By Chukwudi Nweje and Sunday Ani
Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, the Middle Belt Leaders Forum (MBLF) and Senator Shehu Sani have condemned the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) following a query issued the news station, Channels Television and invitation to its crew over some recent interviews perceived to be critical of President Muhammadu Buhari.
They said the move smacked of harassment of the media and indicated that the country was gradually sliding into dictatorship.
They noted that the dictatorial tendencies of the Buhari-led government, which started gradually has reached a stage where it could no longer tolerate constructive criticism.
NBC had issued a query to the management of Channels Television over an interview it had with Governor Samuel Ortom.
In a letter dated August 24, 2021, and signed by the Director-General, Balarabe Ilelah, the NBC said Ortom’s comments were inciting, divisive and unfair.
Ortom had during the interview knocked President Buhari, particularly on the issue of open grazing and alleged that he wanted to Fulanise the country.
The NBC said by Ortom’s remarks, the station breached various sections of the broadcast codes.
It asked Channels TV to, within 24 hours of receiving its letter, why it should not be sanctioned.
“The national broadcasting commission monitor the broadcast of your program Sunrise Daily between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
“The programme which had as guest the executive governor of Benue state governor Samuel Ortom was observed to contain inciting divisive and unfair comments which were not thoroughly interrogated by the anchors.
“This negates the following provisions of the Nigeria broadcasting code. Consequently, ChannelsTtelevision is required to explain why appropriate sanctions should not be applied for these infractions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code. Your response should reach the commission within 24 hours of receipt of this letter.”
Reacting, the National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Jare Ajayi, wondered why the Buhari administration was offended by Governor Ortom’s criticisms of the way security issues are handled when the governor also praised him in other areas he performed well.
He said: “The NBC alleged infractions on the part of Channels TV in the way it handled an interview with Benue State Gov Samuel Ortom. We took time to go through the view expressed by Governor Ortom; while it is true that he criticised President Buhari particularly in the way he is handling the security situation in Nigeria, he, also stated that the president is doing well in some areas. When has it become a crime to call the attention of those in authority to areas where actions are needed?”
Afenifere said it was wrong for those in authority to hold journalists and their broadcast station responsible for the view expressed by a governor, especially when such a view were empirically correct.
“The step by the NBC seemed to lend credence to the view of those alleging that government often use public institutions to harass those who are opposed to or those who criticise bad policies of the government. The way the government is handling the media is making many afraid that we are returning to the era of Decree 4 of 1984.”
He urged those in positions of power to remember the country is in a democratic dispensation where freedom of expression is sacrosanct.
“In a democracy that we claim to be practising, the court of law is the place to go to by anyone who feels offended by an item published or broadcast. It is not proper to resort to strong-arm tactics. Using a strong-arm tactic is not in the interest of the government that the NBC may think it is serving because it would count negatively on the human rights record of the regime”, Afenifere said.
President of the MBLF, Dr Pogu Bitrus, said the action of NBC was unfortunate and insisted Channels TV did nothing wrong.
He said: “The television house just invited somebody who has an opinion on the state of the nation and his opinions were aired. Were they supposed to censor the opinion of their guest? That is not proper. Channels Television is supposed to air the statement of their guest without censoring it. So, what the government is trying to do is to censor broadcasting, censor news and in fact, the media. And that is wrong and unacceptable.”
He added that the NBC action shows that Nigeria is steadily sliding into dictatorship.
“This development simply means we are derailing from democracy and descending into autocracy, dictatorship and totalitarianism and that should not be allowed to happen,” he said.
In his reaction, former Kaduna Central senator, Sani, tweeted: “A journalist can only ask questions, he or she can’t be held responsible for the answers or the truths or facts contained in the answers.The arrest of the @channelstv presenters Chambalain Usor & Kayode Okikiolu is unconscionable. We can’t solve our problems by muzzling the press.”
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