The nine million naira fine slammed on African Independent Television ( AIT ), Channels Television and Arise TV, by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), has raised serious questions on how sensitive the media regulatory body is, on the issues affecting the society and generality of Nigerians, given the heightened tensions on the land at the wake of #EndSARS protests, extensively covered by the media in Nigeria and their International counterparts, which the aforementioned broadcasting stations are part of. Each of the television houses is to pay three million naira apiece, for what the NBC called unprofessional conduct.
The contestation was that the mainstream media aired a live streaming video that captured the unfortunate and barbaric shooting of innocent Nigerian #EndSARS protesters, by the Nigerian military that were called to quell the peaceful protests at the Lekki tollgate. The generality of Nigerians and media practitioners alike are querying the rationale behind the fine and in their opinion, concluded that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), acted in error and however urged the management of the body to rescind its decision and stop making further mockery of Lekki debacle, in the name of regulation. The freedom of expression as enshrined in section 39 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and reinforced by the successful passage of freedom of Information (FOI) bill into law, precisely on 28 may, 2011 by the former President, Goodluck Jonathan in many ways brought succour to the media industry that used to be the weeping child, without recourse to the importance of the Fourth Estate of the realm, on the growth and development of any known society.
The prayer therefore is that, the media should not slide again to the dark days when freedom of expression was not tolerated. That interestingly informed the outcry of many Civil Societies in Nigeria including Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability (SERAP), who is now asking NBC to withdraw the illegal fine as some organizations have also approached the court on the matter. The overall interest of the Civil Societies on this whole issue accordingly is the survival of our democratic tenets that allows free press, where the media is already playing major role. Indiscriminate imposition of fines without justification and gagging of the press even when the evidence is overwhelmingly glaring, the civil societies believe would weaken the pseudo democratic principles in Nigeria further.
The irony of the #EndSARS protests is that few Nigerians that found themselves in positions of authority are trying to politicize the genuine efforts of the youths who did what had not happened in the country in the recent times, being a society under democratic rule. The unfortunate show of force at Lekki tollgate on the 20th October, 2020 calls for sober reflections even as the whole country awaits the outcome of the Panel of Inquiry currently working to unravel what happened on that fateful day. We believe that government Agency such as the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), being the regulator of the media operations in the country should have been more circumspect in imposing fines on the television houses, given the various accounts, including eye witness reports by reporters of the various media that were on hand when the terror was unleashed on unarmed protesters. This is the time for everyone, holding one position or the other in government to go back to the drawing board and not really playing cheap politics to curry favour from any quarter
. That everybody applauded the courage of the young Nigerian youths for organizing what has become ‘’mother of all protests’’ is enough for all and sundry to understand that, truly something good is in the offing in the political landscape of the country. Certainly, it may not be business as usual, going forward because, the #EndSARS phenomenal message would dominate discourse in the years to come. This is also a time all hands should be on deck, even as we call on the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to wake up to the realities of the times and remain steadfast and focused on issues that are capable of engendering national cohesion in a fragile and multi ethnic society such as Nigeria.
The media in every sense should be encouraged and not vilified as in the case of fines imposed on the aforementioned television houses tried to suggest. We are convinced that media regulatory Agencies in Nigeria for now is on trial especially now everyone, locally and internationally is waiting patiently for the outcome of the Panel of Inquiry on Lekki shooting. We join the Civil Societies in Nigeria and other eminent Nigerians to call on the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), to withdraw the illegal fines imposed on the African Independent Television (AIT), Channels Television and Arise TV without further delay. We are of the opinion also, that NBC, should not enmesh itself on the murky politics but instead pursue programmes and policies that would impact positively on the growth of the media on information gathering and dissemination