Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today condemned the action of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in imposing a N5 million fine on a radio station, Nigeria Info 99.3FM, for allegedly broadcasting “hate speech” over what the Commission termed the unprofessional conduct of the station in the handling of the programme, “Morning Cross Fire”, aired on August 10, 2020.
MRA said in a statement issued in Lagos and signed by its Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe: “We are seriously concerned by this latest development in Nigeria of a supposed media regulatory body taking the country down a dangerous path of official censorship by constituting itself into a legislature making criminal law and acting at the same time as an accuser, a prosecutor and the judge in its own cause. This situation is an affront to the rules of natural justice.”
The organization noted that only a week ago, on August 4, 2020, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced at the unveiling of the revised Nigerian Broadcasting Code that the Federal Government had increased the fine for hate speech from N500,000 to N5 million and a few days later, the NBC is already abusing the provision to censor a media organization without due process for a broadcast that cannot be defined as hate speech under any circumstance.
Mr. Longe said: “We are aware that the NBC is empowered to make regulations for the conduct and operations of broadcast stations in Nigeria, but it cannot usurp the legislative powers of National Assembly, the prosecutorial powers of the Executive and the judicial powers of the courts by making laws, interpreting the laws, imposing punishment and executing its judgment as it has done in this case. Such action is obscene and offensive, particularly in a democracy.”
MRA noted that it was appalling that in its haste, apparently to do the bidding of the Minister of Information and punish Nigeria Info 99.3FM, the NBC disregarded the due process provisions in its own regulations and rushed to judgment without conducting any investigation or awaiting the outcome of investigations by any other law enforcement or security agency or giving the radio station adequate time and opportunity to defend itself against the absurd charge of hate speech in accordance with the requirements of the Constitution.
It called on the NBC to rescind its decision, saying it would only subject itself to public and international ridicule by failing to do so and trigger a wave of global condemnation of Nigeria that the country can ill-afford.