The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have expressed outrage over the illegal fines imposed by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) on Arise Television, Channels Television, and Africa Independent Television over their coverage of the #EndSARS protests.
While condemning the action, the two organisation lamented that by imposing such fines on the broadcast stations, the federal government was sending a direct signal to the rest of the country that it had no respect for free press and independent media which remain major hallmarks of a thriving democracy.
The acting Director-General of NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, had announced at a press conference in Abuja on that the agency has fined Channels Television, Arise Television, and Africa Independent Television for what it termed “unprofessional coverage” of the #EndSARS protests.
Specifically, the NUJ in a statement issued by its National President, Comrade Chris Isiguzo titled “Unending assault on the Media”, asked the NBC to immediately withdraw the fines, as they were totally at variance with democratic ethos and norms.
The statement read in parts: “The decision by industry regulator, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to penalise Arise Television, Channels Television and AIT over what it alleges as unprofessional coverage of the #EndSARS protests across the country further exposes the nation’s anti-democratic tendencies.
“Rather than trying to muzzle the media, we suggest that the NBC should applaud media coverage of the protests and the professionalism of Journalists who despite the enormous risks to their lives ensured a comprehensive coverage of the protests.
This development is of major concern to the Union as journalists and media organisations are targets of attack by both protesters and Government. The media, despite all its perceived short comings remains the most viable tool for good governance and democracy and should be jealously guarded and protected.
“Actions like this only bring back unpleasant memories of the long tenure of Military rule and the established culture of intolerance against the media when Nigeria recordedher most grievous crimes against the industry. Sadly, we are once more witnessing actions that seek to undermine the profession by both State and non-State actors.
“We call for an end to this open contempt and disrespect for the Media by NBC and note that the fines imposed on the media houses is unnecessary, discriminatory, an attempt to discourage a free, independent media, and should be withdrawn immediately”.
On its part, SERAP in a statement by its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, titled ‘SERAP asks NBC to withdraw ‘illegal fines on Channels TV, AIT, Arise TV or face legal action’, condemned the imposition of the fines on the stations.
The statement read, “This action by NBC is yet another example of Nigerian authorities’ push to silence independent media and voices. NBC should drop the fines and uphold Nigerian constitution and international obligations to respect and protect freedom of expression and media freedom. We will sue NBC if the unconstitutional fines are not rescinded within 48 hours.
“This is a new low in Nigeria’s protection of freedom of expression, and the ability of independent media to function in the country. The fines are detrimental to media freedom, and access to information, and the NBC must immediately withdraw the decision.”
The statement, read in part: “Media freedom and media plurality are a central part of the effective exercise of freedom of expression and access to information. The ability to practice journalism free from undue interference, to cover peaceful protests, and critical views are crucial to the exercise of many other rights and freedoms.”
“The media has a vital role to play as ‘public watchdog’ in imparting information of serious public concern and should not be inhibited or intimidated from playing that role. The NBC should stop targeting and intimidating independent media and voices.”
“President Muhammadu Buhari should caution the NBC to stop intimidating and harassing independent media houses and to respect the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international human rights obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”