A directive by Nigeria’s broadcast media regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), aimed at regulating the extent of reporting terrorism and banditry in the country, has been generating concerns from relevant stakeholders in the industry.
A letter from the commission, dated July 7, 2021, had called for caution in reporting terrorist attacks in the country. Titled, ‘Newspaper Reviews And Current Affairs Programmes: A Need for Caution,’ the letter, which was signed by the Director, Broadcast Monitoring, Francisca Aiyetan, on behalf of the new Director-General of the Commission, Balarabe Ilelah, had asked stations to stop “glamourising the activities of insurgents, terrorists, kidnappers, bandits.”
It added, “While bringing information on security to the doorsteps of Nigerians is a necessity, there is a need for caution. Some of the topics also have ethnological coating, thereby pitching one section of the country against another and leaving Nigerians in daily hysteria.”
The NBC also stated that giving details of either security issues or victims of these challenges may jeopardise the efforts of security agencies in tackling them.
Revealing too much details while reporting insecurity in Nigeria may have adverse impact on the efforts of security agencies in tackling the menace, the letter to broadcast stations added.
Mrs Aiyetan also stated that broadcast stations should advise “guests or analysts on programmes not to polarise the citizenry with divisive rhetoric in driving home their points.”
“The commission reminds you to be guided by the provisions of sections 5.4.1(f) and 5.4.3 of the NBC code that states ‘The broadcaster shall not transmit divisive materials that may threaten or compromise the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria as a sovereign state” and “in reporting conflict situations, the broadcaster shall perform the role of a peace agent by adhering to the principle of responsibility, accuracy and neutrality.”
But some stakeholders in the industry said the NBC code had been a major tool the federal government uses in its bid to control the content produced by broadcasting stations, with huge fines often awarded against broadcasters considered to have committed a breach of the code.
Kicking against the letter, media editors in the country said the industry won’t be deterred by the directive of the federal government.
According to them, the media should not be gagged as it reports activities and does not create events.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) in a statement by its president, Mustapha Isah, and the general secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, described the directive by the commission as another attempt to gag the media from playing its primary role in a democratic setting.
“We hope it is not a ploy by the NBC to ban newspaper review in broadcasting stations. The content of the directive doesn’t specify what kind of conduct would fall within their realm. It is our view that the role of independent, critical and trustworthy journalism has never been more important than now in our country,” the editors stated.
The group questioned the sincerity of such directive as it failed to define what constitutes “too many details, glamorising, divisive rhetoric and security issues.’’
The NGE reiterated Nigerian media’s commitment to the fight against terrorism, saying it would not sacrifice its freedom and independence to the NBC.
“While we are mindful of our responsibilities at this trying moment in our country, we must also not lose the ability to see that security, in a democratic country, is not an end in itself.
“Its single purpose is to protect the capability of institutions, including the media, to guarantee citizens the free exercise of their fundamental human rights without discrimination.
“History has revealed time and again that efforts to increase security through clamping down on liberty and freedom have threatened both liberty and security,” the NGE stated.
In a similar vein, the national president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Chris Isiguzo, said the group would ensure that the media space is not compressed in Nigeria under any guise.
He said, “This latest directive by the NBC must be reviewed. The commission must also ensure that its actions are in line with international best practices and must conform with time-tested models from other countries.”
Also, the immediate past minority whip in the 8th House of Representatives, Yakubu Barde, expressed displeasure over the directive by the NBC.
Expressing solidarity with the media in a statement, Barde argued that the fate of his constituents, who had become prey and victims of kidnappers, bandits and terrorists, would not have been known to the world without the media.
While urging the commission not to gag the media in the discharge of its statutory functions, the Kaduna lawmaker lamented that no fewer than 151 people within his constituency, including the 121 students of Bethel Baptist High School, are still in kidnappers’ den.
He said, “I am constrained by the news on credible media outlets to make this statement in regard to a strange directive from the National Broadcasting Commission to television and radio stations in Nigeria not to divulge ‘details’ of the activities of bandits, terrorists and kidnappers in their reports.
“As a representative whose constituency (Chikun/Kajuru) is most hit by the activities of these bandits and terrorists, it is pertinent that I lend my voice to this crafty move by the NBC to gag media houses from telling the stories of my people.
“My constituency has benefitted from the role played by the media to let the world know that my people have been killed, maimed, kidnapped, raped and have their villages occupied by these terrorists.
“In the last few weeks, I have engaged the media by granting interviews, raising motion on the floor of the house and sharing alarming data of the atrocities being perpetrated in my constituency by these terrorists.
“Who would have told the world our stories, or which platform would I have used to let the world know the predicaments of my people?
“As an elected representative, I have used the media to give suggestions on possible solutions to this menace by advocating the use of technology and seeking for foreign assistance for our security agencies.
“I want to categorically state that I stand in solidarity with all pressmen and media houses and want to indulge them to keep telling the stories of atrocities being committed by terrorists across the country while being professional in carrying out their duties,” Barde stated.
A media industry expert, Kayode Adebiyi, said practitioners had been torn between professionalism and patriotism in the coverage of terrorism stories.
Adebiyi said private media organisations unanimously agreed that the two terms, professionalism and patriotism had not been appropriately defined as the media’s definition is different from that of the government.
“When government officials talk about patriotism in reference to media reporting, they very often mean you should suppress the truth where it hurts government and amplify it when it favours them. On the other hand, journalists often feel that negative reporting is what makes them professionals, without thinking of its implications on victims, communities, intelligence gathering, etc,” he said.
Another media industry analyst, Adio Mumeen, said there was the need for practitioners to report in such a way that they don’t instill fear on the civil populace and would not embolden terrorists; hence no one is afraid of regulation.
The NBC did not respond to inquiries by Daily Trust on Sunday as calls made to one of its spokespersons, Ekanem Antia, were not answered. However, one of its officials who pleaded anonymity said the commission “stands by its directive.”