Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and International Press Centre (IPC) have said for the umpteenth time, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has acted arbitrarily in the purported exercise of its powers as the regulatory authority for the broadcast sector in Nigeria.
On March 31st, it was announced that NBC had slammed a fine of N5m on Channels Television, based on the claim that it violated the Nigeria Broadcasting Code because of the interview the station’s Seun Okinbaloye had with the Vice-Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Datti Ahmed on March 22, 2023.
In the said interview Mr. Ahmed expressed strong opposition to the swearing-in of the President Elect, Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu, on May 29, 2023, weightily alleging that it would be tantamount to the end of democracy.
In a joint press statement signed by the Executive Directors of MRA and IPC, Mr. Edetaen Ojo and Mr. Lanre Arogundade respectively, although the NBC did not disclose the material fact in its announcement of the sanction, the regulatory body apparently acted on a widely publicised petition addressed to it by Mr. Bayo Onanuga, Director of Media and Publicity of the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Council, in which he demanded that the station be punished over the interview in question. The petition was published by many news mediums on March 30th, 2023.
Barely 24 hours later, the NBC struck. Against the well-established principle of natural justice, which, among others, make fair hearing sacrosanct, NBC did not avail Channels TV the opportunity of putting forward its defense against Mr. Onanuga’s allegations before slamming the hefty fine.
“Assuming without conceding that Channels TV erred in the management of the said interview, it was still pertinent for the NBC to have heard their side of the story. In failing to do so, the NBC acted unfairly and unjustly as it based its heavy-handed decision on the claims of one side only, ” the joint statement remarked.
NBC has in this instance again exercised quasi-judicial powers injudiciously, by constituting itself to the prosecutor and the judge over a case brought before it by a third party. In previous instances, it has also additionally been the accuser.
The statement said, “It must be stressed that Mr. Onanuga is not just anybody. He speaks for the in-coming president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Ordinarily, this should have informed the need for the NBC to act more cautiously instead of exposing itself to the accusation that it has become the ruling government or ruling party’s willing tool to suppress press freedom.”
Even if, as the NBC claims, it acted based on its own observation, it was still imperative for it to allow Channels Television to respond to the allegations, especially since that made it the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge.
“We wish to reiterate that the fundamental principles that ought to guide the regulation of broadcasting and related activities are the ones that advance the public interest and are investment friendly both of which have been discarded in the handling of the petition.
“We urge the NBC to desist from walking this path, which undermines its credibility and independence and weakens the broadcast sector as a result. Well call on the commission to immediately reverse the hastily imposed fine and give Channels TV the deserved opportunity to defend itself,” the statement said.