BY COBHAM NSA – Amid growing public concerns, the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has joined in berating the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for imposing a N5 million fine on a radio station, Nigeria Info 99.3FM, over alleged broadcasting of “hate speech”.
Lending its voice in condemning what the NBC termed unprofessional conduct of the station in handling of the programme, “Morning Cross Fire”, aired on August 10, 2020, MRA described the penalty as an “affront to the rules of natural justice”
In a statement issued by its Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe in Lagos, MRA said it is absurd for the NBC to place a charge of ‘hate speech’ on the radio station without following due process as required by relevant provisions of the Constitution.
It therefore urged NBC to tow the path of honour and rescind its decision, warning that the Commission will be subjecting “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”.
According to the MRA; “it is 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.”
Mr Longe further stated that; “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.”
Acknowledging that NBC is empowered to make regulations for the conduct and operations of broadcast stations in Nigeria, the MRA however insisted that 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.”
The Civil Rights organisation said Nigerians should openly reject such action by NBC because it is “obscene and offensive, particularly in a democracy.”
The MRA, which noted that the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, only on August 4, 2020, announced the revised Nigerian Broadcasting Code and the hike in hate speech fine from N500,000 to N5 million, said it is regrettable that 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.”