The National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, has debunked reports that it directed media houses to stop reporting details of terrorist attacks.
Disclosing this in a letter signed by the Director-General of the Commission, Balarabe Ilelah, obtained by Vanguard, the commission argued that the contents of its “letter are not intended and by no means capable of being construed or interpreted as a sweeping gag on broadcast stations and journalists in the country”.
The Commission on July 16th, cautioned media stations to desist from “giving details of either the security issues or victims of these security challenges so as not to jeopardise the efforts of the Nigerian soldiers and other security agents.”
The letter titled, ‘Newspaper Reviews And Current Affairs Programmes: A Need For Caution’, was signed by the Director, Broadcast Monitoring, Francisca Aiyetan, on behalf of the new Director-General of the Commission, Balarabe Ilelah.
Part of the letter reads: “Headlines of most Newspapers on a daily basis are replete with security topics. While bringing information on security to the doorsteps of Nigerians is a necessity, there is a need for caution as too many details may have an adverse implication on the efforts of our security officials who are duty-bound to deal with the insurgency.
“The Commission, therefore, enjoins broadcasters to collaborate with the government in dealing with the security challenges by;
“Not glamourising the nefarious activities of insurgents, terrorists, kidnappers, bandits etc
“Advising guests and/or analysts on programmes not to polarise the citizenry with divisive rhetoric, in driving home their point.
“Not giving details of either the security issues or victims of these security challenges so as not to jeopardise the efforts of the Nigerian soldiers and other security agents.
The Commission also reminded the broadcast stations to be guided by provisions of Sections 5.4.1(f) and 5.4.3 of the NBC Code which states thus:
“The broadcaster shall not transmit divisive materials that may threaten or compromise the divisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria as a sovereign state.
“In reporting conflict situations, the broadcaster shall perform the role of a peace agent by adhering to the principle of responsibility, accuracy and neutrality.”
Miffed with the commissions letter, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, on July 20 asked President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently instruct Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed and the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, to withdraw within 24 hours the directive containing a sweeping gag order banning journalists and broadcast stations from reporting details of terrorist attacks and victims across the country.
SERAP in a letter dated July 17, 2021, by its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, said: “The contents of the directive by the NBC to journalists and broadcast stations are entirely inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s obligations under article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“We would be grateful if the repressive directive is withdrawn within 24 hours of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions in the public interest.”
The organization expressed “grave concern that the contents of the NBC directive would impermissibly restrict the rights to freedom of expression, information, and victims’ right to justice and effective remedies that are central to public debate and accountability in a democratic society.”
Reacting to SERAP, the commission through its Director-General of the Commission, Balarabe Ilelah, opined: “Your letter date July 17, 2021 in respect of the above captioned matter refers.
“I write to inform you that the letter from the National Broadcasting Commission dated July 7, 2021 reminding broadcast stations in the Country to be cautious of divisive materials that may threaten or compromise the indivisibility and indissolubility of the country as a sovereign state in line with the provisions of sections 5.4.1(I) and 5.4.3 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code when reviewing Newspaper Headlines did not in any way direct stations to stop reporting details of terrorist attacks and other violations across the country.
“Furthermore, the contents of the letter are not intended and by no means capable of being construed or interpreted as a sweeping gag on broadcast stations and journalists in the country.
“The Commission as a statutory body established by law is conscious of the Rights and Freedoms contained in the 1999 Constitution and other International instruments, treaties and covenants guaranteeing rights to certain rights and obligations and would not take any action that deliberately infringes on any of these rights.
“The Commission is also conscious of the present security challenges in the Country and advising broadcast stations to also be conscious and exercise caution by not glamorizing the nefarious activities of insurgents, terrorists, kidnappers, bandits etc. by ensuring that their transmissions conform with extant provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code as well as professional ethics of the profession, these are consistent and not incompatible with the constitution 1999. The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“Please note that nowhere in the body of the letter complained of are there any words or phrases stopping broadcasters from reporting any case or threatening fines and other punishment other than reminding them of the existing provisions of the code and urging them to perform the role of peace Agents; In the interest of National Security. These can definitely not be seen as suppressing freedom of expression by any means or endanger the job of journalists in the country.
“The Commission even as a parastatal of the Federal Government cherishes a free press and expansion of Civic space; the Commission was not a party or in any way involved in the events that led to the suspension of twitter bY the Federal Government as its regulatory powers do not extend to Social Media Platforms. Also, the Bill for an Act to amend the National Broadcasting Commission Act, Cap N11, Laws of the Federation, 2004 has no single provision that if passed into law, may further suppress media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information and we challenge SERAP to bring out any clause inserted by NBC in the Bill for such purpose as the bill is already in the public domain.”