The global network media group, the International Press Institute (IPI), has condemned the arbitrary fines imposed on Nigerian broadcasters and platforms, Trust TV, Multichoice Nigeria Limited, TelCom Satellite Limited, and NTA-Startimes Limited after they aired documentaries by BBC Africa Eye on insecurity in Nigeria. IPI called on the Nigerian government to withdraw the fines, ensure due process, and allow independent journalism
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Nigeria’s broadcast sector regulator, fined the outlets five million naira (11,500 euro) each for allegedly “glorifying terrorism” after the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, harshly criticized the reporting.
The Minister stated on July 28, 2022 that Trust TV and BBC would face consequences for “glorifying terrorism and banditry” in their reporting. Trust TV aired a BBC Africa Eye documentary called “Nigeria’s banditry: The Inside Story” back in March.
According to a statement by Trust TV, the fine by NBC was communicated to it in a letter dated August 3 and signed by the director general of NBC, Balarabe Shehu Ilelah. Trust TV stated that it would study the issue, adding that it believed it was acting in the public interest by shedding light on “the thorny issue of banditry and how it is affecting millions of Nigerians”.
Trust TV was neither notified of the alleged infringement nor given the opportunity to defend itself against the allegations before the fine was handed down.
The three other outlets were fined for airing a documentary titled “Bandit Warlords of Zamfara”, also by BBC Africa Eye. Both documentaries covered insecurity in Nigeria by interviewing bandits. It is unclear how the NBC will sanction the BBC sanction since it is not a local organization.
NBC claimed the documentaries undermined national security in Nigeria and infringed sections of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code that ban incitement to crime that could lead to public disorder or hate and transmitting a programme that could cause violence and mass panic. The NBC statement also accused the broadcasters of violating a code that requires them to ensure that law enforcement is upheld at all times.
Musikilu Mojeed, chair of the IPI Nigeria National Committee and editor-in-chief of the Premium Times newspaper, criticized the fines.
Musikilu said: “The government claims that the media portrays terrorism as if it is something to celebrate”, he said. “While we believe that this is something to ponder about, we also believe that the media should not refrain from speaking to all sides.”
“The government must reverse this fine and allow the media to do their job. There was no adjudication process where the media involved was asked to give any explanation of what happened. They were not called for a hearing. The NBC cannot be a complainant and judge in their own case.”
The Coalition of Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom, to which IPI’s National Committee in Nigeria belongs, said in a statement that it regards the fine as a baseless and authoritarian move to stifle the press and impede the free flow of information.
IPI noted that over the last months, concerns around the safety of journalists in Nigeria have been rising ahead of the country’s 2023 general elections. In many cases, threats and attacks against journalists are not properly investigated, CWPPF noted.