Two groups, the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the International Press Centre (IPC) have condemned the sanctioning of three television stations by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over the coverage of the #ENDSARS protests.
In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, the groups described the Commission’s action as an outrageous violation of the Constitution and basic principles of fair hearing which cannot be allowed to stand.
In a letter dated October 23, signed by its Acting Director-General, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, the NBC fined each of the three stations – Channels Television, Africa Independent Television (AIT) and ARISE Television – N3 million each as penalty for their alleged use of unsubstantiated footages from social media in their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests.
To avoid further sanctions, the commission gave the companies three weeks from the date of receipt of the letter to pay the amount.
The NBC said it had earlier written to the companies on October 21, where they were “cautioned on the sustained use of Fake News, disturbing visuals, close-up shots and attacks in the coverage of the #ENDSARS protests”.
It stated that although social media may be a source of information, it is incumbent on broadcasters to verify such materials before usage, while drawing attention to some provisions of the Broadcasting Code, implying that the provisions had been breached.
No specific broadcasts were, however, mentioned.
Both organisations accused the NBC of turning itself into a “kangaroo court” and called on it to immediately reverse its decision sanctioning the three stations in order to save itself the embarrassment that both the Commission and the country would suffer locally and internationally as a result of its action.
MRA’s Executive Director, Mr Edetaen Ojo, said: “a situation where the NBC, which is so glaringly lacking in independence and subject to the direct control of political authorities, wrote the Nigeria Broadcasting Code creating the offences for which the stations were sanctioned and was the complainant in the allegations against the stations, prosecuted them and sat in judgment on the matter without even giving the stations any opportunity to defend themselves against the charges while also imposing a fine of N3 million on each of them, which it intends to collect and pocket, is offensive to any notion of fair hearing, equity or justice.”
According to Ojo, “Every Nigerian ought to be scandalized by this obscene violation of a principle that is sacrosanct not only under our Constitution but under every regional and international human rights instrument to which Nigeria is a state party. It portrays Nigeria as crude and primitive and will no doubt bring the country to ridicule.”
He pledged that his organisation would take legal action to challenge the NBC’s action.
The IPC’s Executive Director Mr Lanre Arogundade, also said: “the NBC has in this matter again constituted itself into the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge in its own case. It is indeed strange that the fines were arbitrarily imposed without giving the concerned media outlets the option of defending the allegations. All this constitutes an affront on rule of law.”
Mr Arogundade said IPC would team up with MRA to use the instrumentality of the law to challenge the absurdities perpetrated by NBC.