Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the International Press Centre (IPC) have called on the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately reverse the hastily imposed N5 million fine on Channels Television and give the station the opportunity to defend itself.
Lambasting the NBC, the organisations said the Commission “acted arbitrarily in the purported exercise of its powers as the regulatory authority for the broadcast sector in Nigeria.”
In a statement signed by Edetaen Ojo, MRA’s Executive director and Lanre Arogundade, IPC’s Executive Director, the organisations urged the “NBC to desist from walking this path, which undermines its credibility and independence and weakens the broadcast sector as a result.
On March 31, 2023 it was announced that NBC had slammed a fine of N5m on Channels Television, based on the claim that it violated the Nigeria Broadcasting Code because of the interview the station’s Seun Okinbaloye had with the Vice-Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Datti Ahmed on March 22, 2023.
In the said interview Mr. Ahmed expressed strong opposition to the swearing-in of the President Elect, Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu, on May 29, 2023, weightily alleging that it would be tantamount to the end of democracy.
MRA and IPC said although the NBC did not disclose the material fact in its announcement of the sanction, it however pointed out that the regulatory body apparently acted on a widely publicised petition addressed to it by Mr. Bayo Onanuga, Director of Media and Publicity of the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Council, in which he demanded that the station be punished over the interview in question. The petition was published by many news mediums on March 30, 2023.
They pointed out that barely 24 hours after the petition, the NBC struck and against the well-established principle of natural justice, which, among others, make fair hearing sacrosanct, NBC did not avail Channels TV the opportunity of putting forward its defense against Mr. Onanuga’s allegations before slamming the hefty fine.
According to the organisations, even if Channels TV erred in the management of the said interview, it was still pertinent for the NBC to have heard their side of the story, adding that im failing to do so, the NBC acted unfairly and unjustly as it based its heavy-handed decision on the claims of one side only.
They noted that: “NBC has in this instance again exercised quasi-judicial powers injudiciously, by constituting itself to the prosecutor and the judge over a case brought before it by a third party. In previous instances, it has also additionally been the accuser.
The groups stressed that Mr. Onanuga is not just anybody, saying he speaks for the in-coming president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, adding that ordinarily, this should have informed the need for the NBC to act more cautiously instead of exposing itself to the accusation that it has become the ruling government or ruling party’s willing tool to suppress press freedom.
They argued that even if, as the NBC claims, it acted based on its own observation, it was still imperative for it to allow Channels Television to respond to the allegations, especially since that made it the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge.