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NBC’s ‘Bandits’ Fine: Killing Creativity With Analogue Mindset

Bandits in Northern Nigeria.

Last Wednesday, Consternation buzzed across all media platforms in the country when some media organisations revealed that they have received memos ordering each of them to pay N5 million fine for some nebulous reasons even the most creative mind would struggle to digest.

The Nigerian Government has imposed fines on media platforms that aired documentaries on bandits.

The memo that emanated from The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) imposed a N5 million fine on MultiChoice Nigeria Limited, Trust Television, TelCom Satellite Limited, and StarTimes Limited for airing documentaries on banditry.

NBC also released a statement signed by its Director-General, Shehu Illelah, trying to explain its position; “The National Broadcasting Commission, today, August 3, 2022, imposed a Five Million Naira (N5,000,000.00) sanction, each, on Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV); NTA Startimes Limited; for the carriage of the documentary by the BBC Africa Eye titled, ‘Bandit Warlords of Zamfara’ which glorified the activities of bandits and undermines national security in Nigeria.

“Trust TV Network Limited was also fined Five Million Naira (N5,000,000.00) for its documentary titled: ‘Nigeria’s Banditry-The Inside Story’.

“While appreciating the need of educating, informing, and enlightening the public on issues bordering on developments and happenings within and outside the country, the Commission wishes to seize this opportunity to advise broadcasters to be circumspect and deliberate in the choice and carriage of contents deleterious to Nigeria’s national security.

“Consequently, the airing and carriage of these documentaries contravened the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, sixth edition.”

In the words of Ilelah, the airing of the documentaries contravened section 3(1)(1) of the broadcast code which reads: “No broadcast shall encourage or incite to crime. lead to public disorder or hate, be repugnant to public feelings or contain an offensive reference to any person or organization, alive or dead or generally be disrespectful to human dignity”.

NBC also claimed the platforms violated section 3(12)(2), which bars any broadcast station from transmitting any programme “that incites or likely to incite to violence among the populace, causing mass panic, political and social upheaval, security breach and general social disorder”, as well as section 3(11)(2), which reads: “the Broadcaster shall ensure that law enforcement is upheld at all times in a manner depicting that law and order are socially superior to, or more desirable than crime or anarchy”.

“The imposed penalties on these broadcast media platforms and station is to be remitted not later than August 30, 2022. Failure to comply with this will lead to the imposition of a higher sanction as provided in the Code,” Ilelah concluded.

Even a superficial examination of the trend building up to the government’s announcement will reveal several loopholes that should create some discomfiture in the minds of any savvy audience.

The initial comments from Nigeria’s Information Minister, Lai Mohammed revealed that the government had flagrantly violated the principles of natural justice as well as the code of NBC. These were the words of the minister before the fine. “Appropriate sanctions will be meted out to both the BBC and Trust TV. They will not get away with the naked glorification of terrorism and banditry”.

Lai Mohammed Nigeria’s Information and Culture Minister.

This means that government officials just sat in their comfort zone and picked some bogus amount before directing NBC to announce them as fines. How on earth can fairness be guaranteed when government players have deliberately constituted themselves as the judge, the accuser, and the jury in their own case?

The law setting up the NBC created it as an autonomous body. Provisions were made for a board and various standing and ad-hoc committees of eminent players that will guarantee a fair process that will involve hearing all parties before a final resolution is achieved.

Regrettably, the Nigerian government has refused to facilitate the establishment of these boards and committees just to ensure that NBC remains at its beck and call.

Executive Secretary of the Broadcasting Association of Nigeria (BON), Dr. Yemise Bamgbose, also pointed out other violations of NBC codes in this scenario.

In the letter From BON to NBC that he signed, he noted that “NBC, in the last few years, has violated its own laid down procedures of handling complaints from persons or groups of persons or institutions against Broadcaster(s). Section 14.3.1 says “The Commission shall, on receipt of complaint(s):

“(a) inform and require the Broadcaster to provide, within a specified period determined by the Commission, a response in writing and a recording of the relevant materials.

“(b) request for copies of the relevant correspondence from the complainant.

