Kudos and knocks have continued to trail the reviewed National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) code.The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on Sunday urged President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently instruct the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to withdraw the controversial code, threatening court action if the demand is not met.
In an open letter to Mr. President, the group also sought withdrawal of the memo threatening to sanction any broadcast that denigrates, disrespects, insults, and abuses president, governors, lawmakers, and other elders and leaders in authority.
SERAP further asked President Buhari to “instruct Mohammed and the NBC to immediately rescind the fine of N5million imposed on Nigeria Info 99.3 FM, following reported comments by a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Malafia, during an interview with the radio station.
Mailafia, in the interview with the radio station, claimed that some of the repentant Boko Haram terrorists confessed that one of the northern governors is the commander of the insurgents in Nigeria.
The NBC last week reportedly warned journalists and broadcast stations, stating: “To denigrate our governors, lawmakers, elders and leaders in abusive terms is not our culture. We respect our leaders as a positive cultural value. The commission may be compelled to impose sanctions where stations fail to curb this practice.”
In the SERAP’s letter dated August 15, 2020 and signed by the Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the group said: “Rather than pushing to enforce a culture to respect president, governors, lawmakers, elders, and other leaders, Muhammed and the NBC should use their entrusted public office and mandates to promote a culture of public debate, access to information, transparency and accountability in government.”
“Nothing can be more destructive to people’s exercise of basic human rights, and to democratic politics than the suppression of the media, and media freedom. The alleged ‘cultural codes’, which Muhammed and the NBC are now using to punish journalists, broadcast stations and other Nigerians are patently contrary to public interests.”
According to SERAP, the implementation of the code and the memo would further deter meaningful citizens’ engagement, and have a chilling effect on Nigerians’ human rights, particularly the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, undermine the idea of representative democracy, as well as make public officials less responsive to the people.
The letter, a copy of which was sent to the minister, read in part: “We would be grateful if the requested action and measures are taken within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then that the measures have been taken, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel you to do so in the public interest.”
BUT the Northern Broadcast Media Owners Association (NBMOA) urged the board of NBC to support the code, and work with other stakeholders to further review the grey areas in the addendum in the interest of the industry.
Chairman of NBMOA, Alhaji Ahmed Tijjani Ramalan, gave the charge while commending President Buhari, Mohammed and the Acting Director General of NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, for what he described as revolutionary and positive clauses introduced in the 6th edition of the NBC code, and for the growth and development of broadcasting in line with global standards.
The Director General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr. Osita Okechukwu, faulted the notion of threat to the freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution.
Okechukwu, in a chat with reporters at the national secretariat of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), insisted that Buhari remained a true democrat who would not go out of his ways to trample on the rights of the citizenry.
The APC chieftain spoke against the backdrop of the fine slammed on the Lagos-based radio station by the NBC for alleged beach of the code.
“Whatever anybody tells you, the truth of the matter is that President Buhari is a democracy convert. He knows the value of upholding the freedom banner and I will tell you he will continue to do that.
“When Mailafia said what he said, did anybody ask why he is not in detention, he was allowed to go scot free? It is one of those banners under Mr. President!”