The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has launched yet another blatant assault on press freedom as part of a series of attempts to gag the Nigerian Media. The regulatory body had in a letter titled: “Newspaper Reviews and Current Affairs Programme”, ordered Radio and Television stations not to “divulge” details of bandits, kidnappers, and terrorists during daily Newspaper Reviews.
The NBC letter quoted Sections 5.4.1(f) and 5.4.3 of the NBC Code which states that: “The broadcaster shall not transmit divisive materials that may threaten or compromise the divisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria as a sovereign state. 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 part of the Broadcasting Code, even in its most restrictive interpretation, is but one of the several statutory and ethical principles that guide the professional practice of the Fourth Estate of the Realm.
NBC’s latest directive runs contrary to Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which affirms the right of every Nigerian to freedom of expression. This right also includes the freedom to hold opinions, to receive, and impart ideas and information without interference. The directive by the regulatory body also violates Section 22 of the Constitution which concedes to the media the singular obligation to hold the government accountable on behalf of the people.
It appears the NBC wants to pervert its regulatory powers to suppress press freedom, and restrict access of Nigerians to information, criminalise journalism, and prevent victims of terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, and other associated crimes from getting justice.
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) notes with considerable concern the sudden brazenness, repressive instincts and open partisanship being exhibited by the NBC in the interpretation of its regulatory remit in recent times. We unequivocally condemn these unethical attempts by the NBC to browbeat radio and television stations, and other organs of the Press, in a desperate bid to cow the Press.
Besides, we cannot find any justification for the bizarre NBC directive; even on the hackneyed excuse of a security necessity, other than to keep Nigerians in the dark about the uncomfortable reality of the insurgency and the seeming inability of the security agencies to halt the spate of insecurity across the country.
Contrary to what the security agencies would want Nigerians to believe, the ferocious attacks of insurgents, kidnappers, killer herdsmen and bandits continue unabated in the country.
The Global Conflict Tracker recently stated that 350,000 innocent people have been killed in north-eastern Nigeria since the Boko Haram war started in 2009. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in a report titled “Nigeria’s security crises - five different threats” listed Jihadism, clashes between herders and farmers, banditry and kidnapping, separatist insurgency and oil militants as threats that have turned Nigeria into a war zone.
Statisense, a reputable data company in Nigeria has reported that between January and June this year, 3,000 people have been abducted across Nigeria. 1,344 of these victims were kidnapped in June alone! This is what the NBC does not want Nigerians to know, and this is clearly against public interest.
We implore the executive arm of government to rein in the NBC to desist from its overt clampdown on press freedom. The NBC should withdraw its illegal directive as it is unhelpful and counterproductive to the fight against insecurity in the country. Rather than see the media as the enemy, the media should be seen as a patriotic partner that can rally Nigerians to support the efforts of the government in tackling the myriad of security challenges afflicting our country. A free and unfettered press makes democracy thrive and is not merely a liberal indulgence. This is what Nigerians need. This is what we demand. We reject the shackles the NBC wants to foist on the media.