The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, “erroneously” amended the sixth edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, the chairman of the National Broadcasting Commission board, Ikra Bilbis, has said.
The minister while unveiling the reviewed code on August 4 in Lagos had said the amendments were necessitated by a presidential directive, in the wake of the 2019 general elections. He said the aim was to reposition the NBC for optimum performance.
The code, since its amendment, has stirred up controversy in the industry with many Nigerians kicking against its provisions.
Many Nigerians view the move as a backdoor attempt to clamp down on free speech, dissent bad the media.
In the amended code, the ministry increased the fine for “hate speech” from N500,000 to N5 million. It also announced tougher regulation of web broadcast among others.
Earlier on Thursday, the NBC fined a radio station, Nigeria Info 99.3 FM, N5 million for “providing its platform to be used to promote unverifiable and inciting views that can incite crime and public disorder.”
The decision came after a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Mailafia, claimed on the radio that a governor of a northern State was the leader of the extremist group, Boko Haram.
In June, Armstrong Idachaba, NBC acting director-general (DG), who is also a member of the board, disowned a call for position papers by the board of the commission.
Addressing a press conference in Abuja on Thursday, Mr. Bilbis said he received over 50 position papers for the sixth amendment of the code but none of them was used.
“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.
“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 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 NB Code which was launched in 2019 in Kano,” he said.
He also said the board was informed the launch of the new codes.
“You may all recall that by 26th march 2020, (the day of the ‘Public Presentation’ in Lagos), the federal government had already announced a COVID-19 lockdown of Lagos, Ogun states and the FCT.
“It was therefore not a sincere effort to present such an important ‘review document’ which affects people’s investments and livelihoods under such a situation,” he said.
Mr. Bilbis said the amendment would destroy investments and lead to job losses.
He also said the minister has failed to show the approval of “his own version” by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The NBC is made up of a board of commissioners appointed by the president as a policy-making body.
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