The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Nigeria’s broadcast sector regulator, has queried the privately owned broadcaster, Channels Television, over an alleged infraction of sections of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code when the station interviewed Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State. The Commission’s action has elicited criticisms from stakeholders who described it as undemocratic.
The query dated August 24, 2021, signed by the Commission’s Director General, Mr. Balarabe Shehu llelah, with the subject “Notice of Infraction, said the Commission monitored the broadcast of Channels TV programme Sunrise Daily between 7am and 9am on Tuesday August 24, 2021.”
NBC alleged it observed that the programme which had Governor Samuel Ortom, the Executive Governor of Benue State, as guest contained “inciting, divisive and unfair comments which were not thoroughly interrogated by the anchors.”
According to the Commission, these negate some provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code which it cited in full to include the following
Section 1.10.4: The Broadcaster shall ensure that its Presenter ….. shall handle it with professionalism and sound judgment to ensure that it does not loose focus or lead to unfair treatment or institution”
Section 3.1.1: “No broadcast shall encourage or incite to crime, lead to public disorder or hate, be repugnant to public feelings or contain offensive reference or organization alive or dead.”
Section 3.3.l (b): “the broadcaster shall ensure that all sides to any issue of public interest are equitably presented for fairness and balance”
Section 3.3.l (e): the broadcaster shall not treat any individual or organization in an unjust or unfair manner”
Section 3.11.l (a): “the broadcaster shall ensure that language …. likely to encourage or incite to crime or lead to disorder is not broadcast”.
Section 3.1 2.2: “the broadcast r shall not transmit a program that incites or likely to incite to violence among the populace, causing mass panic, political and social upheaval, security breach and general social disorder”.
The letter addressed to the Managing Director of the station in Abuja than asked explain why appropriate sanctions should not be applied for these infractions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
It asked that Channels TV response should reach the Commission within 24 hours of receipt of this letter.
The Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives and an ex-aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Reno Omokri, expressed concerns over the harassment of Channels Television and its presenters by the Federal Government.
Expressing concern over the development, the House Minority Caucus leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, said in a statement issued on August 27, 2021, that the action of the NBC constituted a dangerous move at stifling press freedom in Nigeria, describing the NBC action as a “rapid descent of the country into the sort of repression and despotism experienced before the nation’s return to democracy.”
The caucus noted in the statement titled, “Notice of infraction issued by National Broadcasting Commission against Channels Television, an abuse of democracy, another move to stifle press freedom,” that: “The assault on press freedom has reached a crescendo under this administration. Little wonder that Nigeria has emerged as the most dangerous place in West Africa for journalists, according to a survey released by global media advocacy organisation, Reporters Without Borders, also known as Reporters Sans Frontieres, to mark the 2020 World Press Freedom Day.”
In his own reaction, Mr. Omokri condemned the Commission’s action in a Facebook post on August 26, reminding the Commission that Channels TV had interviewed controversial Islamic scholar, Ahmad Gumi on February 22, 2021, wherein the cleric made some divisive and sympathetic statements in support of bandits and kidnappers which didn’t earn Channels TV any query.