Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and International Press Centre (IPC) have condemned the revocation and withdrawal of the broadcast licenses of 52 broadcast stations across Nigeria by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) describing the action as ill-advised, insensitive and antithetical to the interests of the Nigerian public.
MRA said by the revocation of the broadcast licenses of so many stations for alleged non-payment of their licence fees, The NBC was prioritising its desire to make money off the broadcasters over the interest of citizens as the ultimate effect of its action is to deprive millions of Nigerians access to information as well as their rights and ability to freely express themselves through these stations.
IPC on the other hand expressed that in this particular instance NBC has not only ordered the revocation of licenses of many television and radio stations, it has gone further to usurp
the authority of the President and Commander-In-Chief and the National Assembly by directing security agents to move in and effect its order.
In a statement by Ms Obioma Okonkwo, Head of Legal Department, MRA said: “We are shocked by this naked display by the NBC of a lack of appreciation of its principal role which is to contribute to the emergence of a knowledge society. Rather, it has chosen to create an environment in which millions of Nigerians will wallow in ignorance, deprived of access to crucial information that they need to make critical decisions in their lives or to enhance their livelihoods.”
She argued that “the action of the NBC has only worsened the prevailing lopsidedness in the broadcasting landscape in Nigeria which was already dominated by government-owned broadcasting stations but is now under the monopolistic control of Federal Government-owned stations, which will be almost unchallenged, with the result that citizens will now be fed unmitigated propaganda by these remaining stations.”
Okonkwo accused the NBC of being insensitive to the harsh economic environment under which the broadcast stations have operated over the last two and a half years as the national economy has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic itself and the measures taken by the government in response to the pandemic.
She noted that the broadcasting stations are also negatively impacted by the inability of the government to create a conducive environment for them to operate, such as providing appropriate infrastructure like electricity supply, adding that with the stations having to find alternative sources of power supply even as the price of diesel continues to skyrocket daily, they are simply struggling to survive.
“The fact that so many broadcasting stations have been unable to pay the license fees raises serious questions about the fairness and appropriateness of the fees being imposed on broadcasters by the BBC in such a challenging economic environment. As the NBC, which imposes the fees and collects them for its own use, there needs to be an independent inquiry into this apparent conflict of interest where the motivation of the commission is apparently to make as much money for itself as possible,” she said.
In a statement by IPC Press Freedom Officer, Melody Lawal, the organisation called on NBC to exercise caution and ensure that it exhausts engagement channels before wielding a stick that may not only lead to thousands of job losses but also shrink the information dissemination space.
“NBC should stop acting as a revenue generating agency that is unconcerned about the business environment of broadcast stations.
“Nothing in it’s mandate says that it cannot contribute to the sustainability of broadcast stations who are having their own share of the economic crisis plaguing the nation, ” she said.
MRA called on the NBC to reverse its decision in the public interest to avoid creating a society of predominantly ignorant citizens, advising that the need to ensure that Nigerians are adequately informed through the media should supersede any other consideration by the NBC.
The organisations advised the commission to liaise with the broadcasting stations to identify the challenges facing the industry and come up with realistic solutions to the identified challenges.