…Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar defends that media houses should not be penalised for publishing opinions of citizens
The Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has decried the imposition of N5 million fine on a Lagos-based media station, Nigeria Info 99.3FM by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).
Atiku labelled the action an attempt to seize the voice of the media in country as it contained in a statement he signed on Thursday, thereby calling on the NBC to relinquish the penalty against the station.
The NBC has fined Nigeria Info for presenting its station to be used as a platform and adding that the punishment would serve as warning to others who intend to use the media for “subversive rhetoric and the expositions of spurious and unverifiable claims.”
It nation’s media regulatory agency attributed the hate speech and unethical broadcast of the 99.3FM station to the interview it granted an ex-deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Obadiah Mailafia where he made several revelations including alleging that a northern governor sponsoring Boko Haram.
However, according to the former Vice President, the nation’s broadcasting regulatory agency cannot penalise a media outfit for true or false claims made by individuals, and as such wrong to punish the radio house for hate speech.
He stressed that whatever Mailafia had uttered as his views during the programme wtheer genuine or fake should be attributed to him, and not Nigeria Info.
Atiku explained that the former CBN deputy governor had been questioned and released by the security operatives, noting that the Commission was a liberty to charge him to court if not satisfied with his explanations.
He maintained that it was erroneous to incriminate the media platform which provides opportunities for citizens to publish their opinions.
The former vice president also called on the NBC to assess the hate speech prohibition code, saying the explanation of the same was offensive to the concept of freedom of speech.
Below is the full remarks of Atiku Abubakar on the fine imposed on Nigeria Info by the NBC
We are compelled to react to the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission code concerning infringement on hate speech and the operational style that media houses should employ to conform with the new regulation.
While there is no disputation over the fact that hate speech portends an existential threat to the enterprise of journalistic reporting and, in fact, inhibits the workings for a free society, it is absolutely repugnant that powers that be would instrumentalise the prevention of hate speech as a means of constricting free speech.
It is globally acknowledged that one of the core functions of the mass media is to inform the society on all ranges of issues, not even to the exclusion of national security issues.
The mass media has a role to play in ensuring that all possible shades of opinions are given access to the media platform.
In many advanced democracies the world over, criminals on even wanted lists of law enforcement agencies have reached out to the media to express their opinions about the crimes that they had perpetrated and the media space was not denied to them.
As a matter of fact, it seems somewhat contradictory that a country like ours, which is in the throes of national security skirmishes, would choose to shrink media access to critical information.
It is not known if any society had won the war against terrorism by placing a restriction to access to information, in the way the NBC had done.
In a particular reference to the penalty handed down to the operators of 99.3 FM Nigeria Info, we disagree wholeheartedly with the argument of the NBC that the interview that the station had with Dr Obadiah Mailafia constitutes any infringement or if at all it exposes the station to trading in hate speech.
Whether or not what Dr Mailafia said on the radio station was a false claim, it is outside of the objectives of a responsible regulatory framework to sanction a radio station for a comment an individual made, more so that the personality in question, Dr Obadiah, had been quizzed and released by law enforcement agents.
If for any reason the authorities are not satisfied with his explanations, they are at liberty to prosecute him in court, but not to make a scapegoat of the media platform that provides opportunities for citizens to ventilate their views.
Read also: Atiku prepares for 2023, launches online TV
The claim by the management of NBC that “this (the penalty) is expected to serve as a deterrent to all other broadcast stations in Nigeria who are quick to provide platform for subversive rhetorics and expositions of spurious and unverifiable claims, to desist from such”, is a naked attempt to gag the media in Nigeria.
We, therefore, call on the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to cause a review of the hate speech prohibition code because the very interpretation of same is offensive to the notion of free speech which is an essential ingredient of participatory democracy that Nigeria operates.
We also demand of the NBC to drop the penalty against the operators of 99.3 Nigeria Info FM on account of the fact that the penalty is at best ill-thought out.
Lastly, we want to refresh the memories of the generality of Nigerians that the Nigerian media has been in the frontline of the vanguard in the fight against military rule and restoration of a democratic order. In other words, it is very disappointing that under the watch of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the media is, yet again, being targeted for extermination.
Atiku Media Office
13th August 2020