“In the current case, the NBC did not provide any written evidence from any complainant(s), nor did it issue any query to the said organisations that it claimed to have violated NBC codes. “

“We note that failure to follow the laid down procedure would seem to suggest that NBC acted in an arbitrary manner and in violation of its own regulation as provided in section 14.3.1 cited earlier. Section 14.3.2 made it clear that it is when the Broadcaster fails to react or supply materials or make a response to the inquiries within a stipulated time limit that it shall be deemed as acceptance of the complaints.

“Furthermore, Section 14.2(1)(2) of the Code, stipulates a time limit for receiving complaints, and provides as follows; “Any person, group of persons or institutions aggressive, may lodge a complaint with the Commission within 14 days of the occurrence of the act or omission. A complaint received after 14 days specified in 14.2.1 shall not be entertained by the Commission”. In the case of Trust Television Network, the alleged offensive documentary was transmitted in March 2022.

“The alleged complaint was not brought to Trust Television Network until a letter of imposition of fines was delivered to Trust Television Network on Wednesday 3rd August 2022, four months after the transmission of the alleged offensive TV documentary produced…,” the letter read in part.

BON, therefore, urged NBC to withdraw the fines imposed on the organisation for lack of fair hearing and violation of the Codes of NBC as stipulated in Sections 14.2.(1) (2).

Until the NBC and other related bodies created by the law are fully constituted, empowered, and allowed to function independently, press freedom might continue to elude Nigeria. Virtually all democratic countries have well-constituted institutions that regulate their broadcast industry that Nigeria can learn from.

The British media regulator is Ofcom. The last issue between TV host, Piers Morgan, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex provided an opportunity for the democratic world to see how a media regulatory world should function.

Over 40,000 petitions were received against Morgan and Ofcom had to set up an impartial panel to look into the petition. In the end, Piers Morgan was cleared after the organization investigated his comments about Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex.

Welcome Address by the DG NBC, Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah at the DSO  Launch in Kano - Federal Ministry of Information and Culture

Ofcom stated clearly that, consistent with freedom of expression, Mr. Morgan was entitled to say he disbelieved the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s allegations and to hold and express strong views that rigorously challenged their account. It did not matter that the issue involved the royal family. Fairness and equity were clearly upheld.

Another issue that is brought to the fore in this issue is the insensitivity shown towards organisations employing a good number of citizens and paying taxes to the government. Asking a media firm to bring out 5 million naira as a fine is equivalent to telling the workers there to go home without salary considering the precarious economic condition of Nigeria today.

In countries where foreign or local investments are appreciated, the government would have been more conciliatory and tactful knowing that one major role of government is to create job opportunities. What would any government gain in trying to drive underground those creative enough to put food on the tables of her citizens?

Already, tons of criticism of government action are pouring from all corners of the nation and the battle is on to compel the government to cancel this fine.

The documentaries were brave efforts by some media organisations to dissect the complex crisis of banditry and provide light on the many issues around it. No attempts were made in any way to glamorise banditry and terrorism as the Nigerian government accuses the media organisations.

Indeed, those media platforms deserve commendation for the investment in time, money, and effort they committed to this project in the face of enormous risk, all in a bid to enable Nigeria better understand the complexity of the banditry issue.

A media analyst and PR expert Callistus Okoruwa in his online column advised strongly that “Men and women of goodwill need to upbraid the Nigerian government for its short-sighted and self-serving act of attempting to intimidate and censor these media houses”.

“Media Trust should consider going to court for an interpretation of the clauses in the Nigerian Broadcasting Code under which the government purports to have imposed the sanctions” he stressed.

It seems a Nigerian non-government organization, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project responded to Okoruwa’s recommendations as the body has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari for imposing fines on media houses for allegedly glorifying terrorism.

SERAP said in a statement released on Sunday in Lagos that the suit, which was co-filed by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) has the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) joined as defendants.

It added that the suit also wants the court to “declare arbitrary and illegal the N5 million imposed on Trust TV, MultiChoice Nigeria Limited, NTA-Startimes Limited, and Telcom Satellite Limited, over their documentaries on terrorism in the country.”

Efforts by well-meaning Nigerians to condemn and resist all forms of media intimidation should be commended and emulated. After all, it takes just the silence of good people for evil to triumph.

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