MRA, IPC, Situation Room Condemn NBC’s Fine on ARISE News, Two Others

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By Ejiofor Alike in Lagos and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the International Press Centre (IPC) yesterday condemned the sanctioning of three television stations by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over the coverage of the #ENDSARS protests, describing the commission’s action as an outrageous violation of the Constitution and basic principles of fair hearing which cannot be allowed to stand.

The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room has also condemned the sanction imposed on the three television stations, describing it as an attempt to intimidate and suppress the media.

By a letter dated October 23, 2020 signed by its Acting Director General, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, the NBC fined each of the three stations – Channels Television, Africa Independent Television (AIT) and ARISE News Channel – N3 million as penalty for their alleged use of unsubstantiated footages from social media in their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests and gave them three weeks from the date of receipt of the letter to pay the amount to avoid further sanctions.

The Commission said it had earlier written to them on October 21, 2020, where they were “cautioned on the sustained use of Fake News, disturbing visuals, close-up shots and attacks in the coverage of the ENDSARS protests”

But in a joint statement released in Lagos, by the Communications Officer of the Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Mr, Idowu Adewale, the two organisations accused the NBC of turning itself into a “kangaroo court” and called on it to immediately reverse its decision sanctioning the three stations in order to save itself the embarrassment that both the commission and the country would suffer locally and internationally as a result of its action.

The statement quoted the MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, as saying that “a situation where the NBC, which is so glaringly lacking in independence and subject to the direct control of political authorities, created the offences for which the stations were sanctioned and was the complainant in the allegations against the stations, prosecuted them and sat in judgment on the matter without even giving the stations any opportunity to defend themselves against the charges, while also imposing a fine of N3 million on each of them, which it intends to collect and pocket, is offensive to any notion of fair hearing, equity or justice.”

According to him, “Every Nigerian ought to be scandalised by this obscene violation of a principle that is sacrosanct not only under our Constitution but under every regional and international human rights instrument to which Nigeria is a state party. It portrays Nigeria as crude and primitive and will no doubt bring the country to ridicule.”

He pledged that his organisation would take legal action to challenge the NBC’s action.

On his part, the Executive Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, also spoke in the same vein saying, “the NBC has in this matter again constituted itself into the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge in its own case. It is indeed strange that the fines were arbitrarily imposed without giving the concerned media outlets the option of defending the allegations. All this constitutes an affront on rule of law”

Arogundade said IPC would team up with MRA to use the instrumentality of the law to challenge the absurdities perpetrated by NBC.

On its part, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room in a statement signed by its Convener, Mr. Clement Nwankwo, said the imposition of fines by the NBC on the television stations for their reportage on the #EndSARS protests and the crisis that ensued was violates the rights to freedom of expression and the press as provided by Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution.

Nwankwo also said it was an attempt to intimidate and suppress the media.

“The imposition of a fine violates the rights to freedom of expression and the press as provided by section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and appears as an attempt to intimidate and suppress the media.

“The broadcasting commission cannot wield unrestrained, subjective powers in the purported discharge of its duties. Situation Room calls on the leadership of the NBC to review these sanctions limiting media independence and free press which are essential features of a democracy,” the statement added.