Worried by the increase in hate speeches in the country, the Nigerian government directed the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, which regulates the electronic media in the country, not to spare radio and television stations found culpable.
Speaking during the 3rd Annual Lecture Series of the NBC in August, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said the NBC must ensure that broadcast stations adhere strictly to the Nigerian Broadcasting Code and errant stations should be sanction accordingly to deters others from allowing propagators of hate speech used their stations to spread incendiary messages.
“As a matter of fact, the challenges facing the NBC have never become more daunting, considering the increasing propensity of some radio and television stations across the country to turn over their platforms to the purveyors of hate speech. It is the responsibility of the NBC to put these broadcast stations in check before they set the country on fire,” Mr. Mohammed said.
“The nation looks up to the NBC to restore sanity to the broadcast industry. The commission cannot afford to do any less at this critical time. It cannot afford to fail the nation,” he added.
Also, earlier in the same month, after a stakeholders meeting at the NBC’s zonal office in Lagos, participants released a communique including news rules meant to curb hate speeches. The new regulation include provision such as a fine of N500,000 on stations allowing callers to air comments perceived as hate speech.
Stations must also pass calls through a screener before airing them. Broadcast stations were barred from airing newspaper reviews more than once daily. Stations are to be limited to airing no more than 5 call-in per day and the cost of the calls were to be borne by the stations. The provision also barred stations from discussing ongoing court cases.
The announcement of these provisions raised concerns that the NBC was trying to censor the media and hindering free speech. But the NBC has refuted such claims arguing that the content of the communique, was agreed upon by stakeholders including radio and television channels. It also stated the provisions have not been added in the Broadcast Code, which is being reviewed at the moment.
SANCTIONS AND PENALTIES
So where does the NBC get its mandate to regulates the electronic media? The NBC’s rule book is the Nigerian Broadcast Code, which few know how it is put together.
Speaking at the August meeting, Mr. Mohammed directed the commission not to spare stations caught propelling hate speech. But, how does the NBC sanctions erring broadcast stations?
The NBC was mandated by Section 2 subsection (1) of Act 38 of 1999 as amended by Act 55 of 1999 to license, monitor regulate and conduct research in broadcasting in Nigeria. The commission is also tasked with the development and accreditation of mass communication in tertiary and other related institution in the country.
Though the approval of broadcast stations is at the prerogative of the president of the country, the NBC handles the entire process of licensing from the indication of interest, the procurement of application form to the final recommendation for the president approval.
In carrying out its primary function of monitoring broadcast stations in the country, the NBC uses the Nigerian Broadcasting Code. The spokesperson of the NBC, Maimuna Jimada, told PREMIUM TIMES that the code is reviewed every four years, with the help of broadcast stations, members of the public and other stakeholders.
“This code is available to all broadcasters. In fact, when you purchase your application form the document is part of the documents you will get from the NBC. When you get your license, you sign an undertaking that you have read the code and will abide by it.,” she said.
“It contains all the dos and don’t of broadcasting in Nigeria along with the sanctions you will get if you do what you are not supposed to do. So, there is no new thing the NBC will pull out of the air if you do what you are not supposed to do”.
Nigerian Broadcast Code also stipulates different penalties to be meted out at erring broadcast stations according to classes of infringement committed. Penalties for Class A offences such as transmitting content deemed to be detrimental to national security are the severest. According to the broadcast code, penalties of such an infringement includes, the suspension of licence and immediate shut down/seal up of transmitter; or revocation of licence, seizure and forfeiture of transmitting equipment.
Penalties for Class B offences such as the distribution of signals not meant for the Nigerian territory, ranges from warning to the offending station to remedy the breach within a stipulated time frame or a reduction of broadcast hour. A license of a repeated offender can be suspended for up to 30 days.
Class C breaches such as the failure of presenters to properly moderate phone-in programmes, are the least type of breaches and are usually punished with verbal or written admonition which can be followed by a light fine for repeated offenders.
The fines imposed on broadcasters range from N250,000.00 to N20 million for very severe breaches.
Mrs. Jimada explained that though the offences and penalties they attract are clearly spelt out in the broadcast code, the commission gives offending stations time to remedy the breaches and is only forced to punish recalcitrant offenders.
“Most of the breaches, the officer in charge of the areas you are broadcasting from will call your attention to the breach. Usually they would say ‘oh sorry it’s an oversight. we won’t do it again. Usually, there is a first instance, a second instance and there is a warning before you go into formal sanctions,” she said.
Mrs Jimada said though she cannot recall the frequency of penalty imposed on broadcast stations, almost all stations in the country have been sanctioned in one way or the order. She, however, advised stations to delay live programmes for a few second to allow them moderate comments from guests and callers as they would be held liable for any comment said on their stations.
Regulation is Needed to Curb Hate Speech
In his article on curbing hate speech, Chidi Odinkalu, the former head of Nigeria’s human rights commission, called for more honesty and transparency in government operations, arguing that Nigeria already has enough laws to curb the menace.
“Effective and even-handed law enforcement can help. Government communication needs to be more honest and transparent. To achieve that, it will need to be conducted more in verbs and less in adjectives,” he said.
Jimi Disu, a talkshow host at Lagos radio station, Classic FM, said NBC regulation of electronic media is necessary to maintain sanity in what is aired to the public and to avoid the spread of hate speech.
“You cannot have a free-for-all society. We have a situation where too many people believe democracy means complete freedom to do as you wish. The spoken word is 10 times worse than the written words. The newspapers have found a way of regulating themselves but to be honest with you the same cannot be said of the electronic media,” he said.
Mr. Disu, the former editor of a national newspaper, said regulation shouldn’t be translated as muffling free speech. He said without regulation of broadcast media hate speech will abound which will likely cause serious security problems.
“When we are talking about hate speech, we are expressing security concern, where people for example would go on air and completely run down another tribe, and completely run down another nationality and say they are going to bring the country down. These are things that are completely unacceptable to me. What the government is saying is that we cannot in a situation whether on radio or social media you can say what you like that can lead to security concern,” he said.
Jones Usen, who has worked as a broadcaster for more than 40 years, advised radio stations and presenters to stop “playing to the gallery” to avoid NBC’s sanctions.
“You must admit that the medium of radio has the advantage of immediacy. A number of radio stations are known to have flouted rules all because they were playing to the gallery just to catch the eye of the owner,” he said.
Sope Martins, a host of a breakfast programme on Smooth FM, Lagos, acknowledged that the NBC has raised issues about her in the past but they have always given her the right of reply.
“The NBC has sent us letters again and again about certain issues and we have been able to reply. We have had issues with them on my show and they have been mostly from our contributors, but it is definitely not a case of them breathing down our neck.
She said the NBC regulation is necessary as it helps to check the spread of incendiary comments.
“I cannot express to you enough how much I think hate speech and unguarded utterances can shape things and have devastating consequences. The nature of calls we get on our show are such that if the NBC wasn’t monitoring us we would need to monitor ourselves.”
She, however, said NBC is too conservative about what they tagged vulgar language. She complained that the NBC is rigid and does not move at the same pace with changing societal values.
“We are seeing a society that is changing in value and I am not sure that the code is addressing that,” she said.