Africa Independent Television (AIT)

More civil society organisations have joined the wave of condemnation that greeted the Nigerian government’s closure of African Independent Television and Ray Power FM two days ago.

The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) suspended the licence of AIT and Ray Power FM on Thursday afternoon, effectively taking two of Nigeria’s most popular broadcasters off the air.

The NBC accused AIT of flouting broadcasting codes that prohibited stations from airing materials that could provoke incitement, adding that the owners rebuffed multiple warnings to cease.

The Daar Communications Plc, which owns the two stations, said the government was only out to victimise its businesses, especially because of its perceived tilt towards the opposition.

Although the AIT and Ray Power FM have since returned on air following a court order, civil liberties advocates agreed with Daar Communications that some elements in the broadcasting code, which was written by the NBC, did not conform with the Nigerian Constitution. They also said the agency’s enforcement protocol was extreme for a democratic society.

“The heavy-handed action of the NBC over allegations of breaches of the broadcasting code by AIT and RayPower raises strong concerns about press freedom, media plurality and the democratic rights of citizens to hold and receive information as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and several other domestic and global statutes to which Nigeria is a signatory,” the Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF) said in a statement on Friday.

The CWPPF said it was “alarmed at this act of indiscretion by the NBC”, which it further described as “unacceptable aberration to Nigeria’s democratic tenets and practice.”

“The coalition believes that this move portends grave danger for free press and the independence of the media in the country and thus demands of the NBC to reinstate the said broadcast license forthwith.

“The press, as the fourth estate of the realm, is the bulwark of democracy Nigeria and any move to abridge this constitutional responsibility to disseminate information, ensure transparency in public conduct and hold government to account will be resisted by all legitimate means possible,” the coalition added.

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) also condemned NBC’s action, saying it breached fundamental principles of press freedom.

Although CISLAC praised the NBC for “upholding its establishing mandate to sustain principles of equity and fairness in broadcasting content in the country,” the group raised alarm about any government’s action that could “undermine press freedom because the media remains a vibrant tool in public enlightenment, information dissemination of both public and sectors’ policies.”

“We are not unaware of the media role in influencing public opinion, shaping political agenda, providing a link between the government and the people, while acting as the government watchdog in advancing good governance,” CISLAC said. “We also recall the crucial importance of the media in the promotion of democracy and rule of law; just as media is indispensable for people to be informed and to effectively participate in a democracy.”

The Socio-Economic Right And Accountability Project (SERAP) said the suspension of AIT’s licence was unnecessary and disproportionate, exposing the NBC as an organisation that lacks independence from the government’s interference.

“The NBC ought to show a greater level of independence in the exercise of its statutory powers. Without independence, the NBC cannot satisfactorily perform its duties,” SERAP said.

“If allowed to stand, this suspension may be perceived as a threat to restrict the media, and open the door to limitations on expression and media operations,” the group added. This would be entirely inconsistent with constitutional provisions and international law, and undermine the government’s commitment to fight grand corruption.”

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