Barrage of criticisms has trailed the decision of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to slam a N5 million fine on Trust Television Network (Trust TV), owned by Media Trust Group, over the broadcast of a documentary titled “Nigeria’s Banditry: The Inside Story”, which was aired by the station on March 5, 2022.
The decision of NBC haa sparked widespread condemnation with many industry stakeholders and other Nigerians condemning the federal government agency over what some of them described as “gagging of the press” and denying Nigerians the right to know.
The NBC communicated the sanction through a letter dated August 3, 2022, which was signed by its Director General, Balarabe Shehu Illela.
The commission said the fine was imposed on Trust TV because the broadcast of the said documentary contravened sections of the National Broadcasting Code.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, the NBC management also slammed a N5 million fine on each of MultiChoice Nigeria (owners of DSTV), Telcom Satellite Limited (owners of TSTV) and NTA-Startimes Limited (owners of StarTimes) for airing a similar documentary by the BBC Africa Eye titled, “The Bandits Warlords of Zamfara”.
The commission alleged that the documentaries “Glorified activities of bandits and undermines national security”.
NBC said the imposed penalties on the broadcast media platforms and station is to be remitted not later than August 30, 2022.
“Failure to comply with this will lead to the imposition of a higher sanction as provided in the Code,” it added.
The Lagos-based International Press Centre (IPC) said it was miffed by “The imposition of the arbitrary fine” as it asked the federal government to “Refrain from constituting itself to the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge in its own case.
“In the circumstance, the IPC considers the fine imposed on Trust TV an act of injustice, an assault on media freedom and a violation of the right of the people to know the truth about the dynamics of banditry in the country and the decision should therefore be reversed”, said the Executive Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade.
“IPC is dismayed that the federal government through the NBC has shamefully done that, forgetting that in a democracy, the basic tenets of the rule of law cannot be trampled upon as it suits the whims and caprices of those in the corridors of power.
“In the above context, it is worth pointing out that Trust TV was neither notified of the alleged infringement of sections 3.1.1, 3.12.2 and 3.11. 2 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code nor requested to defend itself against the allegations before the fine was handed down.
“In other words, there was no fair hearing for Trust TV, but a one-sided hearing of the accusation by the information minister upon which the NBC acted.
“It is unacceptable that NBC, funded by taxpayer’s money and expected to act in the public interest, would continuously exhibit the symptoms of an attack dog of the government once the information minister blows the whistle.
“The federal government, the information minister and the NBC must be made to understand that the banditry ravaging the country and daily putting the lives and property of the citizens in jeopardy is not a creation of the media, which has through editorial opinions, investigations and broadcast programmes offered suggestions and support to the government on the way out of the general insecurity,” the statement reads in parts.
The IPC called on the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and other bodies championing freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the country “To rise in unison in condemnation of this new development and hostility by the government”..
Reacting to the development, the Head of the Department of Mass Communication, Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Mainasara Kurfi, an associate professor opined that the mass media has a responsibility to the public and the government should rather than sanction the media, address the insecurity.
“We should note that the mass media have the responsibility to report issues of interest such as insecurity, which has been affecting the lives of citizens in Northern Nigeria. In so doing, it may draw the attention of the federal government to live up to the expectation.
“This could be the reason why Trust TV aired the documentary. The FGN should therefore understand the perspective of Trust TV. Rather than sanctioning media organisations, as a matter of urgency, the FGN should simply address the activities of those distasteful criminals once and for all,” he said.