The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) was on Monday named the latest recipient of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame award for failing to promote the FOI Act and ensure its effective implementation as a public service media organization as well as for its non-compliance with its obligations under the Act as a public institution.
In a statement in Lagos, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) said it was well aware of the irony of inducting into the FOI Hall of Shame a national news organization established for the sole purpose of providing news and information to the public and which should ordinarily be at the forefront of promoting the FOI Act and advocating total compliance with the provisions of the Law by other public institutions.
Mosunmola Olanrewaju, MRA’s Programme Manager in charge of Legal Matters, said her organization was constrained to award the dubious honour to the NTA because in addition to failing to promote the Act and monitor compliance by other public institutions, the national broadcaster was itself consistently in flagrant disregard of its statutory duties and obligations as a public institution covered by the Act, thereby undermining its implementation and effectiveness.
“The NTA, being the national television network, considering its wide reach and its key function, which is to provide news and information as a public service in the interest of Nigeria, is expected to set the pace by complying with all the obligations imposed on it by the FOI Act.
“As purveyors of information, one would have thought that compliance with the proactive disclosure obligations imposed on the NTA as a public institution would be second nature to it. Unfortunately, the reverse appears to be the case as the organization does no proactive disclosure as required by Section 2(3), (4) and (5) of the FOI Act.”
According to MRA, all public institutions, a class to which the NTA clearly belongs, being a body established by Law, providing a public service and utilizing public funds, are expected to proactively disclose certain types of information listed in Section 2(3) (a) to (f) of the FOI Act, by various means including print, electronic and online sources.
However, it said, the NTA is not doing this, in addition to the fact that very little information is generally available on its website, which does not include the categories of information which the Act specifically requires it to proactively publish to the public through this very important medium.
MRA also accused the NTA of failing to comply with its statutory reporting obligations, observing that since 2011, when the FOI Act came into force, the organization has consistently neglected to submit its annual reports to the Attorney General of the Federation as stipulated by section 29(5) of the FOI Act and the Guidelines on the Implementation of the FOI Act issued by the Attorney General of the Federation.
It observed that the situation was ironic as the NTA ought to be tenaciously reporting on public institutions that were failing to carry out their obligations under the Act, including regular submission of reports, proactively disclosing the information so required, among others.
The organization noted that the NTA’s failure to summit its annual report to the Attorney General of the Federation makes it virtually impossible to determine the number of applications for access to information that the organization receives each year and the number of such applications that it processed and granted.
MRA said there was no indication that the NTA has provided appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information held by it as well as on the effective implementation of the Act as required by section 13 of the Act.
It added that the NTA does not appear to have designated any officer to be in charge of receiving FOI requests from the public as the title and address of such an officer is not published anywhere as the FOI Act requires all public institutions to do.
“The NTA being a media organization with the mandate of a public service broadcaster, it ought to routinely facilitate transparency and accountability in all ramifications while also serving as a bridge between the Government and citizens. Serving the public interest should be paramount in all its activities and operations, rather than operating in secrecy and choosing to disrespect the provisions of the FOI Act.”
MRA launched the “FOI Hall of Shame” on July 3, 2017 to draw attention to public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.