For alleged violations of Nigerian Broadcasting Commission regulations, the Nigeria government shuts down African Independent Television and Ray Power Radio stations nationwide.
The government, Thursday night, made good its threat and shut down the African Independent Television, AIT, and Pay Power Radio. Earlier in the day the chairman of DAAR Communications PLC, owners of the broadcast media, Raymond Dokpesi, led out the staff of the organization to protest their impending closure. They protested at various locations in Abuja, including the National Assembly and United Nations office. The Company sees it as a clampdown on press freedom. Dokpesi in a press conference before the public protest said the alleged breaches were all within the ambit of fair comment and critical journalism. According to him, “Every broadcast which appears to them to offer a dissenting perspective to the position of the government is reprehended as a threat to national interest. Every reference and reportage from various sections of the country concerning injustice, inequality, and iniquity is reprehended as a threat to national security. If we are critical of this government’s commitment to the tenets of democracy, it is because we have witnessed unabated interferences, harassment, and intimidation by the agencies under the executive arm of government on the institutions of democracy and their principal officers.”
It was gathered that DAAR Communications about two weeks ago received a letter from NBC, complaining about some broadcast content in their stations, especially the live Kakaaki breakfast television programme and equally live radio talk show, Political Platform. It was not the first time they would receive such regulatory queries in the past two years. The company rather sees this as an assault on press freedom. In a press conference, Thursday afternoon, NBC, stated its side of the conflict and announced the closure of the stations, “until further notice”. Modibbo Kawu, the director general, took exception to the street protests by DAAR Communications. “Today the 6th of June, 2019, AIT/Raypower embarked on the use of inflammatory, divisive, inciting broadcasts, and media propaganda against the government and the NBC for performing its statutory functions of regulating the broadcast industry in Nigeria.
“Consequently, after several meetings with the management of Daar Communications Plc and many letters of warning, the NBC, today 6th June 2019 took a decision to suspend the license of Daar Communications Plc for failure to abide by the Commission’s directives, according to provisions of the NBC Act Cap N11.”
He explained that AIT and Raypower have been serial violators of the NBC regulations for the past two years and that the Commission had held several meetings with the management to no avail. The first meeting was held in June 2017. “Again, on 15th August 2017, it became imperative to invite the company for yet another meeting on almost the same issues. Furthermore, while addressing another meeting on 7th February 2018, we highlighted issues of concern to the Commission which indicated that the company had been breaching the provisions of Sections 3.1.2 and 3.1.3 of the Broadcast Code. The company’s delegates in their response promised to abate the breaches and comply with the law.
“However, on October 18, 2018, the Commission was disturbed with the manner in which social media issues became part of the mainstream media unedited on AIT/Raypower, and was constrained to issue a generic letter to all broadcast stations on the need to exercise caution in the use of user-generated content from the social media knowing how volatile and misleading the social media has become. The management of Daar Communications Plc thereafter took to the social media to display our official correspondences.
“Recently, the Commission’s monitoring reports on AIT/Raypower indicate the use of divisive comments accredited to the segment of ‘Kakaaki’, tagged, ‘Kakaaki Social’, where inciting comments like, ‘Nigeria is cursed, we declare independent state of Niger Delta’; ‘Nigeria irritates me’; ‘this country is gradually Islamising’ and other similar slogans are used without editorial control in breach of the Broadcast Code. We were therefore constrained to issue Daar Communications letters of warning dated May 27th, 2019.
“We also observed from monitoring reports that a documentary on the Presidential Election Tribunal, a pending election petition matter aired on AIT on Wednesday and Thursday, 22nd and 23rd May 2019, without regard to the provisions of the Broadcast Code. The Commission, in line with its regulatory powers, again cautioned AIT in another letter also dated 27th May 2019.”
Be that as it may, Dokpesi insists the action is a deliberate witch-hunt. “I, however, cannot ignore that our regulator, the NBC, today is under the leadership of a partisan politician. Ishaq Modibo Kawu, the director-general of the NBC, was an aspirant of the APC for the governorship of Kwara State before the recently concluded general elections in Nigeria. Is he in a position to regulate freely and fairly? Is he devoid of partisan interest in regulating the industry? The fact that he lost his primaries and returned to resume as DG of the NBC is in itself despicable,” he argued. He accused Kawu of bias; alleging that the DG, since 2016, has sat on the inauguration of their stations in Yola, Awka, and Sokoto. DAAR Communications was granted a global broadcast network license granted by the government of Sani Abacha in 1994, making it the first independent radio and television stations in Nigeria.
In its initial reaction, Tony Akiotu, group managing director of Daar Communications, said that as a law abiding citizen, the company will seek redress in court. “As a law-abiding citizen, we’ve decided to abide by the closure order on the alleged breaches of the broadcasting code. As a law-abiding citizen, we will go to court for the court to interpret the laws of the land. We will go to court to seek redress and that is the lawful thing to do and will do it expeditiously.”
In her reaction, Funke Egbemode, president of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, NGE said she was shocked and wondered if this was happening under a democracy. “I am in shock if it is true. Right now, I have no word. I am just shocked. I need to find out how we got to this point and what we can do… I am just shocked and speechless.” Likewise, Chris Isiguzo, chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, condemned the closure and urged the government to reopen the media house in 24 hours. “We condemn this closure over allegations of breach of 2004 Broadcasting Code and insist there are better ways of sanctioning media organizations that are found to have erred. It will be helpful if the NBC will immediately reopen AIT to ensure that it continues to promote debate and opinions on issues that are of societal, economic and political importance to the nation. We expect them to do the needful within 24-hours.”
Government appeared to have timed its action to coincide with the dissolution of the 8th National Assembly, whose valedictory session was broadcast live by AIT. Critics argue the government may have shot itself in the leg by clamping down on the media just six days to Nigeria’s new Democracy Day on June 12. The action may influence how some of the world leaders invited to the June 12 day celebration view freedom within the Nigerian democratic environment.