The board chairman of the National Broadcasting Commission, Ikra Bilbis, has expressed a differing opinion with the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed about the amendment of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
Bilbis at a media briefing on Thursday said the minister misunderstood observations by President Muhammadu Buhari on how some media outlet engaged in divisive broadcast during the 2019 elections.
Bilbis said the minister did not take NBC along in amending the code, and insisted that the board only recognized the code launched in 2019.
The Information Minister introduced an amended code earlier this month which now prescribes a N5m fine broacasting engaging in divisive or hate speech. The fine was previously set at N0.5m.
On Thursday however, the same Bilbis addressed the press, NBC earlier fined Nigeria Info, a radio station for airing an interview with a former deputy governor of the CBN, Obadiah Mailafia who alleged that a northern governor is the commander of Boko Haram.
The N5m fine imposed on the station has been condemned by several stakeholders including the International Press Centre in Lagos.
Executive Director of IPC, Lanre Arogundade, said in a statement that NBC gave the impression that it was the Radio Station that put the words in the mouth of the guest and went on to impose a fine without any evidence whatsoever that the alleged statement had degraded any person or groups of persons, which would have amounted to hate speech.
“Even if a case of hate speech can be established, it is totally out of place in a democratic setting that NBC would be the one to accuse, prosecute and judge its own case against the station”, Mr. Arogundade said.
Mr. Arogundade therefore said that the hefty fine represented an assault on media independence, freedom of expression and the right of citizens to know about issues of public interest.
Bilbis gave an explanation how and why the minister came to amend the code that has raised a lot of questions on press freedom.
He said, “Following the 2019 national elections, some members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) made observations to the Honourable Minister of Information at a FEC meeting about the divisive broadcasts engaged in by some broadcast media before, during and after the elections and the need to strengthen the operations of the NBC to avert such future occurrence.
“This noble observation of Mr. President was unfortunately misunderstood by the Hon. Minister of Information. Instead of studying and following the law, relevant rules and regulations, and direct the appropriate authorities as stipulated by the law to act on, he erroneously embarked on the review alone.”
He said, “As a board, we have received and taken our time to compile the responses of numerous stakeholders which include our Nobel laureate, activists, legal practitioners, broadcasters, investors, BON, Content Creators, Copyright experts, and professional organizations. Most of them have adduced reasonable reasons against the proposed amendment.
“The NBC was set up by law and there is an Act that guides its operations. The Honourable Minister therefore cannot usurp the powers of the board as clearly stated in the act. Any such action by the Honourable Minister is illegal.”
The board of the NBC, he said, “wishes to make it quite clear that as long as it is in place, the only NB Code that we recognize and which we shall work within the setting of operating policies and standards for the NBC is the 6th edition of the NBC Code which was launched in 2019 in Kano.”