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Outrage as NBC sanctions Channels TV for interviewing IPOB spokesperson

NEWSMAN, Abuja – The National Broadcasting Corporation, NBC, has threatened to sanction a Nigerian news and current affairs television station, Channels TV for hosting a spokesperson of the secessionist Independent People Of Biafra(IPOB) to an interview.

NBC in a letter addressed to the managing director of the TV station said Emma Powerful, the IPOB spokesperson, made inciting comments without being cautioned during the programme.

The interview hosted by Seun Okinbaloye on a programme “Politics Today” on Sunday night, according the strongly- worded letter was in contravention of several of the broadcast codes and extant laws of the land.

“In the programme, a so called new leader or IPOB made several secessionist and inciting declarations on air without caution or reprimand by your station. He also made derogatory, false and misleading statements about the Nigerian Army.

“This is reprehensible especially that IPOB remains a proscribed organisation as pronounced by the law courts of the land. This much channels ought to know and respect.”

The letter signed by the Acting Director General, Prof Armstrong Idachaba cited sections 3.11.1(b) and 5.4.3 of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code as having been violated.

It said Channels TV was now liable to the suspension of its licence and a fine of N5millon provided in Section 15 of the code for its infractions.

He directed an immediate cessation of the programme and cautioned that “the Channels owes the country the responsibility for a true professional and ethically guided Broadcasting especially at times of crisis.”

Meanwhile, Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, has condemned in strong terms the threat issued to Channels Tv by the NBC over IPOB’s spaceperson’s interview.

Mustapha Isa, President of NGE, in a statement, yesterday, said, “The Guild will not stand by and watch media houses being threatened by regulatory agencies in the country.

Press freedom is threatened when media houses are made to operate in an atmosphere of fear. The Guild stands with Channels and will go to any length to defend press freedom in the country. The body of editors believes that the NBC is guilty of double standards because stations that carried Sheik Gumi’s parley with terrorists in their camps, were not sanctioned by the commission. The NBC should jettison the practice of issuing threats to broadcast stations over matters that could easily be dealt with through dialogue. Democracy will be meaningless in Nigeria if press freedom is eroded.

Isah said.

Also, President of Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Mr Chris Isiguzo, while condemning NBC’s action, said, “The beauty of democracy is the right of the people to free expression. Any time, the people are restrained from speaking out, then democratic governance is threatened. “We want to, therefore, ask the NBC to withdraw the purported fine clamped on the Channels TV.

 “These are trying times no doubt for Nigeria, in view of the worsening security situation in the country but taking action against the media will certainly not be the most appropriate action to be taken.

 “Nigerians at the moment look up to the media for direction, we also expect government to rather engage the media and not to clamp down on us. I hope government listens to this because a stitch in time saves nine.”

In the same vein, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has urged the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and NBC, to immediately reverse the arbitrary, unconstitutional and illegal decision to suspend Channels Television, and to impose a fine of N5million on the station purportedly for breaching the broadcast code.”

SERAP in a statement by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said: “The suspension of Channels Television is unconstitutional, illegal, arbitrary, and without any legal basis whatsoever. The government and NBC should immediately lift the suspension and reverse the fine. We will pursue appropriate legal action if the arbitrary, unconstitutional and illegal suspension and fine are not reversed within 48 hours.

“This action by the government and NBC is yet another example of Nigerian authorities’ push to silence independent media and voices. The government and NBC lift the suspension and uphold the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) and international obligations to respect and protect freedom of expression and media freedom.

“This is a new law in Nigeria’s protection of freedom of expression, and the ability of independent media to function in the country. The suspension of Channels Television is detrimental to media freedom, and access to information, and the Federal Government and NBC must immediately reverse the decision.”

“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 diverse 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 Federal Government and NBC should stop targeting and intimidating independent media and voices.”

“The government of President Buhari has a responsibility to protect Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information. This suspension amounts to an arbitrary and unjust application of regulations against the media. International standards allow only official restrictions on the content of what the media can broadcast or print in extremely narrow circumstances.”

“Article 20 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Nigeria has ratified requires states to prohibit only advocacy that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. Restrictions must be clearly defined, specific, necessary, and proportionate to the threat to interest protected.”

“President Muhammadu Buhari should caution the NBC to stop intimidating and harassing independent media houses and to respect the Nigerian Constitution, 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.”

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