Chukwudi Igwe argues that AIT/Raypower crossed the red line

AIT/RayPower founder, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi’s choice of protest to respond to the broadcast regulator, National Broadcasting Commission’s imminent shut down order was clearly a well-dramatized diversionary ploy to dress his private business quandary in the garb of a national democratic tragedy. Even at that, Dokpesi lost his bearing by leading his few juvenile sympathizers to seek attention of the UN and foreign embassies in a re-enactment of dependence on colonial intervention.

In actual fact, the broadcast entrepreneur was in a desperate bid to escape the wages of wanton exploitation of his media ownership for feathering his partisan political interests with brazen disregard for professional ethics and statutory regulations. Dokpesi admitted this much at the press conference he addressed a day before the shutdown was announced when he linked the problems of his media organization to “my affiliation with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the government’s perceived bias by our stations in holding government, public officers and people in positions of power accountable to the people of Nigeria,” equating his PDP hatchet job with national service!

The NBC has in the past had to sanction several other stations for similar violations of the broadcasting code. In March this year, the regulator sanctioned 45 broadcast stations, including NTA, AIT, Channels and TVC News, for alleged ethical infractions in relation to the 2019 general elections and fined them N500,000 each. The NBC Director-General, Ishaq Modibbo Kawu had warned that any of the stations that continue to broadcast hate and inflammatory comments which threaten the security of the country would be shut down. But the AIT/RayPower have by far been the worst offenders as the NBC revealed that it had summoned the management on several occasions in the last two years in response to monitoring reports as well as complaints from concerned Nigerians about contents of their broadcasts—June 2, 2017, August 15,2017, February 7, 2018, October18, 2018, among other occasions.

According to the NBC DG, recently, DAAR Communications stations took their violations to new frontiers by streaming social media content on their programmes, regardless of the volatility and misleading features and even ridiculed the NBC by posting official correspondence cautioning against such violations of the broadcasting code on the social media. The stations had also gone to the extent of producing documentaries on the Atiku Abubakar petition against the election of President Muhammadu Buhari with commentaries that amount to passing verdicts in support of the petitioner to pre-empt on-going proceedings of the tribunal, capable of inciting civil disturbances should the tribunal reach contrary decision. A warning letter sent to the management also became social media posting as the stations resorted to media propaganda disparaging the regulator.

All these episodes were documented and presented to the Press by the NBC to debunk the orchestrated misrepresentation of motive and to counter Dokpesi’s allegations that the regulator was merely being tele-guided by the Presidency to muzzle the opposition’s freedom of expression as exercised by his stations whereas the cumulative impression created by the AIT/RayPower stations was that instead of making amends “ the management of DAAR Communications Plc has over the years turned into a bad example of how a professional broadcast outfit should be run”.

The NBC also revealed that Dokpesi’s broadcast stations were operating with expired broadcast licenses which they had consistently failed to renew since 2015 when their five-year license lapsed despite demand notices and what can now be regarded as undeserved periods of grace to pay the statutory N500 million for another five-year license. Again, Dokpesi confirmed this when he told journalists that “the licensing fees in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world. There is no country in the world where you have this type of exploitative fees. I have appealed for a reduction because the payments cannot be sustained by private broadcasters in Nigeria,” a response that illustrates his penchant for arrogating to himself the sole advocacy of the views and interests of the entire Nigerian broadcast industry which are subject to the same fees, regulations and codes and also collectively subscribe to the representation of the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON) as umbrella body.

Considering these appalling antecedents, it is truly amazing that otherwise responsible people can go out of their way to express sympathy or support the news Dokpesi dished out during his dramatized diversionary “pro-democracy” protest against what is clearly a long overdue clampdown by NBC. Most Nigerians with retentive memories will recall that Dokpesi similarly bastardized the broadcasting code when he literally prostituted the AIT/Raypower for the ill-fated PDP/Goodluck Jonathan 2015 election campaign by producing some of the most inciting, defamatory and fabricated documentaries against President Buhari but got away with it because there was no principled, professional and fearless leadership at the NBC as we have had since Ishaq Modibbo Kawu took charge.

From all indications Dokpesi has reached the end of the road of personal partisan political exploitation of Nigeria’s broadcast industry. In the words of William JH Boetcker, “freedom of the Press and freedom of speech are a blessing for a country while in the hands of honest, patriotic men; but a curse if in the hands of designing demagogues”.

Igweh wrote from Onitsha