The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) yesterday criticised the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for imposing fines on ARISE NEWS Channel, Channels Television and Africa Independent Television (AIT) over their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests.
SERAP demanded the withdrawal of the fines or else it would sue the broadcasting regulator.
The PDP and the NUJ in condemning the fines described the sanctions as an attempt to cow the media.
NBC yesterday accused the three broadcasting organisations of violating broadcasting codes for broadcasting footages obtained on the Lekki shooting by soldiers from unverified and unauthenticated social media sources.
The regulator alleged that the three stations aided in the escalation of tension through coverage of the protests in the country.
They were slammed with fines that varied between N2million and N3million.
The Acting Director-General, NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, threatened at a press briefing in Abuja yesterday that the operating licences of the affected stations will be suspended if they commit the same infraction again, which is classified as a Category A offence.
Idachaba said the sanction would serve as a deterrent to broadcasters who did not verify news stories before airing them.
He said the commission was concerned about the recent professional misdemeanour of some broadcasting stations.
Idachaba said: “In line with the provision of Section 5.6.9 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, which states that the broadcaster shall be held liable for any breach of the code emanating from the use of material from User Generated Sources, the commission, therefore, sanctioned Arise TV, Channels TV and AIT in line with the provision of the broadcasting code.
“Channels Television, Arise TV and AIT, especially continued to transmit footages obtained from unverified and unauthenticated social media sources.
“No doubt, these pictures stimulated anger and heightened the violence that was witnessed during the #EndSARS crisis.
“If you escalate the violation that has emanated from the misuse of social media sources by broadcasting, it will escalate the sanction.
“According to the provision of the law, we can comfortably shut them down because what they are doing is capable of causing the breakdown of law and order.
“No responsible country will sit down and allow any form of media to bring down the country.
“Look at the level of damage and killings that happened on account of the unverified news report.
“In line with the provision of the Code Section B, which is heavy fine between N500, 000 to N5 million, we will communicate that to the affected stations depending on the magnitude of breaches.
“But none of them will pay less than N2 million to N3 million and any further breach will lead to the withdrawal of licence.’’
He cautioned broadcasters against airing materials that could embarrass individuals, organisations or cause disaffection, incite to panic or rift in the society.
“We believe that the whole country has now seen why the spurious and recklessness on social media must not be patronised by the mainstream traditional media,’’ he stated.
Idachaba, however, condemned the assault and intimidation of media houses.
He said the burning of TVC Lagos and the brief closure of Channels TV were worrisome indicators of mob threat to the freedom of the press.
According to him, no nation can grow when the citizens muzzle and intimidate its press.
He stated that the sanction will serve as a deterrent to broadcasters that fail to verify stories before broadcasting.
SERAP, NUJ, PDP Kick
Reacting to the fines, SERAP, in a statement by its Deputy Director, Mr. Kolawole Oluwadare, said NBC’s action was yet another example of Nigerian authorities’ push to silence independent media and voices.
SERAP said NBC should drop the fines or face legal action if it does not rescind the decision within 48 hours.
”This is a new low in Nigeria’s protection of freedom of expression, and the ability of independent media to function in the country. The fines are detrimental to media freedom, and access to information, and the NBC must immediately withdraw the decision,” it said.
NUJ National President, Mr. Chris Isiguzo, condemned the sanctions.
In a statement titled: “Unending assault on the media,” he said the decision by the industry regulator exposed the government’s anti-democratic tendencies.
He said: “Rather than trying to muzzle the media, we suggest that the NBC should applaud media coverage of the protests and the professionalism of journalists who despite the enormous risks to their lives ensured a comprehensive coverage of the protests.
“This development is of major concern to the union as journalists and media organisations are targets of attack by both protesters and the government. The media, despite all its perceived shortcomings, remains the most viable tool for good governance and democracy and should be jealously guarded and protected.
“Actions like this only bring back unpleasant memories of the long tenure of military rule and the established culture of intolerance against the media when Nigeria recorded her most grievous crimes against the industry. Sadly, we are once more witnessing actions that seek to undermine the profession by both state and non-state actors.
“We call for an end to this open contempt and disrespect for the media by NBC and note that the fines imposed on the media houses are unnecessary, discriminatory, an attempt to discourage a free, independent media, and should be withdrawn immediately.”
The PDP also condemned what it described as the clampdown on major broadcast stations by the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government.
The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said the rush to impose monetary fines on the television stations smacks of a fresh attempt to gag the media, suppress free speech and Nigerians’ access to information.
The main opposition party said the clampdown on broadcast stations has heightened widespread public apprehensions of attempts at concealments of details and suppression of material evidence relating to human rights violations during the protests.
“In fact, this display of high-handedness by the NBC has hugely detracted from the efforts being made by well-meaning Nigerians to douse the tension in the land and reassure Nigerians at this critical time.
“The NBC should rescind this rushed clampdown and handle its regulatory role more professionally,” PDP added.