NBC’s Sledgehammer To Democracy And Media Rights

By Emmanuel Ogbeche

The buzz is still building and the apprehension in the Nigerian media ecosystem is palpable following an announcement by the broadcast regulator, National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, of the immediate shut down of over 45 broadcast stations including the African Independent Television, AIT, and its sister radio station Raypower as well as SilverBird TV and partner station, Rhythm FM.

NBC says the action is owing to the stations’ inability to renew their operating licenses amidst other failure obligations.

To say the least, the allegations by NBC are weighty. But are there enough to abridge the constitutional rights of Nigerians to have access to information and the ultimate survival of democracy?  

It is pertinent to state that the media as rightly noted by Mr. John Momoh, founder of Channels Television, faces an existential threat in Nigeria just as it is in most parts of Africa.

While it is granted that some of the challenges in the media are self-inflicted, others are beyond the sector and the making of government and a weak citizenry that will not pay for the news.

More than that is the willingness of the government to leave the media weak, and pliant so that it can kowtow to its whims and caprices, however, anti-people some of its programmes and policies are.

Take these for instance, “As of June this year, the Federal Government has committed the sum of N1.023 trillion in different kinds of bailout packages to Nigeria’s floundering power sector yet Nigerians marinate in darkness,” Isaac Anyaogu reported on Jul 10, 2018, in BusinessDay Newspapers.

A princely N1trillion to shylocks who constantly and consistently short change Nigerians with tariff hikes on a near-monthly basis.

Also, in August 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria increased its Special Intervention Reserves (SIR) to N365 billion in August 2021, meaning that the apex bank injected over N47 billion into a floundering commercial bank.

For clarity, the Special Intervention Reserve of the CBN represents all the capital injections made by the apex bank in commercial banks that are distressed. Since the days of Mr. Chukwuma Soludo, the Nigerian government has continued to support the financial sector with bailouts to the exclusion of the media sector.

It is imperative to stress like Mr. Momoh said, “Like many other sectors of the economy, the media industry is feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic saw almost a quarter of the world’s population on lockdown. The broadcast and media industry was no exception and like every other sector, is still feeling the impact of the virus, be it in terms of activities related to broadcasting, financing, production, marketing/distribution, sales, advertising revenues, or media technology investment.

“And what can we say about digitization, which has caused untold disruption in the traditional business model of the news media? Today, in a technology-driven world such as we live in, television, particularly broadcast journalism, is being transformed in the ways that it is produced, distributed, and used. We are witnessing the emergence of new tools and practices, which invariably has affected the ways we produce information.”

The utilitarian value of the media cannot be quantified in terms of the Naira that it can make. The Nigerian media has paid too much a price in shaping and upholding the Nigerian State that it need not be asphyxiated by the regulator but rather transfused with waivers, rebates, and capital injection.

Besides, the sledgehammer action of NBC on the eve of a major election is suspicious as it is designed to emasculate certain voices. This is dangerous to democracy and should be resisted by the NUJ, BON and civil society, and all lovers of freedom.

POSTSCRIPT: In 2016, May 14 to be precise, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, acknowledged via a press statement by the Director, Public Relations and Protocol in the ministry, Mr. Peter Dama, that he indeed got a loan from National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to cover traveling expenses of a delegation to China.

It will be of public help if the loan of N13.12 million has been recovered by the NBC, that is if other loans were not taken.

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