The Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, has called on the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, to rescind with immediate effect the N5 million fine it imposed on Nigeria Info 99.3 FM radio station in Lagos, for allegedly providing its platform to be used to promote “unverifiable and inciting views that can incite public disorder.”
The NBC had cited the unprofessional conduct of Nigeria Info 99.3 FM in the handling of the Programme, “Morning Cross Fire”, which aired on August 10, 2020, between 8.30am and 9.00am. The NBC alleged that the guest, Dr. Mailafia Obadiah, made unverifiable and inciting views that could lead to public disorder.
The Commission drew its power and authority to sanction the radio station from provisions of a so-called revised Nigeria Broadcasting Code (No. 6) in which the fine for perceived infraction was reviewed from half a million Naira to N5 million.
The Guild finds the action of the NBC preposterous, vexatious and grossly undemocratic because the instrument that gives any tincture of legal credence to such a fine, to wit – the Nigeria Broadcasting Code – is illegal and illegitimate having failed to go through the recommended and mandatory due process for its review.
Having carefully studied the statement of Ikra Aliyu Bilbis, the Chairman of NBC Board, the body of Editors is constrained to believe that the NBC acted with inexplicable desperation, using a revised Code that lacked the input of the relevant stakeholders who ought to be part of the review of the Code. This makes the action of the NBC null and void, ultra vires and of no justifiable effect. The Guild hereby demands an immediate reversal of the fine and nullification of any other punishment meted out to the radio station.
The Guild frowns at the arbitrary imposition of fines on broadcast stations without being given an opportunity to defend themselves. By its action, the NBC acted as the accuser and the judge at the same time. The NBC referred to sections of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code to justify the fine but it failed to acknowledge the sad fact that it puts itself in the way of fair hearing in a manner that undermines fair comment and free speech.
For the avoidance of doubt, no section of the Broadcasting Code shall override and invalidate the provisions of sections 22 and 39 of the extant Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which upholds the inviolable freedom of every Nigerian, including the Press, to freely express themselves and freely hold opinion and “to receive and impact ideas and information without interference.”
The Guild maintains that no fine is justified until the errant station is given fair hearing and opportunity to defend its actions or inactions in a court of competent jurisdiction. Acting without fair hearing is a negation of the tenets of democracy and civil liberty. We abhor this.
“We reiterate our position that the N5 million fine for alleged ‘Hate Speech’ or for promoting views that can ‘incite public disorder’ as contained in the recently ‘amended’ NBC Code, which has been roundly disowned by a properly constituted Board of NBC for not following due process, be rescinded forthwith. The NBC should be a truly independent body devoid of any interference from the Minister of Information or any other quarters.”