shall perform the role of a peace agent by adhering to the principle of responsibility, accuracy and neutrality.’’This move by the NBC clearly reveals that the Nigerian Government is at war with the Media. It is quite unfortunate that this government is a democratically elected government, which is bound to abide strictly to the tenets of democracy.The suspension of Channels TV by Professor Armstrong Idachaba led NBC, is both undemocratic and unconstitutional. More worrying is that it carries with it an unpleasant hint of press repression. Moreso, it is public knowledge that a broadcast station cannot be liable for the views expressed by a guest, unless the station adopts the position of the guest. Clearly, the latter was not the case. The suspension is a clear breach of the right of Nigerians freedom of Information as provided by the constitution. It is also true that this NBC provision which it relied upon in carrying out its illegal and arbitrary act is unconstitutional as it aims to gag, suppress, oppress and repress the press from performing its duties to keep Nigerians informed in order to ensure accountability and transparency, and since the code invoked by the NBC is in conflict with the provisions of the constitution, the suspension cannot stand because it is inconsistent with the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Furthermore, it is very unfortunate that the Nigerian government continues to undermine free press despite the pivotal role it plays in a democracy. This continuous punitive measure against the press only breeds an environment of total disregard towards the press by the society and this is utterly condemnable. In recent times we have witnessed record-high impunity of attacks on the press. There has been a monumental increase in attacks against journalist and media houses since Nigerian returned to a democracy, not only by law enforcement agents but also by citizens. We have also witnessed situations where security forces use Cyber Crimes and Terrorism laws to hound journalists in the name of national security. A reason is to perpetuate media censorship and deny citizens vital information of public interest as is evident in this case with Channels TV. We state unequivocally that the Nigerian citizenry have a right to know and to be promptly informed, and an attempt to gag the media is unacceptable and we urge the federal government to urgently recall its decision in the interest of justice and for the protection of our hard-won democracy.The Federal Government and NBC are advised as follows:To immediately reverse the suspension of Channels TV and all associated fines.The Minister of Information should ensure that the unwarranted suspension is lifted to demonstrate his commitment to press freedom.In the event that the directive is not reversed, we will be left with no option but to approach the court to seek appropriate and relevant reliefs against the federal government and NBCSigned:Mojirayo Ogunlana-NkangaPublic Relations Officer, WAMELA