The International Press Centre (IPC) has condemned the N5 million fine imposed by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) on Trust TV over the broadcast of a documentary, “Nigeria’s Banditry: The Inside Story”, which focused on the state of insecurity in the country.
In a statement signed by its Press Freedom Officer, Melody Lawal, IPC’s Executive Director, Mr Lanre Arogundade described the fine as “arbitrary”.
IPC recalled that the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed had vowed that the TV station and BBC would be sanctioned for airing the documentary, and that IPC followed that with a statement warning the Federal Government to refrain from constituting itself to the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge in its own case.
“IPC is dismayed that the Federal Government through the NBC has shamefully done that, forgetting that in a democracy the basic tenets of the rule of law cannot be trampled upon as it suits the whims and caprices of those in the corridors of power”, Arogundade said.
He added: “In the above context, it is worth pointing out that Trust TV was neither notified of the alleged infringement of sections 3.1.1, 3.12.2 and 3.11. 2 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, nor requested to defend itself against the allegations before the fine was handed down. In other words, there was no fair hearing for Trust TV, but one-sided hearing of the accusation by the Information Minister upon which the NBC acted.
“It is unacceptable that NBC, funded by tax payers money and expected to act in the public interest, would continuously exhibit the symptoms of an attack dog of the government once the Information Minister blows the whistle.
“The Federal Government, the Information Minister and the NBC must be made to understand that the banditry ravaging the country and daily putting the lives and property of the citizens in jeopardy is not a creation of the media, which has through editorial opinions, investigations and broadcast programmes offered suggestions and support to the government on the way out of the general insecurity.
“At the same time, in line with its constitutional obligation to monitor governance and hold the government accountable to the people, the media has also been critical of the inability of the government to fufill its own part of the constitutional bargain by guaranteeing the lives and security of the people.
“In the circumstance, the IPC considers the fine imposed on Trust TV an act of injustice, an assault on media freedom and a violation of the right of the people to know the truth about the dynamics of banditry in the country and the decision should therefore be reversed”.
IPC therefore called on the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, the Nigeria Union of Journalists and other bodies championing freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the country to rise in unison in condemnation of this new development and hostility by the government.
In imposing the fine, NBC’s Director General, Balarabe Shehu Illela said the broadcast of the documentary contravened sections of the National Broadcasting Code.
Trust TV however said: “While we are currently studying the Commission’s action and weighing our options, we wish to state unequivocally that as a television station, we believe we were acting in the public interest by shedding light on the thorny issue of banditry and how it is affecting millions of citizens of our country.
“The documentary traces the root of the communal tensions and systemic inadequacies which led to the armed conflict that is setting the stage for another grand humanitarian crisis in Nigeria. It presents insights into the intersection of injustice, ethnicity and bad governance as drivers of the conflict. It also aggregates voices of experts and key actors towards finding solutions, including those of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and Senator Saidu Mohammed Dansadau, who hails from one the worst-hit communities in Zamfara State”.